How to Build a Kick-Ass Home Bar Alcohol, mixers, garnishes, bar equipment, and more

Contrary to what you might think, the best bar isn’t the one that’s packed to capacity and has a line that wraps around the whole block.  You might think that loud music, huge crowds, and a naturally rambunctious atmosphere are part of the perfect Friday night.  The dictionary describes a bar as “a counter across which alcoholic drinks or refreshments are served.”  With the proper equipment, friends, and attitude, a home bar has the potential to deliver a legendary night.  Think about the last time you went out to the most popular bar in town.  You paid a cover charge, got elbowed while waiting for your overpriced drink, and then finally got kicked out because the bouncer thought your friend was starting a brawl with a stranger.  You can avoid all of that unpleasantness and still have a great time at home.  Don’t forget that a home bar means that you get to be both the bartender and the patron.  Still not convinced?  Read on to find out just how easy it is to start your own home bar.  You’ll never wait in another long bar line again.

Selecting Your Alcohol

Your choice of alcohol becomes the foundation of any drink that you make.  Maybe a Vodka Tonic is your drink of choice, but your best friend prefers a Whiskey Sour.  The type of alcohol isn’t important, as long as everyone is enjoying their drink of choice.  It may not be necessary to stock every single variety of booze, but having too many choices is always a good problem to have.  Just like a bartender at a real bar, don’t be afraid to cut someone off who’s having just a little too much of a good time.

Vodka

vodka grey goose

Not just for Russians, vodka is an extremely popular alcohol that is used in many mixed drinks.   Vodka becomes extremely smooth when it is enjoyed at ice cold temperatures. Also, the distillation quality increases and the flavor becomes more subtle as you explore into more premium price points.  Vodkas must have a minimum alcohol content of 40% (80 proof).  

Gin

gin bombay

Originally used as a type of herbal medicine, gin has become a major player in the spirits industry.  Since the taste is so strong, all cocktails made with gin have extremely pronounced flavors.  Its taste is derived from juniper berries and has a dry, piney, and biting profile.  Gin is definitely not for beginners and contains a minimum alcohol content of 40% (80 proof).

Tequila

patron tequila

The iconic tequila shot is usually accompanied by a shake of salt, a bite of lime, and a celebration among friends.  While it is often made at a 38% ABV (alcohol by volume, 76 proof), it is notorious for causing numerous night-erasing effects.  This potent drink comes in both silver/gold variants; the difference being that gold tequilas are not aged compared to its silver counterparts. The powerful flavors may take some getting used too, but it can be enjoyed as a shot or in a margarita.

Rum

bacardi rum

There’s really nothing like sitting on a beach and relaxing with a fine pina colada.  Enjoyed by pirates and vacation goers all over the world, rum is made from sugar cane.  It’s usually imbued with 40% ABV (80 proof) and is characterized by both white and dark variants.  

Whiskey

macallan whiskey

Regardless if whiskey is enjoyed on the rocks, neat, or with a splash of water, it is still the prototypical “man” drink.  Whiskey is distilled from fermented grain and then aged for years inside different containers in order to produce its full flavors and long lasting finishes.  A 40% ABV is typical and you can definitely expect to feel warmth throughout your body as you take a sip from your glass.

Brandy

brandy alcohol

Brandy may suffer from a bit from a stuffy reputation since you may think that only “older gentleman” drink it, but it’s still a versatile drink that comes with many flavor profiles.  It’s made from fruit-based mash or grapes and usually aged in oak barrels for some time.  The liquor has a dark color and has light hints of spice, caramel, and dried fruit.  It is typically taken as an after-dinner drink with 35% ABV (70 proof).

Wine

bottle of wine

Surely at this point you’ve outgrown Franzia boxed wines and slapping the bag.  We’re talking about drinking from quality bottles that actually require a corkscrew.  Wine pairs perfectly with your steak dinner or enjoyed by itself after a long day at work.  At a typical ABV of 15%, you can probably enjoy a few glasses before you have to call it a night.  The prices of expensive wine bottles can get a little outrageous sometimes, but remember that price and flavor are not always relative to each other.

Beer

mug of beer

Coming in as the third most popular drink in the world overall (behind water and tea), beer has a typical ABV of 5%.  Beer is brewed by extracting sugars from grains where the yeast turns into alcohol and becomes carbonated along the way.  Beer can have a multitude of flavors ranging from bitter to malty, depending on how it is brewed.  They come in aluminum cans and glass bottles, but our favorite way to enjoy is pouring it into a cold and frosty mug.

Champagne

champagne

Whenever you think of champagne, you probably think of New Year’s or a graduation achievement.  Champagne is synonymous with its cork popping and bottle spraying traditions. This sparkling wine has a 12% ABV and is characterized by lots and lots of bubbles.  There’s no need to wait for a commemorative event to enjoy the fizz and taste of this fancy drink.

