Thirsty Thursday: Home Bar Essentials

I talk a lot about what sort of fancy cocktails you can make for special occasions.  Those cocktails are beautiful and delicious, and I wish I could mix myself one up all the time.  Unfortunately, they also tend to involve a lot of different spirits and liquors, and my home bar just doesn’t look like a liquor store.  Fancy cocktails are indulgent and should be reserved for special occasions, but what about when you just want a tasty and simple drink that doesn’t require being a world-class mixologist?

If you are someone who likes making and drinking cocktails, you probably have some sort of home bar set up.  You might have a special shelf full of the different alcohols you have been collecting, or you might just have a bottle of Absolut and a gimmicky cocktail shaker someone gave you for your birthday.  Either way, here are a few essentials that should be an important part of any home bar.  Once you have the basics covered, you can start developing your stash and moving up to some more sophisticated spirits, eventually being equipped to make the world’s most elaborate cocktail at the drop of a hat.


cocktail shaker

Before you can make any drink, you need at least a few of the basic tools.  Don’t worry about all the fancy gadgets you might see at an actual bar. Just get yourself set up with a sturdy cocktail shaker and a Jigger (funny word for what is really just a teeny alcohol measuring cup).  A basic cocktail shaker will run you about $10 on Amazon, so if you are planning on serving multiple cocktails at the same party or you happen to lose things a lot, you may want to buy a couple. If you are a complete novice, it would also be beneficial to keep a basic cocktail recipe book on hand. In addition, a bottle opener and a corkscrew could be handy… for when you don’t feel quite as classy.


alcohol glassware

Don’t even think about serving your fancy cocktails in a red Solo cup or a coffee mug. If you are making real drinks, you need real glasses.  And unless you plan on buying crystal glasses or something super expensive, you can probably snag a set for around 30 bucks. Generally, you should invest in 3 types of glasses; something tall, something short, and something with a stem, i.e., martini glasses.  The specific type of glass you want to get is up to you.  And, if you really like your coffee table, you should probably buy some coasters to go with your “fancy” new glasses!



This is the fun part, as well as the part that will make you cringe when you make the purchase.  I suggest only buying one or two bottles of booze at a time and never lining all of the receipts up next to each other.  The alcohol you need for your home bar falls into 2 main categories.  First you have the true essentials that are the base of almost any cocktail ever, and then you have the bonus liquers.

Popular consensus seems to be that you need 7-9 types of alcohol to create the ideal home bar situation:

  • Whiskey or Bourbon
  • Blended Scotch
  • Vermouth (Dry and Sweet, but if Martinis aren’t your thing, you can probably skip this one)
  • Tequila
  • Rum (Generally Light Rum is more commonly used)
  • Vodka (You might want to double up on the vodka, it is used in a ton of mixed drinks and tends to get used up quickly)
  • Gin

Another general rule is that you shouldn’t be stocking your bar with top shelf alcohol, especially if you will be drinking most of it in cocktail form.  If you like Scotch or Whiskey, you can keep a nicer bottle around for special occasions.

Once you have these basics, you can start building your collection by adding liquers.  Triple Sec, Kahlua, Baileys and Amaretto are pretty common, and probably won’t go to waste, but you can get away with not having them at your bar’s “grand opening.”


Unless you prefer ripping shots or drinking everything straight, chances are you are going to need some mixers.  If you are having a themed party or have a special drink in mind, you don’t really need to go crazy with stocking up the mixer section of your bar.  A few bottles of soda, some tonic water and soda water, and a few bottles of juice (cranberry, tomato, orange) is really all you need.  Lime juice and simple syrup are also nice to have on hand, and some people really like keeping Angostura bitters around.

These last few items that are worth mentioning are garnishes and snacks.  A jar of maraschino cherries and some citrus wedges should cut it as your staple garnishes, unless of course the specific drink you want to make calls for something else.  As far as snacks, it is just a fact that people like to eat when they drink, so either with a can of nuts or a fancy appetizer, you should attempt to accommodate this basic need.

For some more tips, check out this article.  Happy Bartending!

Do you have a home bar?

All images via Thinkstock


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