Let’s take a look at what home bar essentials should be behind your bar.
When you hear the phrase “home bar” you might think of a man cave or a finished basement bar, but a home bar can be just about anywhere. Whether you have a liquor cabinet or some other dedicated space for spirits, mixers, bar tools, glasses, etc. then you have a home bar, and keeping that space stocked with the right items could make or break any gathering when friends and family come over for drinks.
Even if you don’t have some kind of area dedicated to drinking supplies, it is still good to know what kinds of home bar essentials you should have on hand for when you are planning any kind of event where you’ll be serving drinks.
We’re going to walk you through the basic bar set up you need by breaking it down into four sections: bar tools, liquor, glassware and ingredients. These are home bar essentials you’ll need to offer your friends the most popular and common types of cocktails in addition to pouring wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages.
Home Bar Liquor List
Start your home bar with a solid foundation consisting of a selection of essential spirits. Don’t go crazy and buy a huge variety of liquor because in the end you’ll just get stuck with a lot of bottles collecting dust behind your bar. We recommend picking up some basic spirits that you'll need to make most popular cocktails and mixed drinks. The brands or styles you choose may depend on your personal preferences or those of your guests.
Vodka is a must have behind your bar because it is a part of so many cocktails and mixed drinks. If you know ahead of time that the crowd you’ve coming over has a lot of vodka drinkers in it, then be sure to stock up accordingly. You may want to get a budget brand for mixed drinks and something top shelf (or close to it) for vodka-based cocktails. There’s also plenty of flavored vodkas that have their niche with certain drinkers.
Having a classic London dry gin on hand will go a long way for making Martinis, Gin & Tonics and more. For more eclectic gatherings consider picking up a more botanical gin for experienced connoisseurs.
Some folks like to sip their brown liquor and others like it in a cocktail. That’s why you should keep at least two different kinds of whiskey behind your bar. For the cocktail drinkers you’ll want to get a Canadian or bourbon whiskey, and then a bottle of scotch whiskey for those that want to sit by your fireplace and sip their drink. (You may need to get a fireplace).
You’ll want to have both a dark and white rum on hand. White rums are ideal for making mixed drinks (Rum & Coke), mojitos and daiquiris. If you plan on making some tropical or tiki drinks, then a good dark rum is just what the captain ordered (See what I did there?).
Speaking of tropical, if your guests are expecting Margaritas on the drink menu then you’ll want to have tequila behind the bar. You should also educate yourself on the expanding popularity of Tequila-based cocktails, including the Paloma and Tequila Sunrise, and riffs on classic cocktails using Tequila instead of their traditional spirit. Grab some limes and salt too just in case things get really crazy and your guests want to do some tequila shots.
As for other beverages you'll want to keep on hand, you can never go wrong with having a red and a white wine. Stocking a couple styles of beers is also a good option. This could be a popular American light lager along with a craft beer. If you aren't sure on what kinds of craft beer to offer, then consider buying a variety pack.
Essential Cocktail Ingredients
A good cocktail can’t just stand on its alcohol-based ingredients. You need to have a supporting cast of mixers and garnishes for the complete package. Here are some cocktail mixers and ingredients you’ll want to have on hand.
Tonic and soda are essential in a number of popular cocktails as well as your basic mixed drinks. While you could just have a selection of plastic 2-liter bottles for your guests to choose from, why not class it up a little and take a look at picking up some premium tonics and sodas to show your guests that you care about providing them with quality drinks.
What you should stock behind your bar:
- Club soda
- Ginger ale
- Tonic water
Much like soda and tonic water, juices are a necessity for a number of mixed drinks and cocktails. Some people prefer freshly squeezed when it comes to juice (especially citrus), but prepackaged juices are fine too.
Juices you should stock behind your bar
If you want to save some time when it comes to drink prep or if you’re just not confident in your mixology skills, then pick up some cocktail mixes to make things easy. Just add the mix to the proper spirit and you got yourself a tasty drink.
What you should stock behind your bar:
Cocktail bitters are to mixology what spices are to cooking. A pinch here, a dash there, and BAM! All of a sudden a fairly pedestrian cocktail is elevated to bold new heights of unforgettable flavor. If you want your home bar to be known as a place that does more than just throw some liquor in a glass and call it a day, adding bitters to your ingredient collection is an easy, uncomplicated way to achieve greater depth of flavor without having to undergo complicated preparation rituals.
