What Makes the Best Home Bar? Stock Up on These Must-Haves
There are many reasons to keep a variety of alcohol on hand in your home bar. Different spirits bring different characteristics to the drinks you sip and savor or mix into highballs or cocktails. And flavor profile, body and even food pairings make all the difference between spirits. When you make a point of keeping a variety of liquor types around, you’ll always be ready with a unique sensory experience, whether just for yourself at the end of a long day, over a gourmet meal with your partner, or on a fun Saturday night with a handful of friends.
Sound appealing? It's easier than you think.
To create that ultimate drinking experience, you'll need to stock a variety of supplies in your home bar. The main components are your spirits, which we're here to help with through our Stock the Bar Club. The club rotates through a different spirit each month: whiskey, bourbon, tequila, rum, gin and vodka. Here, you’ll learn all about these liquors and our bottle recommendations, along with those other key home-bar components to start you off with a bang.
Many people love how whiskey makes them feel warm and fuzzy from the inside out. The liquid slowly coats your throat on its way down and creates a toasty fire within you. The drink is fantastic when sipped slowly, which really makes you feel present in a certain moment in time. Sniffing and swirling the liquid can truly make you appreciate its intricacies, from aromas like baking, smokiness or leather, to a distiller’s historic past and the story of how the spirit landed in your glass from the other side of the world or just down the street.
Wonderful Whiskey Cocktails
There are many fabulous whiskey cocktails you can make right at home. Here are a couple of our favorites.
To a cocktail shaker, add 2 ounces whiskey, 1 ounce lemon juice and ¾-ounces simple syrup or maple syrup. Fill with ice and shake until cold. Then, strain into an Old Fashioned or lowball glass with ice. Garnish with a cocktail cherry and twist of orange peel.
To a mixing glass filled with ice, add and combine 2 ounces whiskey, 1 ounce sweet vermouth and a few dashes bitters. Stir well before straining into a chilled cocktail or highball glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
Whiskey Recommendation: Noble Oak Double Oak Rye Whiskey
Noble Oak’s Double Oak Rye Whiskey uses world-renowned charred new American white oak casks that bring out the rye’s distinct and unique character, after aging for at least one year. The drink’s complexly elegant, bold and balanced flavor is then released through the distillery’s proprietary finishing methods with the same wood used to create quality port wine.
As with all spirits, bourbon comes in many types. The one constant, though? You’ll always get a deliciously smoky, sweet, spicy, or somewhat fruity variation. The drink also comes with a dynamic and interesting history and place in American culture. For instance, rye bourbon was a choice drink of icons like Frank Sinatra. With vintage vibes and rye cocktails resurfacing these days, all the more reason to dip your toes into the world of bourbon.
Best Bourbon Blends
In a cocktail mixing glass, combine 1.5 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce sweet vermouth and 1 ounce Campari. Fill with a handful of ice and stir for about 30 seconds. Into your drinking glass, add ice and strain the drink. Cut about a 1-inch strip of orange peel, then squeeze it into your drink to release its oils. Run the peel around the glass’ edge and place inside.
To a lowball glass, add 1 teaspoon or cube of sugar and 4 dashes of Angostura bitters, followed by a half-teaspoon of water. Swirl and mash with a wooden spoon or muddler until the sugar dissolves. Then, add 2 ounces bourbon along with an ice cube and swirl to combine well. Cut off about a 1-inch strip of orange peel and squeeze in to release the oils. Run the peel around the glass’ edge before adding it inside. Finish by adding a cocktail cherry as garnish.
Bourbon Recommendation: Bib & Tucker 6 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey
Bib & Tucker’s 6 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey from Tennessee is aged for a long 6 years and comes out exceptionally smooth. You’ll love its aromas of vanilla, freshly-cut grass, leather, stone and chestnut and sweet, warm and crisp tasting notes of toffee and vanilla. The drink finishes with a complex but balanced linger of chestnut.
A great thing about tequila is the various types it comes in and their range of characteristics and flavor profiles. And, there’s something about the trendy, cool factor of tequila that makes it desirable compared to other liquors. It carries a certain young and fun quality and is a familiar drink of choice for parties, both out on the town or at home (which explains why Margaritas are a top-selling cocktail worldwide). Speaking of the Margarita…check ours out, below.
Terrific Tequila Twists
Wet the rim of a chilled cocktail or margarita glass with a wedge of lime, and roll it through a small plate of salt. To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add 1.5 ounces tequila, 1-ounce triple sec and ¾-ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice, then shake well. Strain into your rimmed glass and add ice, if desired. Add a lime wedge as garnish.
