A Complete Guide to Building the Perfect Home Bar

Is anyone else dreaming of the days to come when we can finally get together with friends and family again? I can’t wait to have a few friends over and have a toast to good health. I even started putting together a plan for who to invite, the food I should serve and what drinks I should have available. I already have a pretty good home bar set up and know several cocktails I can mix up to impress my guests but that may not be the case for everybody.

Today’s post is all about how to build the perfect home bar. I have put together an extensive list of spirits, mixers, and bar tools needed to make a complete home bar. 

Paloma from Foolish Things Bar and Biscuit in Tulsa, OK

Unless you plan on having regular large get-togethers at your house you can most likely narrow the following list down to at least half or maybe even less. To really get a good idea of what you do and do not need for your home bar ask yourself these questions: How often do I plan on having company over? When I am entertaining about how many people will be in attendance? What drinks do I most enjoy? How much storage space do I have for bar items? If you only ever plan on having 2 to 3 people over at a time there is no need to have a fully stocked bar. Keep your bar stocked with items to make drinks you like. No need to keep all of these liquors and mixers on hand if you don’t have enough space to store everything. You may even have some of the garnishes on hand since most can also be used when cooking. 

Spirits to keep in stock:

  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Bourbon
  • Gin
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Sweet Vermouth
  • Campari
  • Prosecco (look for the single serves)

Mixers and Garnishes:

  • Lime
  • Lemons
  • Olives
  • Orange
  • Luxardo Cherries
  • Mint
  • Ginger Beer
  • Bloody Mary Mix
  • Grapefruit Soda (squirt or fresca)
  • Agave Nectar
  • Juice assortment (cranberry, pineapple, orange etc.) 
  • Kosher Salt
  • Sugar
  • Simple Syrup (you can buy this or make it at home by simmering equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves)

Tools you will need:

  • Jigger
  • Muddler
  • Knife
  • Lime Press
  • Shaker
  • Stirrer 
  • Strainer

If you are short on storage space there is a bar tool called a bar10der that is 10 bar tools in one. 

If you’re reading this and have a dusty bottle of red wine and three bottles of whiskey on your shelf and are thinking, this bar setup is going to be expensive, here’s what I suggest:

  • Pick 2-3 kinds of beer or wine, really just depends what you and your friends like to drink
  • Pick 2-3 kinds of spirit, preferably different flavor profiles
  • Pick 2-3 mixers you like

When I have people over, I like to make one house cocktail for guests. If you can make it in a batch, that’s even better. Then if you want, give people the option to customize their drinks with different juices or garnishments. On top of the house cocktail, I’ll always have two other easy drinks to mix up in mind, even if that’s just a vodka soda or my new favorite, ranch water (topo chico and tequila). Finally, I will have a couple different kinds of beer and at least one wine. It keeps you from shaking up drinks all evening, but gives guests a great experience. 

Explaining the Spirits:

There are three main styles of tequila: blanco, also known as silver or white, reposado, and anejo. Blanco is a clear spirit that is rested in stainless steel tanks for no more than sixty days. Because it is not aged it is the purest form of tequila. Reposado, meaning rested, is aged in wood casks anywhere from 2 to 9 months. The aging process mellows the flavor of blanco tequila and gives it a soft oak flavor and takes on a light straw color. Anejo is aged for a minimum of 1 year and up to 3 years to create a balance of agave and oak flavors and creates a darker color. Anejo is more of a sipping tequila while reposado and blanco are commonly used in mixed drinks. Tequila can range anywhere from $10 to $1000 or more per bottle. The main thing to remember is you do not need an ultra premium tequila to make a good cocktail. Just look for something that is 100% agave and not a mixto which is 49% non-agave sugars. I like to use Exotico Silver or Espolon Reposado. Both have great flavor and are priced around $20-$25.

Margarita

  • 2oz tequila
  • ¾ oz agave nectar
  • ¾ oz lime juice (fresh squeezed if possible)

Pour all ingredients over ice, add a splash of water and shake vigorously. Then pour over fresh ice. If desired, garnish with a salted rim and lime wedge. If you prefer to use a premade margarita mix Tres Agaves makes a really good one.

