September 4, 2020
If you’re looking to begin your journey into mixology and bartending at home, the essential home bar setup will allow you to make your favorite cocktails and mixed drinks. From there you’ll want to customize it to suit your taste and purpose. If you dig a lot of drinks featuring vodka, then broaden your bar selections in that direction. Make sure you get enough of the glasses, mugs and tumblers you’ll need for entertaining guests (socially distanced, of course) or maybe unwinding after a long workday.
It should go without saying that this post is for people who are 21 years and older. If that’s you, let’s get started!
Essential Home Bar Tools
Whether you have a built-in bar or a mobile bar cart, you’ll need some essential tools used by any mixologist:
These come in various shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same end: mixing up great drinks. Larger shakers allow you to make a larger batch for pouring out several drink servings that all taste the same. This means you won’t have to make the same drink three times and it keeps them consistent, which is important if you’re hosting a tasting or want feedback from friends. You know, for when you start developing your own recipes or modifying classics.
It’s basically a pestle, often with tiny teeth or texture on the bottom for grinding up garnishes like mint to release more of the flavor (essential oils) into your mojito.
The long handles are fun and functional. These spoons allow you to reach the bottom of the highball glasses to make sure the cocktail is thoroughly mixed, especially ones that don’t hold up to using a shaker. It’s also handy for getting garnish from the bottom of the glass.
These measuring glasses help you keep the flavor and strength of your drinks consistent.
Use a Julep strainer (right in photo below) with a mixing glass or a Hawthorne strainer (left in photo below) with a shaking tin. One or the other will probably suffice until you’re advanced enough for it to make a difference. Here’s how you use them.
Bottle openers and corkscrews
As with the drinks they hold, cocktail glasses come in a wide variety. Some of the basics are:
Lowball glass, a.k.a.: a rocks glass, tumbler, old fashioned glass – shorter glasses, as you may have guessed, great for drinks on the rocks such as a White Russian, or whiskey or scotch, neat or on the rocks.
Don’t forget the wine glasses and coupe martini glasses!
Other items to have on-hand, especially if you’re hosting a gathering:
- Ice bucket with ice cubes
In addition to the right tools, every artist needs the materials on which they practice their craft. In this case, the artist is you—drink-maker, bartender, mixologist—and your medium is the blending of liquors, liqueurs, mixers and garnishes. So, let’s get down to business and explore the essentials for establishing your home bar or taking it to the next level.
Vodka is used in more mixed drinks than any other, from the Bloody Mary to the screwdriver. It makes sense that there are multitudes of vodkas to choose from. As is often the case with any of the liquors on this list: you tend to get what you pay for. Certainly, your budget can only stretch so far. But if you can, try different brands and price points to see if you can detect a noticeable difference. Typically, the more expensive top-shelf spirits are smoother.
Check out these great cocktail recipes featuring vodka.
Check out these great cocktail recipes featuring tequila.
Check out these great cocktail recipes featuring rum.
The variations in flavor, character and use of whiskey and bourbon is vast: from bourbons like Jack Daniel’s and Evan Williams (for a mint julep) to whiskeys like Bulleit, Crown Royal and Seagram’s 7 Crown. Then there is Irish whiskey like Jameson or scotch like Oban. The list of cocktails featuring whiskey is just as diverse, from the simple Jack & Coke to the whiskey sour. Pick up a few different bottles and see what you like best.
These liqueurs appear in many of the most popular cocktails and mixed drinks.
- Amaretto. The ever-popular almond-flavored liqueur.
- Coffee liqueur. Kahlua is the most famous of these.
- Sweet vermouth and dry vermouth. Essential for martinis.
- Irish cream liqueur. Of course, Baileys is the exemplar here.
- Orange liqueur. A popular cocktail ingredient best known as Cointreau, Grand Marnier and triple sec.
- Benedictine. Sweet honey and herb liqueur.
- Crème de Cacao. Chocolate liqueur, not overly sweet.
- Crème de Menthe or Peppermint Schnapps.
- Drambuie. A sweet, scotch-based liqueur.
- Frangelico. Hazelnut liqueur in the monk-shaped bottle.
- RumChata. Coconut rum liqueur.
Mixers get added to numerous mixed drinks that just wouldn’t be the same without them. The essentials are:
- Ice. Maybe it seems too obvious, but you’ll use ice in almost every drink you make.
- Juices. All are best when fresh-squeezed, but that’s not always possible. Buying a container of orange, cranberry, pineapple or tomato juice is much easier and more practical.
- Lemon and lime juice show up in numerous mixed drinks. If you can’t find any lemons or limes, you can always get lemon juice and lime juice.
- Orange juice appears in tequila sunrise, screwdriver, fuzzy navel and many other cocktails.
- Cranberry juice is essential in cranberry and vodka and the cosmopolitan, among others.
- Pineapple juice is a requirement for just about any tropical drink.
- Tomato juice is a must if you’re having Bloody Marys.
- Bitters go well with cocktails such as the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.
- Simple syrup is 50/50 sugar and water, and easy to make yourself.
- Sour mix features in tropical drinks and is also easy to make yourself.
- Grenadine is a cherry-like syrup.
- Milk, cream and half and half appear in drinks like the White Russian.
- Ginger beer goes in the famous Moscow Mule.
- Coffee, especially good, strong coffee, joins several great cocktails.
- Tea goes well in a number of cocktails, both hot and cold—black teas being the most versatile.
- Tabasco sauce most frequently appears in the Bloody Mary, and Worcestershire sauce adds a savory element to many cocktails.
- Mint leaves
- Maraschino cherries
- Green olives
What drinks should you garnish, and with what? Find out here.
Sure, we’re talking mostly about mixed cocktails, but no great bar goes without beer.
Maybe you brew your own beer. Maybe you buy it. Maybe you do both. Either way, some days are beer days. Depending on your range, the kind of beerware you need will vary. There are the simple things like having a bottle opener (simple until you can’t find one and don’t feel like gouging a ring or leaving bottlecap teeth marks on the edge of your counter or table).
If you decide not to drink from the bottle or can, there are several options for beer glasses (no direct relation to beer goggles). Beer experts (dream job, anyone?) maintain that for some beers, usually craft beers, the shape of the glass makes a difference in how we perceive the flavor due to the dynamics of how smell impacts taste.
Check out this beer glassware guide.