To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add 1.5 ounces of tequila, and a half-ounce each of crème de cassis and lime juice. Shake well, then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top the drink with ginger beer and garnish with a wedge of lime.
Tequila Recommendation: Tres Generaciones Tequila Plata Tequila
Tres Generaciones Plata is a tribute from Third Generation Don Francisco Javier Sauza to his family’s 100+ years of courage, skill and knowledge. This unaged, clear tequila is made from 100% blue agave and triple-distilled for a unique, pure taste and smoothness.
Consumer tastes are becoming more and more discerning, and people are demanding more craft and heritage styles in their booze. Though a little late to the game compared to other now-premium and modernized spirits, rum is catching up with the rest as people realize just how sophisticated it can be. These days, there are more rums available from well-known, longstanding brands and craft distillers alike. The best part? Rum is incredibly diverse and unique to each region in which it’s produced.
Rockin Rum Roundups
To a cocktail shaker, add 6 mint leaves, and ¾-ounces each lime juice and simple syrup, then muddle. Add 1.5 ounces rum and 2 dashes Angostura bitters and fill the shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into your cocktail glass. Add 2 ounces champagne and some more mint for garnish.
To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add 1.5 ounces rum, 1-ounce lime juice and a half-ounce simple syrup or maple syrup. Mix, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.
Rum Recommendation: Flor de Caña 7 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum
A full-bodied, premium rum without added sugar, Flor de Caña 7 Year Old Gran Reserva is naturally aged in small white oak bourbon barrels that are sealed with plantain leaves, which give some tropical notes. You’ll also notice vanilla, fig, toasted coconut, dark chocolate and honey in this rich, smooth, long-finishing rum.
Gin has become a huge part of cocktail culture in restaurants and bars all over the world. Its versatile, adaptable flavor lends itself well to nearly any recipe (we’ve got a couple for you, below). As well, its flavor can easily change depending on the particular botanical infusions, making this low-calorie spirit so interesting that you may never try two alike.
Great Gin Gems
To a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes, add 2 ounces gin, ¾-ounces simple syrup or maple syrup and 1-ounce lemon juice. Shake until chilled, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Top off the drink with soda water, then garnish with a cocktail cherry and lemon wheel.
To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add 1.5 ounces of gin, 3 ounces of grapefruit juice and an optional 1 teaspoon of simple syrup if you’d like added sweetness. Shake until cold, then strain into your glass. Add a wedge of grapefruit and rosemary branch as garnish.
Gin Recommendation: Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin
The small-batch, quadruple-distilled Caorunn Scottish Gin contains the finest pure grain, natural Scottish water and 11 fine botanical ingredients from the rugged Cairngorm National Park. Even better, this quality gin is solidly backed by the historical Balmenach Distillery, one of the first to be licensed as a Scotch producer in 1824.
Because of its (perceived) lack of flavor and versatility, Vodka is an extremely useful liquor to have on hand in any home or commercial bar. The power of these qualities is that they provide a clean, blank slate of sorts from which to create all kinds of mixed drinks — just like the ones below.
Voracious Vodka Vehicles
To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add 2 ounces of vodka, ½ to ¾-ounces dry vermouth (to taste) and 2 dashes of bitters. Shake for 30 seconds or more, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a twist of lemon or 3 olives as garnish.
Add 2 ounces of vodka and a ½-ounce of freshly-squeezed lime juice to a copper mug filled with ice. Top with 4 ounces of ginger beer and add a wedge of lime to garnish.
Vodka Recommendation: Kástra Elión Vodka
Kástra Elión Vodka comes from a family-owned and artisan-crafted Greek distillery. What’s neat about this one is that, unlike many vodkas out there, it’s distilled from Greek olives along with premium grains that perfectly balance the flavor. You’ll find this vodka to be round and smooth, with a bit of spice and pepper.
Like the above spirits, liqueurs are distilled alcoholic drinks key to cocktail mixing. That said, they’re typically quite sweet (while liquors are not) and contain different oils and extracts. Liqueurs range in alcohol content anywhere from 30 proof to 110 proof. Think of this type of alcohol as flavoring in mixed drinks, making it integral to many classic cocktails (though many are also served on their own — neat, chilled or on the rocks).
There are simply too many liqueurs to name, so we’ll take a look at 6 of the most common types that will serve you well in your home bar.
