Home Bar Looking for the hottest new spot for mixed drinks in town? Spoiler alert: It’s your home. Learn exactly what you need for a home bar rivaling your favorite bars and lounges — yet costs a fraction of the price — with this guide to stocking your home bar. Plus, having home bar staples always on hand lets you unlock your inner mixologist, impressing your friends and yourself with your new creative cocktail skills.
Get started today with these home cocktail and bar essentials.
How to Stock Your Home Bar
Stocking a successful home bar cart has less to do with budget and more to do with quality and intention. Simplify the seemingly endless aisles of spirits, liquors and mixer choices for making mixed drinks at home by following these preparatory tips and steps.
Start with the drinks you like to order: Your home bar should be a reflection of you — your tastes, preferences and creativity. It also means convenient access to the drinks and beverages you love to order at bars or restaurants. Now, though, you can control the ingredients, perfect recipes and save serious money compared to going out, all without sacrificing what you love to enjoy.
- Assess actual usage: Consider the drinks and spirits you know you enjoy. Sure, it’s fun to have a bottle of premium, small-batch bourbon front and center to impress your father-in-law during a surprise visit. But if you haven’t touched it since the last time he came over, it’s not your true bar cart essential.
- Invest in core glassware: Standard cocktail glasses will hold three to six ounces of liquid. Glasses for doubles and some specialty sets may hold more, though don’t worry about those when beginning your home-bar stocking endeavors. Two to three basic rock glasses, two to three cocktail glasses and one to two highballs will do the trick. Leave the rest for later.
- Don’t forget garnishes: Garnishes add nuance and flavor to your cocktails. Ubiquitous garnish choices include citrus, such as a lime slice, and other fruits, like cherries, though other popular choices may be fresh herbs, including mint, basil and rosemary sprigs.
- Have fun: Stocking a home bar lets you expand your culinary prowess while exploring a new hobby. Mix, match and enjoy your selections, mastering a few of your favorites or challenging yourself to try new concoctions. You’re the bar master now!
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Essential Home Bar Supplies
Making good drinks at home requires a handful of tools. Luckily, you don’t need to raid a kitchen goods store to get started mixing cocktails and stocking your home bar cart. You can make nearly any signature cocktail with just these essential tools tucked away in a drawer or cabinet.
1. Cocktail Shaker and Bar Spoon
Cocktail shakers and spoons are the foundation of any bar utensils set.
Shakers work to properly combine stronger, alcohol-forward drinks, such as negronis, margaritas or gimlets. Bar spoons are softer and ideal for drinks with only two to three ingredients, such as a plasma, or to avoid muddling fresh fruits and herbs in your drink.
While both utensils will mix your ingredients, shakers integrate flavors better as well as allow more air to brighten and enliven your beverage. Plus, properly using a cocktail shaker is simple. Just pour your alcohol into the shaker’s base, seal the lid, grip its sides with both hands then shake your creation for 10 to 20 seconds. Enjoy!
2. Drink Strainer
Cocktail strainers filter unwanted ingredients from entering your serving glass. From removing excess ice to fruit seeds or pulp, these utensils are an effortless way to upgrade your mixed drink game. Many cost under $10 or will be included in a beginner’s bar accessories set.
Place your cocktail strainer over your serving glass, then pour your creation from your shaker. Its liquid contents will pass through while unwanted solids sieve out, leaving only a smooth, balanced drink.
The hourglass-shaped alcohol jigger helps home mixologists measure out proper alcohol amounts, ensuring you don’t under- or overdo your mixed drinks. A two-sided standard jigger holds half an ounce on its smaller end, while its larger end measures one full ounce. Double jiggers will measure 3/4 an ounce on its small side and 1.5 ounces on its large end.
Most cocktail recipes give measurements in ounces. For the novice and experienced home bartenders alike, jiggers are essential to create properly potent drinks with the right balance of alcohol and flavor — as well as show the care you place in mixing a good drink.
Cocktail muddlers mash together with a drink’s ingredients. People use muddlers to intensify their cocktail’s flavors, breaking down and releasing stronger notes of fruits and spices added to your liquor base.
Pro bartender tip: Be careful when using a muddler in drinks with fresh herbs, such as mojitos. Overworking herbs can cause them to turn bitter, leaving your drink with an unpleasant, biting aftertaste. If herbs are part of your creation, use small pressing motions rather than crushing or grating ones, then stop once you begin smelling the herb’s green notes. This means they’re ready.
Mixers are the non-alcoholic beverages added to create a cocktail. Well-stocked home bars will have an assortment of mixers ready to complement any creation, either when crafting specific drinks or to simply soften the punch of pure liquor. There are dozens of mixers available to add to your home bar, many of which we’ll explore in delicious detail further below.
Cocktail garnishes brighten and enhance liquor. From fruits and herbs to spices, pickles and vegetables, garnishes typically match the innate flavors of a drink’s base liquor or seek to add a complementary new layer of sweetness, savoriness or sourness.