Mixers

mixers tonic water

Now that you’ve properly stocked your home bar full of various alcohols, the next step is to expand your mixer collection.  It can be tempting to skip over this step and use whatever you already have in the fridge at home.  However, if you want to make proper cocktails, you’ll need to use the corresponding mixer to achieve the best drink possible.  Don’t expect to impress your guests when you pull out the 3 month old flat Coke to serve them with.  A properly mixed drink can convince even the most skeptical of people to give it a try.  To be quite candid, even the priciest and best alcohols can taste pretty bad.  Mixers can give you a fighting chance towards the strongest of drinks.

Recommended Carbonation: Club Soda, Tonic Water, Ginger Ale, Coke, Sprite, Red Bull, Ginger Beer

Recommended Juices: Orange, Cranberry, Lemonade, Grape, Pineapple, Tomato, Olive, Apple

Recommended Dairy: Milk, Cream, Whipped Cream, Ice Cream, Eggnog, Half and half

Recommended Sauces/Syrups: Tabasco, Worcestershire, Caramel, Grenadine, Simple syrup, Sweet & sour mix, Honey

Recommended Bitters: Angostura Bitters

Garnishes

garnish 1

One of the final finishing touches on every drink is the garnish.  Whether its decorative or used to squeeze some juice into your beverage, no drink is complete without it.  No Old Fashioned is complete without the orange peel and you just can’t drink a Gin & Tonic without squeezing in some lime either.  Garnishes should be kept as fresh as possible.

garnish2

Recommended Garnishes: Ice, Limes, Lemons, Citrus Fruits, Olives, Herbs, Spices

Glassware

old fashioned glass

While you can technically sip your drinks out of any glass, using the recommended glassware will only help add to the experience.  No one’s going to stop you from sipping champagne out of a red Solo cup, but it seems appropriate to have the right equipment at hand.  Using the specialty piece of glass for different kinds of alcohol will maximize your enjoyment and impress your guests.  For example, whiskeys glasses are extremely wide so that you can enjoy all of the aromas that come with your drink.  

collinsglass

Recommended Glassware: Wine Glass, Beer Mug, Old-Fashioned Glass, Highball, Cocktail Glass, Champagne Flute, Shot Glass, Brandy Snifter, Collins Glass

Equipment

Now that you have everything situated, all you need are some few essential pieces of equipment to make your life easier.  All of these items are recommended because they can help facilitate the whole process.  Granted, you don’t have to use a corkscrew to open your wine bottle, but why not try to keep things as simple as possible?  The whole point of having a home bar is to simplify and have total control over your evening.

Jigger

jigger

Get a double sided jigger so that you can accurately measure out your alcohol portions.  It may be tempting to eyeball, but before you know it, you’ll have completely ruined the taste of your drink.  Use this to nail down your alcohol proportions with precision.

Shaker/Hawthorne Strainer

shaker pouring

A shaker is essential for perfecting your hand-shaken cocktails.  Ensure that your drinks are properly mixed so that you can enjoy the balanced flavors.  You’ll be able to easily replicate your favorite cocktails at home with this helpful tool. The Hawthorne strainer is used as an attachment in order to separate any fruits or other solid ingredients from the liquid itself.  Now you can enjoy your Mint Julep without getting crushed in the face by ice and mint.

Bar Spoon

bar spoon

Your regular spoon will be useless when you need to dig a stray lemon seed out of the very bottom of your tall glass.  A bar spoon has a long handle that allows you to easily reach, stir, or muddle your ingredients.

Citrus Squeezer

citrus squeezer

Give your arms a break and invest in a citrus squeezer in order to get all of the juices out of your fruits.  Make sure to store citrus at room temperature and roll the fruit on the counter in order to break down the cell walls.  This will ensure that you manage to extract the maximum amount of liquid possible.

Ice/Bucket

ice bucket

A stainless steel ice bucket is a beautiful decoration that doubles with the functionality of keeping your ice ready to be served.  It can double as a bucket in which to chill your bottle of champagne or wine as well.  It is preferred that you do not use refrigerator ice because it will impart an impure taste in your cocktail.  If you’re already going above and beyond for your cocktail, not using premium ice would be a waste.

Corkscrew

corkscrew

You never want to be caught in the impossible and embarrassing situation of not being able to enjoy a bottle of wine that someone has brought over.  A corkscrew will allow you to open a wine bottle easily and efficiently so that you don’t need to waste time pouring out the first glass.

The next time you’re about to start pregaming and arguing over who’s calling the Uber, don’t forget that your home bar is as good as any alternative.  You’ll be able to impress your guests by serving cocktails that will have everyone questioning if you’ve been masquerading as a bartender.  You won’t ever want to go through the hassle of going out again.