A quick drink after work or a weekend party is a great excuse to relax, dress up, and try new cocktails. But maybe you are ready to bring that fun to your home and don't know where to start. Creating a welcoming, well-prepared home bar is an investment you won't soon regret. This guide will help you organize your bar needs and host hot parties your friends will rave about.
Alcohol: Generally speaking, alcohol is the most important component to a home bar. Or any bar anywhere. Ever. Here is a brief summary of what you should stock up on versus what you may want to grab for special occasions.
- Vodka: It's the queen of basic mixed drinks and perfect for experimentation. This clear spirit is essential in screwdrivers, Bloody Marys, vodka tonics, and more.
- Gin: This clear liquor carries the flavor of its name-giving berry, the juniper. It tastes herbal and jives well with juices, lemonade, and tonic water to create an assortment of delicious cocktails.
- Rum: Cocktails call for light rums; dark rums are often drunk neat (straight) or with soda. Rum is fairly sweet and often spiced.
- Vermouth: A wine that comes in both dry and sweet, vermouth is a main component in martinis and Manhattans. It is a good idea to keep your bar stocked with both, but unlike the liquors in this category, vermouth should be refrigerated and consumed in one to three months to maintain freshness.
- Tequila: As the summer months roll in, your home bar will benefit from a tequila for margaritas and other south-of-the-border cocktails. Silver or gold is a matter of preference; silver will have a bold taste, but the only difference in gold is added caramel flavor. The smoothest tequila will be labeled 100% agave, the key ingredient—aim for that.
- Triple Sec: Triple Sec is a liqueur staple. Its orange flavor is featured in Long Island iced teas, margaritas, and Cosmos.
- Whiskey: Whiskey is an encompassing title for several darker, smokier spirits. Even if whiskey isn't your game, it is important to maintain its presence for a well-rounded bar that balances the fruity drink options with the savory. It can be taken straight, on the rocks, diluted with water, or with a mixer. Bourbon whiskey is sweeter and follows strict aging rules, while Scotch whiskey is smokier and made solely in Scotland.
For Your Consideration
- Champagne: Keep a bottle of bubbly around if you plan on hosting any monumental events, such as New Year's Eve bashes, milestone birthdays, or a work promotion that requires immediate celebration even though it is a Tuesday night. Champagne is sparkling wine. Drink it as is or mix with orange juice to make mimosas for brunch. If you are concerned with sweetness or taste, it would be best to talk to your local liquor store's champagne aficionado to help you sift through the options.
- Wine: Made with fermented grapes, wine is a versatile beverage that pairs well with countless food and dessert options.
- Beer: Especially important in a game-day situation, a good six pack can be great as an alternative to slamming back hard liquors at midday. If you want a light option, aim for a smooth lager or a pilsner for a hoppier, bitter taste. Wheats have a bit more body and often some fruity components, and your dark beers are richer and more filling.
- Liqueurs: Based on your budget and level of bartending expertise, you may want to explore liqueur options for a wider range of drink possibilities. The difference between liqueurs and liquors is that liquors are distilled and have more alcohol and a harsher flavor. Liqueurs are not distilled and therefore have less alcohol and an easier taste. They come in an unbelievable range of flavors—coffee, cream, crème, chocolate, fruit, flower, honey, and nut are all types of liqueurs that can make a drink seasonal or funky and new.
Mixers: Unless you plan on all shots all the time, you should have a solid supply of mixers to make your alcohol pleasing and enticing.
- Sodas: Cola, Ginger Ale, and citrus sodas are all tried-and-trusted mixers for the easy-to-please guest.
- Tonic Water: Mix with gin or vodka and add a lime. It is carbonated and bitter due to added quinine, so it will mix those hard liquors into something bearable, even enjoyable! It is also available in diet.
- Club Soda: Also known as sparkling or seltzer water, this is another mixer that will dilute and carbonate your drink. Another great thing about sparkling water is that many brands now make lightly flavored beverages, which can work as a mixer or be dressed up as a classy nonalcoholic option for your home bar.