Consider keeping a few of these stocked in your home bar’s mini-fridge or cart to spruce up your cocktails instantly. Go-to garnishes may be:
Modifiers, like mixers, embellish an alcoholic drink to be more complex and well-rounded. Modifiers range from items you can only find in a liquor or grocery store to goodies you can whip up at home. Use modifiers to surprise and delight your friends, add a twist to a classic cocktail or simply because you like the taste a modifier brings. Popular modifiers to add to your mixed drinks at home include, but aren’t limited to:
- Simple syrup
Essential Liquors for a Home Bar
Understanding what spirits to have at on-hand at home can be deceptively difficult. New bottles and brands always crop up at the store, competing for your attention — and money in your wallet. How do you know which spirits are trendy fads and which compose a truly well-rounded and well-used home bar?
Cut through the clutter with these suggestions for alcohol to have for your home bar, all of which are easy to find, cost-conscious and delightfully adaptive for making a wide range of cocktails.
Liqueurs include a range of sweet alcoholic beverages derived from a fruit, nut or herb base that, during fermentation, also receives added sugar.
Catering to a variety of tastes and drinks types, liqueurs are an impressive addition to your home bar. Many serve as a complementary ingredient in several of today’s most popular mixed drinks, while others are the drink’s star.
Consider some of your favorite types of cocktails, then look up its signature ingredients. Chances are, a liqueur makes its way onto the list — and onto your bar cart to replicate at home. Some of the most popular liqueurs today include:
- Orange liqueurs or Curaçao, such as Triple Sec, Cointreau and Campari
- Aperol, especially if you’re a fan of the refreshing Aperol spritz
- St. Germain elderflower liqueur
- Creme and cream liqueurs, like Kahlúa
Gin is a popular dry or off-dry spirit made from grains distilled with juniper berries and other green botanicals. The combination of grains and botanical plants gives gin its signature earthy, almost pine-tree like smell and taste. Gin serves as the base to many popular cocktails such as gimlets, Tom Collins, gin fizzes and — of course — the classic gin and tonic. Consider stocking your bar with:
3. White Rum
There are two main varieties of rum — dark or golden rum and white or silver rum, each of which is distinguishable by its color.
Rum is classified as dark or golden when distilled from brown sugar, caramel or molasses rather than rum’s traditional filtered sugarcane base. However, dark rum has another defining characteristic: it’s barrel-aged. The longer rum is aged, the darker its final color.
Experts agree that when making most cocktails at home, white or light rum varieties are the way to go. White rum will be subtler and sweeter, making it more preferable for mixed drinks without going overboard with a spicy punch.
4. Silver or Blanco Tequila
Tequila comes from the blue agave plant, a type of cactus native to Mexico. Like rum, it’s found in two main types — silver or gold. Also like rum, the types of tequila work best for different purposes.
Silver tequila will typically be younger, aged in traditional oak barrels for one to two months. Choose silver tequila brands for your home bar if you’re a fan of sweeter tequila-based mixed drinks such as margaritas, palomas or tequila sunrises. In contrast, gold tequila remains sealed inside aging barrels longer but results in a more mellow taste, making it a better choice when you want to highlight only tequila’s pure flavors, such as serving it on the rocks.
Popular silver tequila brands for home bars include:
Think vermouth is only for your great aunt? Think again! The fortified wine brings a robust but diverse palate depending on its fortified base, which can be mixed with everything from tree roots and bark to herbs, seeds and flower petals.
The result is a sophisticated type of liquor used as the base of classic drinks like martinis and Manhattans. Or you can add a splash of vermouth into drinks to minimize its sweetness and add a sharper, more complex aftertaste.
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Other Home Bar Tips and Tricks
With the basic liquors, mixers and supplies covered, you can move onto the final necessities and need-to-knows for stocking a successful home bar. Then sit back, relax and enjoy that specialty drink you just mixed in your pajamas. We won’t tell.
1. Prioritize Your Favorites
Stock your bar with the things you like — that is, the things you’ll actually drink. Love a negroni nightcap? Grab some gin and vermouth. Have friends over once a month for weekend brunch? Keep a bottle or two of champagne and orange juice at-the-ready. You’ll get far more enjoyment from your home bar when it’s used to its full advantage and not just there for show. Plus, home bars don’t serve its full purpose when you only buy bottles and brands to impress future guests that end up wasting away on the shelves, opened once a year at best. It’s your home bar, after all. Make it a reflection of you.
2. Opt for Quality Over Quantity
Alcohol and drink mixers work like other recipes. The higher the quality of each ingredient, the better the finished product.
Regardless of your personal budget, aim for selecting quality spirits or name brands you enjoy. Build around those selections, then buy fresh ingredients to spruce up your drinks as you go. The same logic works for your home bar’s essential supplies. Quality over quantity means investing in a few core pieces — such as a good cocktail glassware set, shaker and strainer — then adding supplementary accessories and measuring tools along the way.
3. Start Somewhere
You don’t need to drop a week’s paycheck to start stocking your home bar. In fact, you don’t even need a traditional bar area. Mobile and stationary home bar carts are sold in-store and online at nearly every major furniture retailer, meaning that empty room corner can easily be your new drink-making station. Fill it with two to three bottles of your favorite liquor, a small bowl of lemons and limes, a go-to mixer, then voila. You’ve just made a home bar.