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Home Bar Essentials: What You Really Need To Make Cocktails at Home

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A list of home bar essentials. Home bar checklist to make awesome cocktails at home, including spirits, mixers, liqueurs, garnishes & tools.

When my husband and I bought our first home, we were excited to start entertaining friends.

And, I must admit, having a good home bar stocked with all the essential spirits and accessories felt like the epitome of great entertaining.

There’s really something special about pouring yourself or your friends a favorite cocktail in the comfort of your own home.

And learning the difference between a Negroni and a Cosmopolitan – and developing some basic bartending skills to make these kinds of cocktails at home? As it turns out, it’s easier than you might think!

Mixologist making vermouth cocktail while at home using some home bar essentials such as proper glasses and garnishes

What Are the Basic Supplies You Need for Your Home Bar?

For a truly functional home bar ready to whip up your favorite cocktails at home, you need a combo of the right spirits, glassware, and tools for the job.

I certainly don’t recommend using a baking sieve instead of a cocktail strainer to strain a fancy Martini, nor do I suggest serving them in a coffee mug instead of classic shaped martini glasses!

In my view, if you’re going to the trouble create a home bar, you might as well do it right! Which is why I wanted to pull together a this home bar checklist with all the essential tools, glassware and bottles you’ll need to stock your at home bar cart like a pro.

Essential Spirits for a Home Bar

It’s not a bar without the ability to make fantastic alcoholic drinks, which leads me to the most important home bar essential: the spirits and liqueurs you’ll need to make the many cocktails most common when entertaining.

Vodka

This clear white spirit is one of the most versatile home bar essentials you’ll need when it comes to making mixed drinks.

Depending on your style, budget, and how much space you have, you may want to keep more than one bottle of vodka stocked in your home bar. Use a premium, smoother tasting top-shelf brand, such as a Grey Goose or Belvedere vodka, for cocktails like a Martini. The flavor of the spirits really stand out in a martini, so it’s worth using the good stuff!

For something with more mix or a fruity summertime cocktail, like an Ocean City Orange Crush, Cherry Lime Cocktail, Strawberry Lemonade or Blueberry Lemonade, you can defer to a budget friendlier brand, such as Smirnoff or Tito’s.

Flavored vodkas are also popular, with a hint of vanilla or lemon being the most adaptable for making a variety of cocktail recipes at home.

If you’re feeling creative, you can also infuse your own vodka fairly easily – I did a bacon vodka a few years back that was awesome in a Bloody Mary!

Gin

While the botanical bouquet of juniper berries and floral aromas isn’t to everyones taste, this spirit is a must for a variety of cocktails, including the infamous Singapore Sling, and (of course) a classic Gin and Tonic.

Like vodka, the world seems to have exploded recently with an endless and expansive range of craft gins, with every flavor imaginable hitting the marketplace.

For a home bar, a classic London-dry gin, like Beefeater is good for most standard cocktails. But for a gin connoisseur, other favorites, such as Tanquery and Bombay Sapphire, or Spanish or Japanese versions, are lovely to add.

If gin IS your thing, don’t be afraid to try a selection during your cocktail nights out at bars, and then make splurge on a bottle of your favorite for your home bar once you’ve found a flavor you like.

One of our favorites is Empress 1908, which is from Victoria, Canada. It changes color from deep blue to a lovely purple when you add tonic, making it a bit of a showstopper!

Purple Empress gin and tonic in a cocktail glass. Good gin is one of several home bar essentials to stock for entertaining.

Rum

For rum, you’ll need two bottles: one white and one dark rum.

Caribbean vibes hit hard, and a rum punch is one way to get a party started. A simple Bacardi can be a good base for Mojitos, Pina Coladas, a Dole Whip Copycat, or a Lime in the Coconut, and a dark or spiced rum makes a great Dark & Stormy.

Rum cocktails are sweet and satisfying, and even for those who prefer their cocktails to be a little lighter, having a bottle of rum in your collection gives you a ton of opportunities to make a wide variety of drinks.

Whiskey

Call it whisky / whiskey / bourbon / rye whiskey, a bottle of this aged golden brown stuff is needed if you want to stock your home bar for those with a more mature palette.

(The name and spelling, BTW, depends on the part of the world it comes from, and the type of grain used to make it).

From an Old Fashioned to a Whiskey Sour, or even on the rocks, the darker flavor of whiskey goes well with ice or in a long drink, too.

Just be sure that once you open your bottle of whiskey, you don’t leave it too long to drink it.

Once opened to the air, whiskey begins to oxidize and its flavor changes.

