Whether you are throwing a big holiday shin-dig, or you just want to keep a well-stocked cabinet of libations, it is good to know how to create a home bar to suit a variety of tastes and palates. You don’t need to spend tons of money or buy-out an entire liquor store to achieve this… just by keeping a few basics on hand, you can create many different cocktails.
To begin with, you will want to invest in (either buy or rent) some glassware and bar tools. White wine glasses will cover most mixed drink and wine needs. It is also nice to serve non-alcoholic drinks in white wine glasses. You may want to consider using lowball/old fashioned glasses for certain types of cocktails that come over ice (like Margaritas and Manhattans).
Basic barware will get you far with your home bar. A bar measure has two sides, one side measuring a “jigger” (one-and-a-half ounces) and one side measuring a pony (one ounce). Make sure you have one. You’ll also want a Boston shaker, a strainer, and a muddler (though I find using a wooden spoon works fine. I tend to keep a reamer handy to juice citrus, and the handle works great as a muddler). A sharp paring knife, a long spoon, and a bartending/cocktail book are also useful to have on-hand.
As to the nitty-gritty of booze, you don’t need a lot of make a lot different drinks. Go and get a good (not amazing… just something good and solid) vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey (your choice over bourbon or whiskey). These five spirits are the basis of most cocktails your guests will require. You should also consider supplying wine and beer. Go middle of the road with your beer and wine selections – nothing too obscure or off-putting. A good ale or lager (maybe a seasonal beer) will appease most beer-drinkers, and a quality (though again, not expensive!) Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir will keep most drinkers happy. Figure that most guests will have at least three drinks during your event, so plan accordingly. While open wine won’t keep for long, liquor has a long shelf life, so if you end up with “leftovers,” don’t fret. Just keep it in a cool, dry place.
Liqueurs and bittering agents will help to round out your home bar. Keep a bottle each of dry and sweet vermouth, and at least one variety of bitters (angostura bitters are the most commonly used). Grab a bottle of orange liqueur, as well, as many classic cocktails rely on this sweet spirit.
Next you will need your mixers. Mixers are any of the non-alcoholic liquids one might add to liquor. Tonic water and seltzers/club soda are a must (bonus – club soda will help get out any spilled booze from upholstery, carpet and clothing). Fresh-squeezed citrus juice (lime, lemon, and orange) are other essentials, though you will probably find that the lime juice gets used the most. Cranberry juice should have a spot at the bar, as it’s good mixed with liquor, club soda, or on its own. A variety of sodas will appease drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Cola, Ginger Beer, and lemon-lime soda can be enjoyed on their own or mixed with liquor for a delicious cocktail. Be sure to have at least one diet offering.
Syrups and sweeteners are next. This could just be some agave syrup and simple syrup in small pitchers or decanters. Or you can offer some flavored varieties to bring a bespoke liveliness to your home bar.
Bar accoutrements are not essential, but they are nice to have and make for a pretty presentation. Put lime wedges, lemon wedges, coarse salt or sugar, mint springs, and maraschino cherries in small bowls or vases for guests to flourish their drinks.
And the most important ingredient? ICE!! Have lots of good ice on hand. Freeze some ahead of time and put the cubes in bags/containers, or just buy a bag from the grocer.
With this basic bar set-up, you can make some of the most popular cocktails your guests know and love, like the Margarita, Old-Fashioned, Manhattan, Gimlet, Martini, Sidecar, Whiskey Sour, Mint Julep, Gibson, Gin and Tonic, Vodka Tonic, Gin Fizz, Lime Rickey, Daiquiri, Tom Collins, Rum and Cola, Dark and Stormy, and Moscow Mule (and I’m sure plenty others I’m forgetting).
The Next Level
If you want to put forth a few more offerings at your home bar, start with the basics and build from there. Add a few more wines, liquors and liqueurs (Kahlua, Amaretto, St. Germain, Campari, sparkling wine or Champagne), mixers (tomato juice, tabasco sauce, grenadine), and accoutrements (cocktail olives, pearl onions, celery stalks). Consider adding a set of Collins/Highball glasses to your service collection, as well as Champagne flutes or coupes.
Now It’s a Party
Go all out and build on what is listed above. Add in a quality sipping liquor (like a Brandy or single-malt Scotch), coffee liquor, chocolate liquor, Pernod, Pimms, crème de menthe, Limoncello, non-alcoholic beer, Orgeat, cassis, homemade custom bitters, rosewater, a variety of Schnapps, hot tea, pineapple juice, clam juice, bitter lemon soda, mineral water, cream or half-and-half, hot pickled peppers, and homemade shrubs and syrups. You could also offer up a special cocktail for the night (this holiday season I am planning to serve Blood Orange Floats, which is basically homemade blood orange sorbet paired with sparkling wine in a champagne flute), make a pitcher of Sangria, a big bowl of punch (alcoholic or non-alcoholic… your choice), or hand guests a hot toddy as they walk in from the cold. Use a slow cooker to make a big batch of hot cocoa, steamed milk, or hot toddies and let guests add liqueurs and spirits and they desire. Mugs, punch glasses, and shot glasses can be added to your glassware collection.
Looking for some cocktail inspiration? From Scratch Club’s got you covered.
Here are some recipes from the archives:
- Holiday Spice Infused Vodka
- Grape Expectations Cocktail/Mocktail
- Teapot Dick Cocktail/Mocktail
- Late Night Oil Cocktail/Mocktail
- Homemade Irish Cream
- Homemade Cocktail Bitters
- Drunken Martini Olives
- Elderberry Cordial
- Elderberry Champagne Cocktail
- Summer Thyme Cocktail
- Emperor’s Blush Rose Sangria
- Homemade Grenadine
- Easy Black Currant Syrup
- Leaping Frog Cocktail
- Pisco Sour Cocktail
- Pisco-Apricot Tropical Cocktail
- The Dulchin Cocktail
- Cucumber Infused Sake
- Frozen Gin and Tonic
- Muddled Raspberry Gin Fizz
- Fizzy Amaretto Sour
- Melon Daiquiri
- Watermelon Julep
- Strawberry Pucker Cocktail
- Basic Hot Toddy
- Tea Toddy
- Hot Rum Toddy
- Hot Gin Toddy
- Ginger Toddy
- Rhubarb Soda Syrup
- Honey-Citrus Soda Syrup
- Berry Soda Syrup
- The Chapman Cocktail
- Mulled Cider
- Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Mocktail/Cocktail
- Guinness Floats
- Rosie Collins Cocktail
- Positano Peach Cocktail
- Sweet Savannah Sipper Cocktail/Mocktail
- Red, White, and Blue Rickey
And don’t forget to offer some snacks to go along with those tasty tipples:
- How to Assemble a Cheese Board
- Candied Grapefruit Peels
- Spicy Chipotle Beef Jerky – Would be SUPER tasty with a Bloody Mary!
- Crunchy Pumpkin Seed Brittle
- Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
- Spicy Chocolate-Dipped Almonds
- Cookie Dough Hummus
- Fondue(me) – Ahaha, that joke never gets old
- Cheesy Pumpkin-Thyme Crackers
- Yummy Tea Sandwiches
- Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts
- Faux Nuts Two Ways
Remember…. Those who appreciate a well-kept bar also know to enjoy it responsibly!