A Beginner’s Guide to Stocking a Home Bar from Scratch
I’d love to tell you that I’m a cool food writer whose home bar is ready at all times to entertain, and that I am constantly whipping up new cocktails for everyone and their mother. The truth is, while I do have an arsenal of liquor on my bar cart, I also work a full-time job while balance freelancing with my actual life and at the end of the day I’m a creature of comfort. Unless I’m researching, developing, or testing recipes, you’ll typically find me drinking one of my regulars: tequila sunrise, vodka and juice, red wine, or Stella Artois.
While it’s normal to want a home bar that’s stocked from top to bottom with top-shelf liquor, the reality is only your most-used bottles are getting restocked while the others collect dust.
I do think the idea of having a home bar stocked with the essentials is important, especially when entertaining, because you’ll have every tool or liquor available to create a delicious cocktail you’ve been eyeing. However, what a “well-stocked” home bar is to one person may be different from another, so I’ve gathered a list of essentials to help guide you through what you may really need.
If you’ve identified which liquor you frequently use, having a few cocktail recipe books on hand is helpful—especially if you want to create new drinks with said liquor. Buying new bottles of liquor can be pricey, so you'll want to make sure it's worth your while. It’s important to plan ahead and research recipes, that way a new bottle doesn’t collect dust (and hey, you’re trying new things in the process, which is always fun!).
Identify recipes you feel are easy, approachable, and crowd pleasing and soon may be added to your most-used lineup. Here are some of my favorite books that offer approachable recipes, but also add tips, stories, and historical tidbits behind many popular drinks:
- The Essential New York Times Book of Cocktails
- Shake Stir Sip
- The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Hand-Crafted Drinks
- The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to be a Master Bartender, with 500 Recipes
Source: Design Love Fest
Bar tools are very important for creating the perfect cocktail. A stock of essential bar tools has many benefits, such as offering precise measurement ratios, getting the cocktail to mix properly, and making the right garnish. Although these are very common tools to have on hand, don't feel like you need all of these at once. Think about your favorite go-to cocktails (or ones you recently researched) and what tools you actually need—so you aren't breaking the bank.
- Ice bucket and scoop - helpful to have on hand so guests can easily access ice top-offs
- Decanter - primarily used to store wine (decanters remove sediment from the wine and help the oxidation process)
- Corkscrew and bottle opener - must-have classic bar tools used for opening
- Jigger - helps measure the right amount of alcohol (consistency is important when crafting your cocktails)
- Cocktail shaker and strainer - helpful to have on hand and great for getting a proper ice cold, shaken drink (and for straining contents thoroughly)
- Muddler and mixing spoon - a muddler crushes herbs and extracts the essential oils and flavors from the ingredients; the spoon is for mixing cocktails
- Cocktail picks, coasters, napkins, and straws - great supplies to have on hand for entertaining
Glassware is important to have on hand, but again, don't feel like you need each one of these. Certain glassware is sometimes used for specific drinks, but having a small stock of glassware will be fine. It's safe to say that having a set of highball or Collins glasses, red and white wine glasses, champagne flutes, and Old Fashioned glasses will be enough, but again, think about what your personal go-to drinks are.
- Collins glass - a glass tumbler used to serve mixed drinks; narrower than a highball glass
- Martini glass - holds three to five ounces of spirits (most martinis call for about 3 ounces)
- Highball glass - a glass tumbler used to serve mixed drinks; taller than an Old Fashioned glass and shorter than a Collins glass
- Old Fashioned glass - also called lowball or rocks glass; a short glass tumbler used to serve liquor "on the rocks"
- red and white wine glass - there are various sizes for wine glasses, depending on the type of wine being served
- beer mugs and pint glass - depending on the beer being served, these also come in different sizes and shapes
- Champagne flute - glassware made for champagne
Crate and Barrel is as a great source to buy glasses at a great price (I personally love to buy glassware here) but don't forget to check your local Home Goods, Target or Walmart, local kitchen ware store, or discount stores and thrift shops—all usually have great deals on glassware.
Source: Craft and Cocktails
Your collection of liquor should be tailored to your personal taste, but eventually you may want to add other classic liquor that will satisfy any crowd you're hosting, especially after you've learned new recipes. Again, don't feel obligated to buy all of these, just spend time researching a few classic cocktail recipes before investing in a bottle of liquor you aren't used to.
- Rum (light, dark or spiced)
- Whiskey (Canadian, Rye, Irish Whiskey)
Cordials and Liqueurs
Liqueurs are a great addition to many cocktail recipes. Here's a list of some to have on hand in your home bar.
- Amaretto - a sweet, almond flavored Italian liqueur
- Cream liqueur - generally includes dairy cream and flavored liqueur
- Coffee liqueur - a coffee drink with a shot of liqueur
- Chambord - a raspberry-flavored brand of liqueuer
- Crème de Cacoa / Crème de Menthe - sweet, chocolate or mint flavored liqueurs
- Dry/Sweet Vermouth - herb-flavored wine in both dry and sweet tastes
- Orange Liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, Curaçao) - orange flavored liqueurs
- St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur - a liqueur flavored with elderflowers
Juices and Mixers
Source: The Little Epicurean
Mixers, which are non-alcoholic, are used to add volume and flavor to cocktails. Chances are you already have most of these in stock at home!
- Juices - cranberry, grapefruit, lemon/lime, orange, pineapple, tomato
- Sodas - club soda, cola, lemon-lime soda, ginger ale/beer, tonic
- Mixers - bitters, coffee, grenadine, half and half/milk, simple syrup, sour mix, hot sauce
- Pre-bottled mixes - Margarita mix, Pina Colada mix, Bloody Mary mix
Source: Sugar and Cloth
Garnishes are the finishing touch to impress your guests with a beautiful (and tasty) cocktail.
- lemons, limes, and oranges (in peel, wedge or slice form)
- sugar cubes
- Maraschino cherries
- herbs and flowers (rosemary, thyme, lavender, edible flowers, sage)
- other fruits and vegetables related to the ingredients in the cocktail