A woman's hand holds a small taster of Teeling Irish Whiskey in a branded glass against an interested wood wall

Tequila

Not just for taking as a shot with lime! Tequila is a Mexican favorite, and fans of Margaritas will agree that it’s a basic essential for your home bar.

Mixed with orange juice you can create a sweet Tequila Sunrise, and you can mix with ice and citrus fruit for a fresh cocktail too.

Generally speaking a white tequila, like a 1800 is best for making cocktails, whereas an aged Tequila will be better for sipping.

If you want to get fancy, you can swap Tequila for Mezcal, which has a smokier flavor and is still lovely in margaritas, although with a slightly more sophisticated flavor profile.

Optional Liqueurs

Liqueurs are not essential, and you can make most cocktails with just the 5 basic spirits mentioned above, but these 3 additions will help to round off your collection and prove your worth as a great home bartender!

Orange Liqueur

Triple Sec pops up in many common cocktail drinks, including a Margarita, Sidecar and Cosmo. Having a bottle of orange liqueur like Cointreau should last you a while and will add an extra zing of flavor to the recipes you create.

Amaretto

This almond flavored liqueur appears in popular drink recipes such as an Amaretto Sour, and also goes well with Coke and ice for a refreshing long drink.

Coffee Liqueur

A flavor enjoyed and savoured, coffee is creeping up in cocktail popularity, with classics like Black and White Russians requiring a coffee liqueur. Modern takes on coffee drinks include Espresso Martinis, made with vodka and coffee liqueur.

Essential Juice and Mixers

When adding mixers to your cocktails don’t scrimp on the brands.

Having a cheap soda will nullify the point of having a premium brand liquor in your recipe.

It’s also vital to keep your mixers fresh, which is why so many places provide their mixers in individual bottles when you drink at bars.

For your home bar, using individual sized bottles for tonics and club soda will keep the fizz fresh. When using sodas for mixed drinks, stock these in the smallest size options you can, and only get the largerbottles for bigger parties and events.

Tonic Water

As a big fan of a G&T, I know the tonic matters as much as the gin when making the perfect cocktail.

It seems tonic makers have also recognized the cry for classier tonics, as the market is full of options. In addition to original and light styles, you can find flavored tonics too, if you desire to spruce up your gin drinking style.

If you don’t know where to start with tonic, Fever Tree is a good option for a premium tonic.

Club Soda

Many cocktails simply need soda water mixers to complete the flavor. Unless you are planning on a large party, buying these individually will keep the bubbles best, for when you pour over the ice in a long drink.

Juice

Freshly-squeezed juice is always preferable when making mixed drinks, but it’s not always possible to have for your cocktails.

Orange juice is needed for classics, such as Screwdrivers, Tequila Sunrises, Harvey Wallbangers or even a simple Bucks Fizz.

Cranberry Juice makes for a perfect Cosmopolitan or a Sea Breeze.

For a tropical touch, pineapple juice adds some aloha vibes to your cocktail flavors.

And, no bar is complete without tomato juice for a Bloody Mary.

Mixers

Keep a selection of sodas in stock, again in smaller bottles if they will be infrequently used as the bubbles will disappear after being open for a few days. You may prefer to stock them in cans if you use them infrequently.

Usual favorites include:

  • Coke
  • Ginger Ale
  • Lemon-lime soda

Additional Garnishes and Flavors

If you want to be able to make the best cocktails like a pro, garnishes and flavorings will set you apart from other home bartenders.

They’re the finishing touch that will turn your favorite cocktails from great to outstanding!

Angostura Aromatic Bitters

For a truly authentic Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktail, you can’t leave out the bitters.

Instantly recognizable from its oversized label, this small bottle of basic bitters adds a ton of flavor, and lasts for a very long time!

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is mostly a mix of sugar and water, which you can make at home. Just be sure to mix it well, and clean up any spillages to remain ant and bug free!

If you prefer to buy a bottle there are many to choose from.

Grenadine

Make mine a mocktail! Let the kids join in the fun with their own non-alcoholic cocktails too. A Shirley Temple is an easy blend of ginger ale or lemon soda with a splash of grenadine for good measure.

Garnishes

Other garnishes for your home bar may include:

  • Mint leaves
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Green Olives

Other Drinks

Not everyone is a cocktail drinker, which is why you’ll want to consider keeping some good red, white, and rosé wine on hand, as well as a selection of beers. I like to have a mix of craft beer and basic lagers to meet as many of our guests’ preferences. And wine is great for whipping up red, white, and blue wine slushies or peach wine slushies.

