Essentials for the Home Bar

By  January 21, 2009

Setting up a bar in a lounge or restaurant is not so different from setting a permanent bar in your home. The basics are the same; any well stocked bar needs proper glassware, effective tools, and a suitable supply of liquor. If your spirit is poor quality, then the drinks you mix will be, too.  if you use the wrong glassware even a great cocktail could be taken down a notch. And if your tools are not suitable, you might not ever be able to get the desired drink effect that will have guests craving more of your cocktails. Here’s a quick primer of what you need.

Wine Glasses- With hundreds of shapes and sizes to choose from there are four stand outs: the Champagne flute (a narrow mouth will hold carbonation longer), a smaller glass for white wine, a Burgundy glass for light reds, and a Bordeaux for bigger reds. If you rarely drink (or serve) wine, then Champagne flutes and an all purpose medium sized glass will work just as well.

Rocks Glass- Also called Old Fashioneds or Tumblers. The single Old Fashioned is smaller and suited for stronger drinks over ice (like the Old Fashioned) or spirits served neat (sans ice). The double Old Fashion is a larger version most commonly used for mixed drinks, such as a gin and tonic. A well stocked bar should have both, yet the double Old Fashion serves both purposes.

Highball Glass- Not only do mixed drinks look amazing in an elongated glass, but just as with Champagne flutes, a smaller opening causes carbonation to hold longer in those fizzy drinks.
Martini Glass- A Manhattan martini that has been stirred until it reaches a silky texture is best enjoyed in a martini glass. They sloping sides make sipping a luxurious experience.

Pint Glasses- Traditionally used to serve ‘pints’ of beer, these are perfect mixing glasses if you plan to make cocktails.

Shot Glass- Shot glasses are a staple at most bars, though are rarely used before midnight or outside of college campuses. But they are relatively affordable, don’t take up much space, and hold a sentimental place in most barmen’s hearts — so we felt they deserved a mention.

The Essential Tools
Martini Shaker (Tin), Pint Glass, Strainer, Wine Opener, Knife, Cutting Board, Juicer (Citrus Press), Jigger, Bar Spoon, Muddler, Ice bucket, Champagne Stopper, and Lemon-Lime Peeler.

Every well should include Vodka, Gin, Whiskey, Scotch, Tequila, Brandy and Rum. With these spirits you can make nearly all classic cocktails. There are thousands brands, labels, and styles of each of these spirits.

Vodka-The quality of Vodka tends to be reflected in its price.

Gin-There are many levels of herb infused Gin; Hendricks will be light and smooth with notes of cucumber and rose petal while a brand like Bombay Sapphire will be heavily spiced with Juniper Berry.

Whiskey-Whether its rye, bourbon, or scotch—it’s a whiskey. A good guide line is to keep a lighter style whiskey for mixing and a more robust or refined whiskey for sipping (ie. Scotch or single barrel bourbon).

Tequila-The type of tequila is determined by the aging process. Blanco (unaged) is a great for mixing, Resposado (moderately aged) makes the best margarita, and Anejo (heavily aged) has a smokiness that makes it ideal for sipping.

Rum- Rums also come in light, golden, and dark shades. The darker the rum the higher residual sugar it will have.

Sure this is great advice, but when it comes right down to it, you want to stock your bar according to what you and your guests like to drink and what cocktails you plan to serve. Spend wisely, if you plan to make a mixed drink then a moderately priced spirit will do—the subtleties of expensive top shelf liquors can be lost when other components are added.

Mixers and Liqueurs
Small bottles of fresh juice, sodas and tonic are the best way to stock a small bar. You can easily make sweeteners (like grenadine, simple syrup, and sweet & sour) at home for much less money. It takes a little more time, but they will taste far better than any pre-made bottle. There are hundreds of thousands of liqueurs in the world. The only way to stock your bar appropriately is to purchase what you like to drink. Here are just a few of the essentials: sweet and dry vermouth, orange liqueur, coffee liqueur, Crème de cassis, Crème de Cacao, and Amaretto.

Sugar, salt, lemons, limes, olives, cherries, and onions to name a few. A perfectly made cocktail can be easily ruined by a poor garnish. Steer clear of those massive jars of brined olives with soggy pimento peppers haphazardly hanging out. Cherries are not naturally neon red, so why would you garnish a well crafted cocktail with a food colored glob?

When it comes to garnish, it is worth the extra few dollars to purchase gourmet and artisan olives, cherries, and cocktail onions. Small jars are much better suited for a home bar. Just remember, if you wouldn’t eat it straight from the jar you should never put it in your cocktail.

Bartending vs. Mixology

If you stock your bar properly then it is very easy to tend it. If you want to experiment with cocktails and develop your own recipes then extra equipment, herbs, fruits, and spirits will be needed. This is the essential difference between bartending and mixology.

Tending you bar is all about preparation and adequately stocking product while mixologists tinker with spirits and spices, juices and liqueurs until they reach their desired result, much like the difference between a line cook and a chef. Mixology can get expensive and messy in a home bar unless you are extremely familiar with the basics.

Always remember: drink what you like; a well-made cocktail takes time, and if it comes in a cheap bottle it will probably taste cheap as well.

-Lauren Hall