Bitters you should stock behind your bar:
Syrups are another ingredient you can use to add flavor to your drinks. Certain cocktail syrups are a necessary ingredient in a number of drinks (simple syrup, grenadine, etc.) and other syrups are fun to try when you’re looking to experiment with new and unique flavors. You can also use these flavored syrups in coffee or mix them with soda water to create imaginative soft drinks that will please the non-drinkers in your crowd.
Syrups you should stock behind your bar:
Whether you’re adding the finishing touch to a drink or squeezing in a little flavor it’s imperative to keep wedges or slices of citrus fruits, such as lime, lemon or orange, on hand for crafting cocktails. You can either slice fresh fruit yourself or use dehydrated slices of citrus fruits to reduce waste and prevent yourself from getting squirted in the eye.
A staple for Martinis, olives are great for enhancing the flavor of gin-based cocktails and some vodka ones as well. If you want to get real fancy, you can get olives stuffed with cheese, pickles or peppers to add some extra flavor.
Save the candy-like, bright red cherries for your sundae. If you’re serious about serving proper cocktails to your guests then grab some premium maraschino cherries that will enhance the flavor in your drink and not overpower it with syrupy sweetness.
A must have if you’re starting the day with a Bloody Mary or curing a hangover. There are an ever growing number of cocktails that use vegetables like carrots, cucumbers and celery as a garnish as well
Basic Bar Set Up
To make a good cocktail you need to have the right tools. Here’s a selection of essential bar tools to have for making most drinks. Learn the right way to use some of these tools with our guide to basic bartending skills.
A shaker is a fundamental piece of bar equipment that enables the thorough blending of cocktails that contain citrus juice, egg whites, or cream. To use, simply add drink ingredients and ice (usually) to the shaker, seal it closed, and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker frosts. The agitation chills and dilutes the drink, and introduces air, creating a frothy texture.
A cobbler shaker or 3-piece cocktail shaker is the perfect option if you are just starting out with making cocktails. It consists of a shaker tin, lid with built-in strainer and a cap to cover the strainer when shaking. The cap can also be used as a jigger for pouring shots. Cobbler shakers are traditionally smaller in size, and are ideal for preparing single drinks.
Preferred by professional mixologists, a Boston shaker is made up of a larger shaker tin and Boston shaker glass or pint glass that fits inside of the tin. You can assemble your own by acquiring a shaker tin and pint glass separately. You will need a strainer to place over your tin when pouring cocktails to keep unwanted ice or ingredients out. Some experienced bartenders can “crack” the shaker by separating the tin and glass just enough to pour out the cocktail without the aid of a strainer.
A French shaker is part cobbler and part Boston shaker. It features a shaker tin and lid like cobbler, but, it requires a strainer.
Mixing glasses come in a variety of intricate designs, but all that cut glass is more aesthetics than function. If you love beautiful barware, more power to you–but know that an inexpensive pint glass will get the job done, too.
Whatever glass you use, be sure it’s large enough to accommodate the volume of your ingredients plus ice, with room leftover.
Bar spoons are specialty spoons used for layering and stirring cocktails. They are typically long handled, made from stainless steel so as not to affect the flavor of a drink, and have good, balanced weight to them. The shaft is often coiled, which facilitates stirring. Most bartenders prefer a tight over a loose coil.
They are indispensable to the stirred cocktail. But how do you know when to stir as opposed to shake? A good rule of thumb is, if a cocktail is made entirely of spirits, like a Martini, stir it with ice to retain the drink’s clarity and silky texture. Cocktails made with carbonated ingredients that are built in the glass, like a Mojito, may also be lightly stirred once or twice.
A “bar spoon” is sometimes used as a unit of measurement in cocktail recipes. It is approximately equivalent to one teaspoon.
Cocktail strainers are bartending tools that filter unwanted debris (herb leaves, ice, fruit bits, pulp) from a finished cocktail. Cobbler shakers come with built-in strainers, but if you are using a Boston or French shaker or making a stirred cocktail, having some sort of strainer is a necessity.
There are three types of strainers:
The most common and recognizable type of strainer, Hawthorne strainers feature a handle, strainer spring and 2-4 prongs to help you hold it over your shaker tin.
Named after the popular cocktail, Julep strainers were originally designed to keep ice out of the facial hair of gentlemen enjoying a julep. The convex/concave design allows them to fit easily inside cocktail mixing glasses or a pint glass when used with a Boston shaker.