Irish cream liqueur, like Bailey’s, is a combination of Irish whiskey and Irish dairy cream, along with a bit of rich chocolate and vanilla. This liqueur is wonderful in coffee, over ice cream or on its own over ice. It’s also delicious in cocktails with a creamy texture, like a Mudslide or Chocolatini.
Iconic Campari is an Italian bitter liqueur known as an amaro and famous for its place in the classic Negroni cocktail and its offshoots (like the Boulevardier). It tastes quite bitter yet sweet all at once. You’ll also find this liqueur in lower-alcohol mixed drinks like a Campari and Soda.
One of the world’s most famous orange liqueurs, Cointreau is actually considered to be a triple sec — meaning it’s made with sweet and bitter orange peels, whereas a curaçao is made strictly with bitter peels. This liqueur is widely popular in classic cocktails like the Margarita and Cosmopolitan, but people also like it straight up as a digestif or aperitif.
This classic almond-flavored Italian liqueur is one of the world’s most famous amarettos and is often used in cocktails like the Amaretto Sour and bomb shots like the Gladiator. Nutty, sweet and made with 17 fruits and herbs, it’s also very old, allegedly dating all the way back to 1575.
Green Chartreuse is an old (pre-1750), classic herbal liqueur produced from a top-secret recipe by monks in France’s Chartreuse mountains. It contains 130 types of plants, flowers and herbs and is used in many cocktails, like the Bijou, or enjoyed on its own.
St. Germain is a highly-acclaimed, preservative-free elderflower liqueur that tastes subtly sweet and floral. This versatile liqueur complements so many ingredients and continuously improves mediocre mixers to that point that it has affectionately become known as “bartender’s ketchup”. Try it in a French Gimlet or, really, anything you’d like!
To shake up your home bar even more, why not stock a few secondary liqueurs and give yourself more cocktail-making power? Here are some of our favorites.
Classic Bénédictine is an aromatic liqueur going back to 1863. It features a complex, herbal and honey profile and is used in various cocktails, like the Singapore Sling.
Crème de Cacao
Featured in many dessert cocktails, the thick, clear Creme de Cacao liqueur smells of sweet cocoa and tastes of rich chocolate. It’s often used in creamy, delectable cocktails like the Grasshopper and Brandy Alexander.
Chambord, an all-natural raspberry-flavored liqueur, was first introduced in the 1980s, though its recipe is based on one from 17th-century France. With its sweet flavor and fairly low alcohol content (16.5% ABV), you’ll find Chambord is more ideal in cocktails, like the French Martini, than as a sipping liqueur.
Crème de Menthe
Crème de Menthe (French for “mint cream”) is a clear or green sweet, minty liqueur. It gets steeped in grain alcohol for several weeks before being filtered and sweetened. This liqueur is common as a digestif and the star of many cocktails, like the Grasshopper and Peppermint Patty.
Gold in color and sweet, smooth and complex in flavor, Scottish-produced Drambuie has a Scotch whiskey-base along with notes of Scottish honey, herbs and spices, and anise, orange peel and oak. It’s popular in the famous prohibition-era Rusty Nail cocktail, a favorite of the Rat Pack.
When it comes to mixed drinks and cocktails, your drink mixers are the non-alcoholic ingredients going into them. They dilute the drink and lower its alcohol content. Mixers also enhance, add or change flavors in a drink by making them more sour, savory or sweet.
Mixers are important because, alongside high-quality alcohol, they’re integral to a drink’s quality, flavor, appearance and volume. They’re really the “glue” holding a cocktail together. Check out our list of key mixing ingredients.
Orange juice may just be the most versatile mixer in a well-stocked bar. It’s perfect for a brunch Mimosa cocktail or on the patio with a Screwdriver.
Like its orange counterpart, this juice is packed with vitamin C. It’s a great staple to keep on hand for cocktails like Cosmopolitans and Vodka Cranberries.
You can’t have a Sea Breeze or Paloma without grapefruit juice, so don’t forget to stock this tart and tangy juice.
When you’re feeling savory over sweet, you’ll be glad to find this juice in your bar fridge — perfect for a tasty Bloody Mary.
Bitters are an extract used for flavoring in mixed drinks. They’re made by softening or soaking various ingredients, often dried botanicals like fruit and bark, in water and alcohol. Some bitters also include coloring and sweeteners. You’ll often find them in cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, which use orange and aromatic bitters.
