We’re pretty sure you already have two bottles of hooch on top of the fridge, an ice tray in the freezer, and a three-day-old lemon on the kitchen counter. Congratulations, you already have a Level 1 home bar! However, a sophisticated individual such as yourself should really opt-in for something a bit more… well, sophisticated.
So, what are the basic spirits you should have? Must-have mixers and garnishes? Accessories and barware? Is this going to cost you an arm and a leg? Well, we’re here to help you answer these questions.
Which are the basic spirits for your home bar?
The crucial thing is to stock your home bar with drinks you actually enjoy. There are no one-size-fits-all recommendations and you’re gonna be the most frequent visitor of your home bar anyway.
While great for entertainment, forget impressing guests with fancy drinks. Mark our words... your knowledge, and enthusiasm will leave a far greater mark on visitors than a fancy bottle you know little about. Besides, having drinks that you adore and know inside out is a great way to share your personal taste with friends.
We suggest starting with a bottle or two of your favorite Spirit type and branching out from there. Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon!
Whisk(e)y offers a good starting point due to many varieties (Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, Rye, Japanese, etc.) and its versatility–perfect neat, with a droplet of water, on the rocks, straight from the barrel, or in classic cocktails such as Old Fashioned. Choosing from a massive variety is probably the hardest task your newfound pursuit requires but a mini bar without Whisk(e)y is like is like a car without wheels.
Gin doesn’t rhyme with tonic but it certainly goes well with it. The world is currently going through a Ginessaince and there’s something for everyone in the world of Gin. Numerous styles have evolved since its earliest days so if you’re not best friends with juniper, get yourself a Gin that is less juniper-heavy and puts other spices or botanicals in the front, for instance No. 209 Gin, Aviation Gin or Monkey 47.
Why is the Rum always gone? Once the drink of choice for pir… sailors, now a tropical favorite amongst many! Light Rums are most frequently consumed in cocktails while its older siblings – Dark Rums – neat. But who are we to tell you how to drink Rum?
Cognac & Brandy
Cognac & Brandy were traditionally popular with royalty, statesmen, leaders, and people with acquired taste. While your name may not be Napoleon (call us if it is), you still deserve the best France has to offer. Besides, Cognac is becoming the drink of the people! You know, the regular kind... Have it neat, on the rocks, in a warmed glass, or in a Roosevelt punch. Anything goes with Cognac.
Yes, Vodka – the smooth operator of the Spirits world. This colorless spirit blends masterfully into a cocktail and stands on its own when taken neat. *cough, cough*. Great for making just about anything into an alcoholic beverage.
Tequila & Mezcal
The true expressions of Mexico’s soul. Margaritas wouldn’t be the same without Tequila and Mezcal is the new favorite amongst Scotch lovers. What you had in college was miles from the real stuff. You don’t need that in your life anymore. Para todo mal, Mezcal, y para todo bien también – For everything bad, Mezcal; for everything good, the same.
Not exotic enough for you? Try Grappa – a distillate made of leftovers from winemaking, including stems, seeds, and grape skins.
We recommend always having something for cocktails, something for drinking neat, and something on the exotic side of things… You know, for special occasions. Those never end.
What about mixers?
Get mixers for cocktails you enjoy and know how to make well. A mixer that works for two or more cocktails you regularly indulge in? Win-win!
If you have no idea what to get, start with one or two of our favorites below.
Club soda – the versatility master. Also cures hangovers. (Used in Highball cocktail.)
Vermouth – comes in sweet and dry varieties and is considered a renaissance in the glass! It provides just the right yin to a spirit’s yang. Keep refrigerated and invest in small bottles, since it will go off fairly quickly once opened. (Used in Manhattan and Negroni cocktail.)
Tonics – Lois Lane to your Gin. (And of course used in Gin & Tonic.)
Bitters – technically not a mixer since they’re added in dashes to impart a unique flavor to cocktails. Made from botanicals, fruits, spices, bark, and roots. Once considered medicinal tonics to cure stomach aches, headaches, and hangovers. They eventually found their way into cocktails because of their flavor-boosting abilities. (Must-have for the king of cocktails - the Old Fashioned.)
Juices – Orange, Lemon, Cranberry, Pineapple, Tomato… Anything goes!
Simple syrup – one parts sugar to water… Simple. Too easy for you? Maybe your life needs sprucing up? Not that simple syrup will help but try substituting water with tea. Chamomile, jasmine, and lavender work beautiful. (A simple yet yummy cocktail with simple syrup is French 75.)
Cola, Ginger Ale, Apple Cider, and other similar beverages are also fine contenders to add to cocktails. Get creative!
Pro-tip: canned juices and mixers that won’t expire quickly are always good to keep around. Stock up on others when you’re expecting guests or feel like drinking a cocktail or three.
Are garnishes necessary?
Garnishes add soul to your cocktails – they look nice, smell nice, and act as a cherry on top of your cocktail. Sometimes literally... Some give flavor, others plain sex appeal. Bom chicka wow wow!
