Essential Cocktail Ingredients and Equipment

The holidays will be here before you know it. If you’re planning on doing some entertaining in the months ahead, the time to set up that at-home bar with cocktail essentials and tools is now. Start perfecting your mixology skills and be prepared to artfully quench the thirst of all your guests.

The History of the Cocktail

There’s so much more to a cocktail than dumping vodka into a glass of orange juice. In 1806, a cocktail was defined by The Balance and Columbian Repository of New York as “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water, and bitters…”1 In 1862, a bartender by the name of Jerry Thomas published The Bartender’s Guide (How to Mix Drinks) which became the widely accepted encyclopedia for bartenders and wanna-be mixologists worldwide.

The availability of ice and the ability to successfully transport it before it melted propelled cocktail culture forward, as did the repeal of Prohibition. By the mid-20th century, cocktails became synonymous with sophistication and upper-middle-class society. The 60s and 70s drug culture put a dent in that, but by the 90s, cocktail culture reemerged more popular than ever.

What’s the Difference Between Shaken and Stirred Cocktails?

Who doesn’t remember James Bond’s famous cocktail order: “Martini, shaken not stirred”? Is there really a difference? Quite simply, yes. Shaking a cocktail chills, aerates, and dilutes a drink. You should shake any adult beverage made with citrus or other juices as well as ones made with cream, eggs, or other dairy products.

Stirring gently combines a cocktail’s ingredients and minimizes dilution. Stir cocktails made entirely of spirits or to which soda or tonic have been added.

What Are The 6 Best Basic Cocktails?

Six basic and popular cocktails you should add to your repertoire include:

  • Old Fashioned. Muddle together sugar, bitters, and water and combine with whiskey. Garnish with an orange slice or cocktail cherry.
  • Martini. Stir gin and vermouth together and garnish with an olive or lemon twist.
  • Daiquiri. Shake rum, citrus juice, and sugar together with ice and garnish with a slice of lime.
  • Sidecar. Combine cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice with ice and shake until frothy.
  • Whiskey Highball. Mix whiskey (Bourbon, Rye, or Scotch) with soda water, ginger ale, or ginger beer. Stir and serve over ice.
  • Margarita. Shake tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice together with ice and serve in a salt-rimmed Margarita glass.

What Basic Cocktail Liquors Should I Have on Hand?

A well-appointed at-home bar should contain at least one bottle of the following basic liquors:

  • Vodka for making a Vodka Gimlet, Vodka Sour, Moscow Mule, or Cosmopolitan.
  • Gin for making a Gin Fizz, Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, Gin Gimlet, or Greyhound.
  • Tequila for making a Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Paloma, El Diablo, or Habanero Martini.
  • Rum for making a Daiquiri, Mojito, Piña Colada, Rum Punch, Hurricane, or Mai Tai.
  • Whiskey for making a Whiskey Sour, Whiskey Smash, Highball, Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
  • Brandy for making a Metropolitan, Brandy Alexander, Sidecar, or Champagne Cocktail.

What Nonalcoholic Essentials Should I Stock in My Bar?

Make sure your shopping list contains the following nonalcoholic essentials vital to creating your wonderful cocktails:

  • Ice
  • Juices
  • Sodas
  • Mixers

What Cocktail Tools Do I Need?

No bar is complete without the right tools. Go all in and get the proper equipment to craft the very best at-home cocktails:

  • Cocktail shaker
  • Citrus juicer
  • Bar spoon
  • Channel knife
  • Strainer
  • Jigger
  • Blender
  • Muddler
  • Various glasses (high ball, low ball, Margarita, martini, Collins)


Exploring Cocktail Garnishes: The Finishing Touch

The right garnish can elevate your cocktail from good to great. Here are some essential garnishes to keep on hand:


  • Citrus Peels: Lemon, lime, and orange peels are not just decorative; they add a zesty aroma.
  • Fresh Herbs: Mint, basil, and rosemary can add a fresh touch to many cocktails.
  • Edible Flowers: For a touch of elegance, consider garnishes like pansies or violets.
  • Olives and Onions: Perfect for classics like Martinis and Gibsons.

The Art of Cocktail Presentation

Presentation is key in cocktail making. Here’s how to impress:

  • Glassware Choices: Each cocktail has a glass that best complements its flavor and presentation.
  • Layering Drinks: Master the technique of layering for visually stunning cocktails.
  • Rim Decoration: From classic salt rims for Margaritas to sugar rims for sweeter drinks.

The Rise of Craft Cocktails

Craft cocktails have gained immense popularity, focusing on high-quality ingredients and inventive recipes:

  • Infused Spirits: Infuse your spirits with fruits, herbs, or spices for a unique twist.
  • House-Made Mixers: Create your own syrups and mixers for a personal touch.
  • Local and Seasonal Ingredients: Using local and seasonal ingredients supports local businesses and adds freshness to your cocktails.

The World of Mocktails: Non-Alcoholic Alternatives

Don’t forget about guests who prefer non-alcoholic options. Here’s how to make mocktails shine:

  • Use of Premium Ingredients: High-quality juices and sodas can elevate a mocktail.
  • Balancing Flavors: Just like cocktails, mocktails need a balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.
  • Creative Presentation: Present mocktails with the same care and creativity as alcoholic ones.


In conclusion, becoming a master at home mixology involves much more than just mixing drinks. It's about understanding the history, embracing the art of presentation, being mindful of guests' preferences, and continually expanding your skills and knowledge. With these additional insights, your home bar will not only be a place to enjoy drinks but also a hub of creativity and hospitality.



Harry Croswell, (1805). The Balance and Columbian Repository