Sweet, syrupy Grenadine is made mostly from sugar and pomegranate juice. Vibrant red in color, it’s often used in martinis and Tequila Sunrise cocktails.
4. Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is a liquid sweetener that’s made with dissolved sugar in water. It equally disperses its sweetness throughout a drink, no matter the temperature. This bar staple is commonly used in cocktails like the Whiskey Sour or Mojito.
5. Cream, Milk, Half ‘n Half or Eggnog
Having some basic dairy on hand — whether it’s cream, milk, half ‘n half or eggnog — expands your cocktail options to smooth, creamy and comforting goodness. These staples allow you to make cocktails like a White Russian, Tom and Jerry, or a classic Rum and Eggnog.
6. Coffee and Tea
Many cocktails call for coffee or tea, so these items are ideal to have around. Don’t skimp and use a standard drip coffee, though, as something strong and rich (like from a French press) will produce a better flavor. As for teas, there are too many varieties to count and therefore just as many wonderful concoctions to create (for instance, green tea and gin work wonderfully together)!
7. Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco Sauce
If you’re a fan of Bloody Marys or other tomato juice cocktails, these sauces are must-haves. They add a nice savory or spicy kick to many drinks.
Some of the most common sodas ideal for drink mixing include:
- Club soda, like you’ll find in a Vodka Soda.
- Tonic water — key to the infamous Gin & Tonic.
- Ginger ale — a main ingredient in the Shandy.
- Cola and diet cola — a Rum & Coke wouldn’t be the same without this.
- Lemon-lime flavored soda — as found in a Pimm’s Cup.
We couldn’t publish this without mentioning the most important cocktail ingredient — yes, ice. You may not think of ice this way but, in one way or another, it’s used in nearly all mixed drinks or cocktails. Be sure your ice is clean and fresh, and pay attention to its size, which affects the dilution and ultimate taste of your drink.
Aside from ingredients, your home bar will need these key supplies for mixing:
- Shaker and strainer
- Bottle opener
- Shot glass for measuring
- Stirring spoon
- Mesh strainer
No cocktail is complete without a finishing touch or garnish. Here are the essentials for classic cocktails along with some extras for those obscure recipes. Whichever garnishes you decide on, don’t forget to pick up toothpicks and napkins for serving.
Olives. Whether you prefer plain or stuffed, olives are typically used for gin or vodka (not fruity) martinis.
Limes. Wedges and wheels are often used in cocktails that contain tonic or soda water, or lemon-lime soda, as well as Cosmopolitans and Margaritas.
- To make lime wedges, cut off the fruit’s ends and slice the lime in half. Then, take each half and cut it into four equal pieces.
- To make lime wheels, cut off the lime’s ends and slice the fruit from one side to the other (use your best judgment for thickness). Then, make a cut from the wheel’s center to its edge and affix to your glass.
Lemons. Lemons are used in cocktails like the Long Island Iced Tea and Lemon Drop Martinis. Cut lemon wedges as you would lime, or make a twist by:
- Cutting off the lemon’s ends,
- Cutting the rind from one end to the other in ⅓-inch strips, and
- Peeling the strips off.
Maraschino cherries. Use whenever you’re mixing with grenadine or Collins Mix, or in Manhattans and some martinis.
Berries. Place some blueberries, blackberries or raspberries on a toothpick or cocktail stick and place atop your glass. This is a great garnish for a Hazelnut Raspberry Martini.
Celery. Drinks like Bloody Marys go well with vegetable garnishes like celery. Cut the leaves and base off to use celery sticks as garnish.
Mint leaves. This refreshing garnish can go both in and alongside drinks like Mint Juleps and Mojitos.
Salt. Cocktails like Bloody Marys and Margaritas call for kosher salt along the glass rim. Squeeze a lime slice and run it around the glass' rim, then run the rim through a dish of salt.
You’ve been through this laundry list of home bar supplies, but what do you serve your beautiful creations in? Pay attention to your recipes, as different cocktails are best enjoyed in these specific types of glasses for whiskey, tequila, wine or any other spirit you fancy:
- Martini glasses
- Rocks glasses
- Red and white wine glasses
- Highball glasses or tall glasses
- Beer mugs and pint glasses
Now that you know just how to stock your home bar to create the best cocktails, head on out and pick up your supplies. Better yet, sign up for our Stock the Bar Club to receive an interesting new bottle each month. Or, if you know what you're looking for, our bottle shop is a convenient way to shop for your essential liquors from the comfort of home. Happy mixing!