While planting just another lemon tree in the backyard is not a must, having a pot of mint on a windowsill gets a thumbs up from us!
Garnishes depend on the type of drink: Tequila-based cocktails often use citrus garnishes – lime or lemon – while Gin-based tonics (see what we did there?) use olives, cucumbers, sometimes even onions.
We recommend having a handful of oranges, lemons, and limes always on hand. Fresh fruit juice is what makes or breaks a cocktail and that orange twist is exactly what your Old Fashioned was missing. Pre-made citrus preservatives have a place in your kitchen too… the garbage can.
Fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, and rosemary add texture and flavor to a cocktail so we recommend having those at hand if possible. Oh, did we mention that they grow just wonderfully in a pot inside? *wink wink*
Cocktail olives and onions, lemons, limes, oranges, Tabasco, salt, sugar… You name it. If you can eat it, it can be made into a cocktail garnish.
Which glassware to buy?
You’ll need proper glass for your invigorating concoctions! One can easily get pretty specific with it since there are tumblers made for certain cocktails only. By all mean, if you drink them regularly, get those, but you can get by just fine without them.
We recommend a pair of good nosing glasses for tasting things neat , martini glasses, highballs, and old fashioned glasses. These should cover quite a wide spectrum of cocktails! The first two should be delicate while the latter should have some heft to them. (Tip: you can buy Flaviar branded Glencairn glasses with concrete or leather coasters from our merch shop.)
Proper glassware is key but don’t buy Martini glasses if you don’t drink Martinis… Buy whatever you will use regularly and don’t waste shelf space.
Once again, you won’t need everything at once but having a few basic bar tools on hand is great.
Shaker – both classic and the Boston shaker allow you to aerate the drink and thoroughly mix the ingredients. We recommend a good-sized shaker, ideally one that allows you to make more than one cocktail at a time. While you can always shake things up in a ball jar, having nice tools is better.
Mixing glass – for when you need to make reverse James Bond cocktails. Stirred, not shaken! … or just mix things up.
Jigger – the double sided shot glass utensil used to measure alcohol by the ounce. Mixology is science, not art. Be precise!
Cocktail spoon – for stirring up political discuss… cocktails! This cool-looking copper spoon is a must for every cocktail aficionado. Everything tastes better if you stir it up with a copper spoon! Does it? Who cares!
Muddler – you can save money by buying a cocktail spoon that doubles as a muddler, but most bartenders recommend a separate wooden muddler to crush herbs, citrus, and sugar cubes.
Strainer – again, a good shaker already has a strainer built in but if you prefer using the Boston shaker we recommend getting a strainer. Preferably a Hawthorne strainer–the springy one–that eliminates any pulp and leaves from the final result.
Peeler – a potato peeler will do just fine for shaving the peel off lemons and limes. You already have this at home… take a look around.
A sturdy knife with a serrated blade, a cutting board, a few glass bottles for simple syrups and fresh juices, toothpicks, and a set of white towels are also essential to your home bar, but they should already be a part of your kitchen setup.
Last but not least - Ice
We just have one thing to say. You will always need more ice than you think. Chilling down the glasses, adding it to the shaker to make the drink, fresh ice you add back into the glass before pouring the cocktail… That’s a lot of ice!
Sphere-shaped ice and super-sized cubes are nice, but just make sure you bring an iceberg-worth of ice and you’re good. Ice Ice Baby!
This is where we must remember the number one rule of starting a home bar. Start small. No need to throw your kids out of the house and convert their room into a home bar. Start with a bar cart, upgrade to a cabinet, then kick your kids out the door, and at the end, your wife, and just start running a bar from your house if that’s your thing.
A bar cart is a great way to start building a home bar. They take up very little real estate but can hold quite a bit of alcohol and glassware. Feeling extra Ron Swansony? Build a home bar yourself.
Remember, you don’t always have to be stocked and prepared for a party of 12. Stock your home bar when expecting a party. There’s no need to have gallons of tonic water and two dozen limes on hand when it’s just me, myself and I.
Besides, a home bar will become a gathering point in your home, no matter the size. Like with a lot of things in life, size doesn’t matter with your home bar. *sobs*
Flaviar's final tip
Get a good book on mixology! Sure, you can Google just about anything these days and Siri does tell a pretty badass Gin and tonic recipe. But there are few things as satisfying as flipping through a book and deciding on a cocktail to try out.
If nothing else, books are one of the best ways to decorate your home bar... and you will look smart AF.
Whether you’re a beginner or a mixologist by trade, there are few things as pleasurable as crafting a cocktail and watching someone enjoy it. Even if it’s just you and even if cocktail means having a dram of Whiskey neat.
We hope this article inspired you to start your own home bar! If not, here are 12 reasons why you should have one. Yes, exactly twelve.
It’s likely you already have the majority of things needed to start a home bar at home. All you have to do is connect the dots, buy a few missing things, et voilà! For everything that’s missing, we gotcha, fam!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your home bar doesn’t have to be, either. But if you’d like, we are doing just that! Helping you build your dream home bar, not building Rome in a day… obviously.