Stocking your home bar can seem exciting, or daunting when you see all the fancy cocktails while scrolling social media and Google. All of the foreign names of ingredients you’ve never heard of (and likely can’t pronounce) turn you off. Honest moment here: I just learned how to correctly pronounce Curaçao, Lillet, Cocci and a few others during quarantine. It’s fine, we’re all learning something.
Sometimes you have to be your own bartender.
`Speaking of quarantine, that’s probably part of what brought you here. In this pandemic climate, some bars and restaurants are closed or will be closed soon (again). And some of us don’t feel comfortable being out in bars quite yet. For those reasons, we’ve become our own bartenders. Maybe you’ve mixed a few things from your fridge and hated it. Maybe it worked out great, but you want to refine your mixology. I’ve always mixed drinks at home, but started a journey to really learn more and started stocking my own home bar earlier this year.
Every home bar needs a solid foundation.
Watch your wallet. Stocking your home bar is expensive. Speaking from experience, it’s very easy to run up a bill at the liquor store. Here’s where I went wrong: I would research a liquor or cocktail, then run to the store to buy ingredients. Random impulse purchases are part of my genetic make up. I did that almost weekly. Word to the wise, start with your favorite cocktails to order at the bar. Research the ingredients used to make them. Master those first, then graduate to other ingredients.
Begin with the essentials, and build from there. After you have a good foundation, dabble in those pretty bottles and more expensive options. If we’re honest here (always), pretty bottles don’t always mean quality liquor. The bottles you see ordered in clubs or posted by celebs aren’t that great 9 times out of 10. Everything that glitters ain’t gold! There are 3 major catagories we need to focus on: spirits, mixers/liqueurs and bar tools.
- Whiskey: Bourbon or Canadian whiskey blend in cocktails very well. Start there.
- Gin: Many don’t like it, but I suggest keeping a bottle of dry gin on-hand for guests & explore new things.
- Tequila: Reposados are preferred in my home, but blanco is more versatile.
- Vodka: Blends so well in cocktails. A nice budget-friendly bottle will do.
- Angostura Bitters: The “OG” of bitters. You definitely need this. Elliott Clark refers to bitters as the “salt and pepper” of cocktails. Accurate, because bitters make the flavors in cocktails pop.
- Orange Liqueur: Triple Sec, curaçao, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.
- Simple Syrups: A basic simple syrup is essential, then graduate to flavored syrups. These can also be homemade.
- Sweet and Dry Vermouth: Pick these up if you enjoy martinis or Manhattans.
- Elderflower Liqueur: I am a HUGE fan of St. Germain. This floral liqueur is so versatile. I call it the “hot sauce” of liqueurs because it makes nearly everything taste better. You’ll see me talk about it all the time. Literally all the time. Hit them up and let them know I love them haha!
- Lemon & Lime Juice
- Ginger Beer/Ale
- Club Soda
- Cocktail Shaker: Use a protein shaker bottle or mason jar if you don’t have one. Cobbler shakers are easier to start out with because the strainer is built into them. Boston shakers are the two cups you see bartenders using most of the time. I recommend graduating to these after you’re comfortable with a cobbler shaker.
- Jigger: Tablespoons will work temporarily. Don’t worry.
- Muddler: The back of a wooden spoon works until you get one!
- Bar Spoon: Bar spoons are longer and help you avoid touching the liquid as you stir. Regular spoon is fine before upgrading!
- Mixing Glass: Or a regular schmegular glass will do until you get fancy.
- Strainer: This helps keep ice and pieces of fruit, herbs, etc. out of your drinks when pouring from a Boston shaker or mixing glass.
SEVERAL AFFORDABLE BAR TOOLS CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Ok I’m done stocking my home bar. Now what?
It’s great that you’ve stocked your home bar, now let’s put it to use. I organize all of my spirits by type. All of the liqueurs and bitters live together in the bar, so I know where to quickly find them. Bar tools are in one central location and easily accessible. I love aesthetics, but more important than having a bar that looks nice, is a home bar that’s functional and organized. Once that part is down, add in accessories that are also practical. Cocktail books and trinkets are great for this.
We’re all stocked up and organized, so let’s start shaking up some cocktails. Here are some tools and recipes to help you get started!