At some point in their lives, everyone who drinks begins to realize that there is more to alcohol than just beer. Don’t get us wrong, the world of beer is complex and filled with nooks and crannies to explore. However, there’s nothing quite like starting to amass your own private bar stock, complete with gins and tonics and distilled spirits of all kinds. This lets you do more than simply open a cold bottle and hand it to your guests.
With a full bar set, you can make drinks for every occasion, be it a relaxed dinner party, a quiet celebration for two, or even a fun filled afternoon get together. But knowing what to buy and how to stock a reasonable selection for your first bar is confusing. After all, there are hundreds of different types of alcohol. Here are some tips on making sure that when you celebrate happy hour at home with friends, it’s always lively.
You’re going to find some people or websites who recommend buying ten or twelve different bottles and six different mixers for your first at-home bar. However, we recommend that you avoid this. First, it’s expensive, even if you go with mid-quality middle-shelf varieties. Second, you’re going to be making the drinks. If you don’t know the recipes, you’re going to have trouble making drinks that your friends and guests request.
When you start small, you have a chance to build your repertoire, gradually branching out from a simple gin and tonic to mojitos and eventually to more complicated drinks. After all, you don’t start out on the piano by trying to play Moonlight Sonata in G-minor, right? Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Eventually you’ll be able to whip up a gimlet with one hand and a martini in the other, but for now, stick with just a couple of types of liquor.
Stick With What You Like at First
No matter how social you are, the number one customer at your home bar is going to be you. So when you start your at-home bar, focus on things you like. And don’t skimp either. You’re going to be drinking what you mix, so get what you like. When you’re drinking out on your deck on the weekends enjoying the sun, your neighbors aren’t going to care that you prefer middle-shelf tequila over Patron. When you do entertain and you share one of your favorite drinks with your friends, you want to make sure they get the best flavor you can offer, right?
That being said, eventually, you’ll want to expand your repertoire. When you do, learn one or two classic recipes for each new type of alcohol that you’re adding to your bar. For example, if you’re adding gin, you can’t go wrong with a gin and tonic, a gimlet, or a classic martini. Here are our recommendations for what you should aim for in your bar along with the best mixers and tools.
- Bourbon Whiskey
What mixers you choose will depend on what mixed drinks you want to serve. Pretty much any juice or soda can be a mixer, from plain club soda or tonic water to V-8. Here’s a list of basic mixers:
- Club soda
- Coke or Pepsi
- Ginger Ale
- Fruit juices (orange, cranberry, pineapple)
- Tomato juice
- Simple syrup
- Grenadine Syrup
There are certain bar tools that you should have in your at-home bar. Thankfully, none of it is difficult to master.
- Bar Spoons – A long spoon lets you stir and mix easily when a shaker won’t work. Additionally, you can use the back of the spoon to make layered drinks that look pretty.
- A Muddler – Cocktail muddlers are basically a long stick that reaches to the bottom of your tall glass, letting you crush plant material to release essential oils. The best muddler will be made of metal and have a silicone or non-porous crushing surface to prevent oils from being absorbed and flavors transferring from one drink to another.
- Jigger – A jigger is a double sided metal shot measurer. One side is usually a single 1-ounce shot and the other measures a 1-1/2 ounce shot.
- Shaker – Cocktail shakers come in two main varieties. The most common is the three-piece, which has a built in strainer to filter out ice and rinds. The two-piece Boston shaker requires that you have a strainer on hand.
- Hawthorne Strainer – This type of strainer is more versatile than a standard fine mesh strainer. The coiled spring ensures that it fits into almost any glass and will filter out any chunks or flecks that don’t belong in your finished cocktail.
- Corkscrew – This is so you can open proper bottles of wine. While wine does come in screw tops and even boxes now, you don’t want to be caught cold if you need to pop a celebratory magnum of champagne. If you don’t think you’re going to drink the entire bottle, invest in a wine saver as well.
The last thing you’ll need is a proper bar. You can purchase a cabinet or even make one yourself. You’ll need a storage place that has enough room for your alcohol and any specific glassware that you have. There are specialized cocktail cabinets that have a small footprint but hold everything you need.
Typically this bar will store all of your basic liquors, mixers, and if you can get fancy, you can add a refrigerator to store beer and wine. If this is possible, make sure you have a bottle opener and a wine opener handy as well.
That’s it. With these simple items, you can get your at-home bar up and running. Before you know it, you’ll be hosting dinner parties like an old pro.