Paloma

  • 2oz tequila
  • 1oz lime juice (fresh squeezed if possible)
  • Mexican-made grapefruit soda like squirt or fresca

Pour tequila and lime juice over ice then top with soda and stir. Salted rim and lime garnish optional. 

Gin is a distilled spirit found of various styles and regions with a predominant juniper berry flavor. After juniper, other flavors commonly noted are herbal, floral and fruit. Gin has always been popular in the UK but it is starting to make its resurgence in the US. There are a lot of great local small batch gins coming out. Even Ryan Reynolds has his own brand, Aviation. Popular gins to keep in your bar are Beefeater, Tanquerey or Bombay Sapphire. If you are already a fan of the classic gin and tonic (1.5 oz gin topped with tonic water) you may enjoy getting a bit more creative and trying some of the following gin based cocktails:

Gimlet

  • 2oz Gin
  • 3/4oz lime juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup

Pour gin, lime juice and simple syrup over ice and stir, then strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass or pour over ice. 

Negroni

  • 1oz gin
  • 1oz Campari
  • 1oz Sweet vermouth
  • Orange peel to garnish

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Stream into a rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel.

Gin Martini

  • 3oz Gin
  • 1oz Dry vermouth
  • 1 cup ice (for mixing and chilling glass)
  • Olives to garnish

Combine gin and dry vermouth in a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives. To make it Dirty add a little bit of olive juice. 

French 75

  • 2oz Gin
  • ¾ oz lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • 2oz champagne (prosecco will work as well)

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne. You can add a sugar rim to your glass and garnish with a lemon twist. 

Vodka is traditionally made from potatoes or cereal grains, however some more modern vodka brands use sugar or fruit as their base. Because it is known to be tasteless and odorless it is a great mixing spirit and used as the main spirit in many popular cocktails. A few easy drinks you could quickly put together include a screwdriver (1.5oz vodka and orange juice) cape cod (1.5oz vodka and cranberry with a lime) and bay breeze (1.5oz vodka and pineapple juice). There’s really no reason why you should spend over $20 unless you plan to drink it straight or in a martini. I would suggest getting Pickers, Finlandia or Skyy to keep in your home. Another really popular vodka that I do enjoy is Tito’s but it might be a little over the $20 mark. 

Bloody Mary

  • 1.5oz Vodka
  • 3oz tomato juice
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • 1 dash worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dash celery salt
  • 1 dash tabasco sauce

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a tall glass over ice. Garnish with a salted rim, celery, olives or anything else you desire. If you prefer to use a Bloody Mary mix I recommend ZingZang.

Moscow Mule

  • 1.5oz vodka
  • ¾ oz lime juice (fresh squeezed)
  • Gosling’s ginger beer

Fill a copper mug to the rim with ice then add vodka, lime juice and top with ginger beer. To mix, pour into a tall glass and then back into your copper mug. Garnish with a lime wedge or get creative and also add mint for a little more flavor. I have tried many different ginger beers and Gosling’s is by far my absolute favorite. 

 Vodka Martini

  • 3oz Vodka
  • 1oz Dry vermouth
  • 1 cup ice (for mixing and chilling glass)
  • Olives to garnish

Combine vodka and dry vermouth in a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives.

Bourbon is an American whiskey primarily made of corn and barrel aged. Bourbon has to be aged for at least two years but in my opinion 12 years seems to be the sweet spot. There are a lot of great bourbons out there that can break the bank, but there are also a great range of reasonably priced bourbons for your home bar. Buffalo Trace, Makers Mark and Wellers are good brands to stick with. 

Old Fashion

  • 2oz bourbon
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 3 dashes angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • Orange peel to garnish

Add sugar, bitters and water into a rocks glass, stir until sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add bourbon and gently stir to combine. Twist the orange peel over the glass to extract some oil then drop in.

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