Having a functional and personalized home bar makes entertaining easier, post-work drinks more enjoyable, and reminds you that those $15 cocktails you’re often ordering are well within the realm of your own skill set. Regardless of your inspiration to upgrade your bar setup, you’ll need to do a little bit of prep work before you’re ready to break out the recipes. So let’s get you started with the right accessories, the right glassware, and of course, the right ingredients that make mixology magic happen.
Building your toolbox
Every home bar must include a bottle opener, a corkscrew, and some shot glasses, so let’s consider that level 0. To take it to level 1 and make drinks that will impress and delight yourself and your guests, you’ll want to acquire a jigger (this can double as a shot glass for those who prefer multi-purpose tools) and a cocktail shaker. With those tools at your disposal, you can easily make plenty of shaken drinks for yourself or others, as well as experiment with your own creations. Now, if you want to take it to level 2 — aesthetically-speaking and stirred-speaking — add an ice bucket, tongs, and a bar spoon. For home bartenders at level 2 and onward, we also recommend having a small cutting board for prep and easy cleanup. With this lineup of tools, you’ll be perfectly prepared for nearly all the cocktails you can dream up/are willing to put in the elbow grease to make. Next stop: your cocktail vessel.
The good news is that any glasses you own can absolutely be used for cocktails. Short tumblers or water glasses are more than acceptable in place of rocks glasses and any standard tall glass on your shelves works in lieu of a proper highball glass. But there’s also some great news: if you’re in the process of growing your glassware collection, there are many cocktail-specific favorites that will happily accept an invitation onto your bar cart (and will make your setup look even more official).
- Coupes: For specialty cocktails or to make a run-of-the-mill recipe look high end
- Martini glasses: For impressing your guests and, of course, for martinis
- Champagne flutes: For special occasion toasts, sparkling wine, and/or just on New Year’s Eve
A little glassware partying tip: If you’re inviting a large group of guests over and don’t want to play bartender all night, consider making a batch cocktail in a pitcher that can be easily served throughout the night.
Getting in the spirit(s)
It’s what’s inside the glass that really matters, right? Below is a list of spirits every home bar should include to get you to the perfect starting point. Keep in mind that you’ll be adding different types of spirits along your home bar journey and that all diversification is encouraged.
- Sweet Vermouth (add Dry Vermouth too for advanced home bartenders)
- Dry gin
- Rye whiskey
- White rum
- Orange liqueur
- Aromatic bitters
Alongside all your handy spirits, you’ll want to have equally handy non-spirits that will make your cocktails, well, cocktails.
And if you want to kick things up a notch, these items never hurt.
- Fresh herbs (like Mint, Rosemary, and Basil)
Top it all off
Creating your home bar includes curation of the bar area itself, so take the time to consider how you want this setup to look as well as function. Designate a sturdy surface (bar cart, credenza, or buffet all work wonderfully) that fits in with the rest of your decor, add a small plant alongside your bottles, or hang your vintage bottle opener on an accompanying wall to make your home bar feel like it’s truly an extension of the rest of your space. On the functional-decor front, you might want to store some glasses and pitchers around or within this area for easy reaching, keep your cocktail books stacked nearby, and arrange your most-reached-for bottles near the front of your collection.
Our home bar philosophy extends to our sober friends too. After all, a fun drink is not dependent upon the inclusion of alcohol, a bar cart looks just as nice with vases and fun candles as it does filled with bottles, and many of the best mocktails can easily be made using the above ingredients (you can make an incredible and refreshing Virgin Paloma with just lime juice, grapefruit juice, agave, salt, club soda, and ice).
Cheers to you and your new home bar.