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Create a Kick-Ass Home Bar!

Now, more than ever, people are embracing craft cocktails and spirits. Whether you have a shoebox in the closet or a speakeasy in your basement, there are a few bar(e) essentials you will need to form the foundation for an amazing home setup. Sure, your preferences count – if you absolutely hate Tequila ever since that rager in High School, skip it. But a killer home bar will cover the basic needs that will give you a range of sips, be it to soothe a tough Tuesday, or when you’re hosting an iconic Girls’ Night.


The fundamentals are: a few base spirits, like vodka and whisk(e)y. Auxiliary necessities are vermouth, bitters, and a bitter aperitivo (i.e. Campari or Aperol.) It’s good to have some (what I call) perishables on hand, namely citrus, juices, club soda or tonic, and simple syrup. I encourage a decent set of bar tools, appropriate glassware, and garnishes if you aspire to Instagram ogling. At minimum, you’ll be set with about 5-8 bottles, a shaker, strainer, and bar spoon, and a quick grocery run, but there are numerous avenues for expansion and room if you want to play.




Personally, I suggest the following:

  • Vodka

  • Gin

  • Whisk(e)y like bourbon or rye, and/or Scotch

  • Tequila or mezcal, and

  • Rum


But you can expand with a few different age categories, like añejo, reposado, and blanco tequila, or white and aged rum, depending on what styles you prefer. Ambitious tipplers could have one each of a Bourbon, Rye, Tennessee Whiskey, peaty Scotch, unpeated Scotch, (blended and single malt,) an Irish, and a Japanese whisky if that’s your bag! Want to cover even more bases? Add a couple flavored vodkas, a citrus-forward gin and an herbaceous gin, a smoky mezcal and fruit-forward mezcal, and a couple brandies like apple brandy and Cognac/Armagnac. Unique spirits like Dutch Genever, Brazil’s Cachaça, Chinese Baiju, Scandanavian Aquavit, and Peru’s Pisco are also a ton of fun to play with.


Simple: 5 bottles

Moderate: 9-10 bottles

Complex: 27+ bottles



You really should have dry and sweet vermouth, a bitter aperitivo like Campari or Aperol, bitters (at least the workhorse Angostura, though I have FOURTEEN different bitters on my shelf at the moment!) And an amaro, at least a mainstay like Montenegro, and/or a friendly Nonino.


Simple: 4

Moderate: 7

Complex: 12+


It is helpful to have some liqueurs that show up in many cocktails, like an orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Dry Curacao,) maraschino liqueur (Luxardo,) and gentian liqueur (Suze or Cocchi Americano.) But for my readers who have a very roomy bar cart, you could grab a whole range of amazing bottles like: Absinthe (for a rinse,) Chartreuse (yellow & green), elderflower (St Germain,) Velvet Falernum, cream liqueur (like Irish cream), chile liqueur (Ancho Reyas), bergamot liqueur (Italicus), coffee liqueur like Mr. Black, Limoncello, ginger liqueur, Nocino (walnut liqueur), amaretto (almond liqueur,) elote/corn liqueur like Nixta, and probably a zillion more.


Simple: 3-4

Moderate: 7-8

Complex: 18


(And, as a wineau, I have to add that Port, dry and sweet Sherry, and other wines are making a lovely appearance in some cocktails, so leave a little room for them!)


With a simple setup, you will have the ability to make a range of classic cocktails like: Martini, Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Gin & Tonic, and more.


With a more complex collection, you will be able to play with cocktails like: White Negroni, Paper Plane, Penicillin, Naked & Famous, Tipperary, Jungle Bird, Sazerac, and more.



Perishables don’t last forever like booze but are indispensable for many popular sips. Fresh lemons, limes, grapefruit, and simple syrup (see TIP below) are your basics. Add juices, soda and/or tonic water, mixers like ginger beer, cola, or other fizzy sips, and eggs or aquafaba for a foam if you’re really fancy.



You can get away with fudging a lot here, but you really need a shaker, strainer, and a jigger for measuring. A good cocktail stirrer is helpful (and sometimes comes with a flat disc on the end to double as a muddler.) If you get a whole set, you might have a Boston shaker, a cobbler shaker, a Hawthorne strainer, a fine mesh strainer, and a Julep strainer (wider holes let some bits in,) a jigger or two, a muddler, a couple of bar spoons, and a mixing glass. Want to be bougie? Snag a smoker too.




This is my Achilles’ Heel but I’m not mad at it. I have way too many cocktail glasses… and keep buying more! At the end of the day, if you want to serve cocktails in whatever you have around, that’s fine. But if you want to up your game, you’ll grab at least a set of highball, lowball/old fashioned, coupe, and Nick & Nora glasses. More? Martini, margarita, hurricane, tiki mug, and/or anything with fancy shapes, colors, unusual glass elements… I have these hand-blown sea life-adorned tequila glasses I’m obsessed with. Sigh, cocktail glasses are the best.




Garnishes are like finishing salt to a dish, the final touch that pulls it all together. They can be nearly anything: citrus wedge, wheel, or twist (fresh or dried,) berries or other fruit, fresh herbs/spices, vegetable peels, olives, cocktail onions, and salt, sugar, and/or spice rims, candy, and anything else you can dream up. Don’t forget the cocktail picks or mini clips for display too.


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Now that I’ve completely overwhelmed you with possibilities, I suggest you take a step back, start small, and build out your perfect home bar slowly. Try some of your favorite cocktail recipes at home, adding a spirit or liqueur to your collection as you go. Try a cocktail subscription like Shaker & Spoon (get my referral HERE) — they were instrumental in introducing me to new spirits, techniques, and creative recipes. Talk to your favorite bartenders about what they’re into these days. Try new cocktails when you go out. Ask for recommendations at your local specialty liquor store. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Before you know it, you’ll have built a home bar that is perfect for you.




(Coming soon: Home cocktail techniques that will impress your friends! A primer on infusions, fat washing, smoking, foam, and more. Plus, some of my favorite cocktails to add to your rotation.)


TIP — Make simple syrup at home, it’s so easy: it’s just 1 – to – 1 sugar and water. Add a cup of sugar to a cup of water and simmer slowly until the sugar dissolves. Don’t let it boil! Allow it to cool and then store in the fridge. Use within a few weeks. You can also flavor your syrup with lots of things, ginger, rosemary, basil, cinnamon, pink peppercorns, allspice, etc. Just add these to the pan at the beginning and strain them out before storing the syrup. FYI: if you have a recipe calling for “rich” syrup, make as above with 2 to 1 sugar and water; two cups of sugar to one cup of water.



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