Home Bar Tools and Accessories

Glasses

There’s a fairly wide selection of glassware and cocktail glasses to choose from, but as a home bartender, you don’t need the perfect glass for every possible drink you’ll pour.

In fact, you’ll find most drinks can fit in three types of glasses: a highball glass, rocks glasses and a cocktail glass.

Think generally about the type of cocktails you’ll most likely make at home, and choose your glassware accordingly. However, if you want to add another particular type of glasses, by all means go for it!

Beautiful glasses and presentation are part of the experience in my view, which partially explains why copper mugs are so popular for Moscow Mules.

Close up of a moscow mule in a frosty copper mug piled high with crushed ice and garnished with cucumber

Cocktail Glass

A martini glass has a wider mouth to allow the drinker to smell the aromas of the drink, and the triangular shape allows for garnishes to be easily placed too.

However, a speakeasy style coupe glass is a little more forgiving to spills than a triangular shaped martini glass, and can easily be used in place of cocktail glasses for most drinks, and even frozen cocktails and champagne cocktails.

Highball Glass

A highball glass is a tall straight glass, that’s great for spirit and mixer blends.

Collins glasses are similar to a highball glass, but are a little taller and narrower. At a home bar, you really don’t need both highball glasses and Collins glasses, so choose one or the other.

Rocks Glass

A rocks, or lowball glass, is made for sprits served straight, or ‘on-the-rocks’ as the name implies. But on a budget bar essentials list, it’s actually a double rocks glass that will be more useful for your home bar. Double rocks glasses can be used for not only bourbons and whiskeys, but can be used for margaritas and Manhattans too.

Bar Spoons

A bar spoon is needed for long drinks – giving them a well needed mix or for adding a dollop of syrupy flavors.

Made with long stems, bar spoons allow you to reach the bottom of your glasses without poking your fingers into someone else’s drink!

Muddler

A muddler is one of those bar tools you didn’t know you needed until you owned one. It helps you get the most flavor out of your mint and lime for a perfect mojito, and lets you squish your citrus quickly and easily.

Choose one with a grooved head, and one long enough that you won’t graze your knuckles on the side of the glass as you use it.

Cocktail Shaker and/or Mixing Glass

James Bond liked his drinks shaken, not stirred, and who am I to argue? It definitely elevates the experience when your drink comes out of a cocktail shaker.

Avoid an overly cheap shaker, that doesn’t fit together properly, or you’ll run the risk of squirting your Cosmo over the walls.

If you really want to up your game, add a cocktail mixing glass for stirred drinks in addition to the more common shaker. They are super classy looking, with a vintage look, and will give you the option of making both shaken and stirred drinks, depending on your guests’ preferences.

Cocktail Strainer

Once you’ve muddled in herbs and citrus garnishes, have run it through the shaker, and have ice chips to boot, you’ll need an easy way to strain them into the glasses, without losing half your drink in the process.

A good strainer effortlessly separates the solids in your drink from the liquids, and adds a bartender flair that screams upmarket cocktail bar.

Jigger 

Home bartenders run the risk of being overly liberal with the liquor. While this might seem like a benefit to some, nobody wants to be too tipsy to enjoy themselves after only one cocktail.

Add to that, many cocktail recipes are defined by their flavors. Mixing them in unbalanced ratios can result in mixed drinks tasting off.

A jigger helps with this.

A jigger allows you to pour precise measures of spirits, with the large cup holding up to 2oz and the small cup having a capacity of 1oz.

Both sides also usually have incremental marks for other measures too, making cocktail recipes easier to follow.

10-Piece Bar Tool Set

If you’re setting up a home bar from scratch, and need to get all of the bartender essential tools (bar spoon, shaker, strainer, jigger, muddler, plus tongs and some pouring spouts), you can get them as a set to save time and ensure they all coordinate.

Available in rose gold, gold, or a gunmetal black, along with classic silver style, this set contains all the basic tools needed to get started at home.

Spherical Ice Mold 

Last but not least, don’t forget the ice, ice, baby…!

Science has proven that ice spheres melt slower than 2-inch ice cubes, and take longer to dilute your drink, making them better for mixing in your whiskeys and bourbons, in particular.

Who am I to argue with science?

Final Thoughts on All the Essentials To Make Cocktails at Home

I hope this list has helped you get around to the job of stocking your home bar cart with the essentials needed to make your favorite mixed drinks and classic cocktails.

Next up, you’ll need to think of a reason to invite over some friends so you can host them in style.

While bartending skills take practice, I’m sure you’ll find a friend or two who is willing to sample your creations until you get the recipes just right.

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