- Grenadine: Did you know you can flip a classic Shirley Temple into a mixed drink with a dose of vodka? You can. Grenadine is cherry-flavored syrup. Mix it with citrus sodas and liquor or with cherry sodas and whiskey, or drizzle it on a fruity cocktail. Endless possibilities here.
- Bitters: Bitters are aromatic herbal spirits that are very concentrated on their own but work as a binding agent for the other alcohols in your drink. There are a few different types; grab an angostura bitter to touch up Manhattans, old-fashioneds, Mojitos, and Champagne cocktails.
For Your Consideration
- Juices: Juices will spoil. Plan ahead when you know you need them. Most commonly used are tomato and lime juice. Orange, grapefruit, pineapple, lemon, and cranberry all allow for a variety of cocktails.
- Simple syrup: If you are up for a little creativity, whip up your own simple syrup using 1:2 parts sugar and water boiled. Add in any spice you want and store in the fridge. For example, if you want your tequila to have a sweeter, smokier taste, make simple syrup and add chipotle flakes!
- Superfine sugar: This is the easiest mix-in to store, and it dissolves quickly into cocktails.
Garnishes: If your plan is to have company to your home bar often, you may want to stock up on garnishes. But if you are hosting a couple events a month, you might find it easier to plan accordingly and buy these items when necessary.
- Lemon, lime, and orange wedges/slices: These complement all sorts of mixed drinks and highlight natural flavors in beers.
- Olives, pickles, cucumbers, celery, etc.: These are standard martini and Bloody Mary garnishes
- Fresh herbs: If you're making mojitos, get that fresh mint.
- Cherries, berries, and all that fruit: Pretty that drink up with a sword of pineapple and raspberries, or drop a few maraschino cherries in for an alcohol-infused treat at the end of a cocktail.
Glassware: Hallelujah, you have alcohol and mixers and pretty fruit. What now? Leave the red cups for college parties, and get tasteful with appropriate glassware for all your drink options.
- Highball/Tall Glass: Use for mixed drinks with a lot more mix than alcohol.
- Rocks Glass Also called the old-fashioned; use for neat liquors on the rocks
- Shot Glass: You know what this little guy is for.
- Stemmed Cocktail Glass: Use for presentation-worthy drinks like martinis and Manhattans. The stem will help keep the drink cool by distancing the drinker's warm hand from the alcohol.
- Champagne Flute: Stemmed for keeping your Champagne cool.
- Others: The list of different glassware is really extensive. Sometimes you have to go with the flow and use a short glass for a mixed drink to increase the alcohol potency without making the drink too strong. Sometimes you will want to try drinks that call for their own serving preferences, like the Moscow Mule, which is served in a copper cup. There are specific glasses for margaritas, beers, and wines. Your options are infinite if you want them to be.
Drink-Making Utensils: These tools will maximize the effort you put into your drinks.
- Bar Spoon: A bar spoon is a long, twisted teaspoon that stirs drink components more efficiently without sacrificing flavors or smoothness. A good rule of thumb for deciding whether to shake or stir your drink is the presence of an opaque mixer. If there are no juices in your drink, stir it. If there are juices, syrups, fruit, or anything that will need to be strained, shake it.
- Cocktail Shaker/Strainer: This glass/metal combo is used in most bars to mix up cocktails and cool off the ingredients with ice. The strainer will catch any leftover pulp that shouldn't be in the drink.
- Jigger: This is an exact shot-measuring glass.
- Muddler: Use this for smashing fruit and getting the most out of your herbs.
- Ice Cube Holder/Tray: Ice is so important! Keep it ready in the freezer.
Atmosphere: Now that you have all the supplies (whew!), consider the bar's presentation. If you already have a bar area carved out in your place, stock up and have fun. But there are creative ways to store your home bar in a tight space—from china hutches to bar carts. Jazz up the presentation with napkins, swords, and straws. Keep a book of drinks nearby to play with, and make it your own space. Nothing is off limits.
Bar cart styling by StyleEsque.