The fine cocktail strainer is usually paired with a Hawthorne or Julep strainer. It acts as a second barrier when pouring cocktails to filter fine particles, usually small ice chips or pulp and seeds from fruit.
The hourglass-shaped measuring apparatuses you see bartenders using at your favorite cocktail joint are called jiggers. Basic models are inexpensive and can usually be had for just a couple of bucks. Higher-end models are weightier, more elegantly shaped, and come in decorative finishes like gold and copper. Standard jiggers come in ½, ¾, 1, 1 ½ and 2 ounce sizes.
Precision is key. Craft cocktail recipes are calibrated to deliver a delicate balance of flavors, so accurate measurements are important. When using a jigger, be sure you know what size you have in hand and always fill it to the very top to ensure you’re not shortchanging your pour.
Muddlers come in wood, stainless steel and plastic. Stainless steel muddlers typically have a rubber head with teeth perfect for crushing and extracting juice from fruit. Wooden muddler will have a rounded or flat head, which is better for drawing oils and aroma from herbs and reduces the chance of over-muddling. Muddlers should be long enough to reach the bottom of even tall vessels.
Citrus is an important ingredient in a variety of cocktails and the ideal way to extract fresh juice from lemons, lemons, oranges and grapefruit is a citrus juicer. One popular style of juicer is the enameled hand squeezer. It is relatively inexpensive and manages to extract far more juice from a single piece of fruit than bare hands alone.
If you frequently find yourself whipping up pitchers of margaritas for throngs of thirsty guests, you might consider a professional, lever-style juicer. These countertop models get out every last drop of citrus and are less stressful on joints than hand squeezers.
Bar Service Supplies
There are a few other bar tools and bar accessories you’ll want to have for a complete home bar. While they may not be a requisite for crafting cocktails, these bar service supplies will help keep your bar area organized, prevent spills and/or make it easier for you and your guests to enjoy your beverages.
Home Bar Drinkware
Any good bartender knows that there’s a special cocktail glass for just about any kind of drink. You don’t need to stock every kind of glassware at your home bar, but think about what kinds of drinks you and your guests like to enjoy. Luckily for you KegWorks carries are large selection of bar and cocktail glasses.
The coupe is a really great all-around piece of glassware to have around. Instead of buying special glasses for Martinis, Margaritas and champagne, just pick up a set of coupe glasses and you’ll be covered for all three. They are much better at preventing spills than a Martini glass, the stem is great for keeping warm hands away from chilled drinks and the footed base makes for a very stable piece of glassware. Plus, they just look classy sitting on your bar.
When it’s time to break out the “good stuff”, you’ll need some rocks glasses on hand. Whether you want to be like Don Draper and have an Old Fashioned or just want to sip your favorite whiskey with a couple ice cubes, this is the way to go. If you’re a little more serious about your whiskey, then check out KegWorks’ full selection of whiskey glassware.
Highball and Collins glasses are tall and slender glasses that are designed for tall mixed drinks, including the ones they are named after. They work great with any cocktail that has a larger proportion of its non-alcoholic mixer, including gin & tonics, rum & Cokes or Mojitos.
At some point during every party someone is bound to say “hey, let’s do shots!”. Be prepared for that eventuality by keeping a handful of shot glasses behind your bar. They also come in handy for bomb drinks and for measured liquor pours when your jigger goes missing.
Pint glasses are great for both making and consuming drinks. When it comes to crafting cocktails pint glasses make up one half of a Boston shaker. They are also great to use when muddling ingredients or crushing ice. You will obviously want to have a few around if your group is more into beer drinking than cocktails, but you can serve mixed drinks and non-alcoholic beverages in pint glasses as well.
Stocking your home bar with these items will give a solid foundation for entertaining or for when you want to enjoy some drinks on your own. After hosting a couple gatherings you may even want to customize your selection to better meet the tastes of yourself or your guests. Most importantly be sure to take the time to sit back and enjoy the bar you’ve assembled with a glass of what you enjoy the most.
Dave Buchanan has been the Content Writer for KegWorks since June 2019. He has a fondness for craft beer that developed while working for a local beer distributor. Dave also worked for an area sports talk radio station for several years, and continues his broadcasting work as a motorsports announcer and indoor lacrosse reporter.