Whether you’re hosting a formal holiday party or a casual gathering in your backyard, if you’re serving cocktails, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got these home bar must haves.
Home Bar Equipment and Essentials
If you’re going to get serious about mixing drinks, you’ll need the following home bar essentials and equipment:
- Ice Bucket. An insulated, stainless steel ice bucket will keep cubes frozen for hours and is the perfect vessel for chilling wine or Champagne.
- Shakers. Certain cocktail recipes call for shaking, not stirring a drink. Generally, cocktails that contain citrus or other juices, cream, eggs, or other dairy products should be shaken, so a quality cocktail shaker is a must-have.
- Mixing Glasses. A good mixing glass will enable you to create those delicious, stirred cocktails, like a vodka tonic or a Tom Collins.
- Bar Spoons. Bar spoons have long handles designed explicitly for stirring cocktails you may be mixing in a pitcher or large mixing glass.
- Strainers. A strainer allows you to pour your cocktail into a glass while acting as a barrier that keeps fruit pulp or ice from slipping into your drink from the shaker.
- Jiggers. A jigger allows you to measure alcohol or mixers precisely when creating your libation.
- Drinking Glasses. Drinking glasses are designed to deliver the best taste and flavor of whatever drink they hold. Depending on what you’ll be mixing, you’ll want to have a set of highball and lowball glasses, as well as wine glasses, Champagne flutes, Margarita, martini, and Collins glasses.
- Wine Saver. A quality wine saver is going to add to the shelf of your favorite bottle of unfinished wine. A wine saver acts as a vacuum, removing any air inside the bottle, thus preventing oxidation which reduces the vibrancy of the wine’s color and flavor.
- Corkscrew. Even though screw caps have increased in popularity, there are quite a few wines that still come with the traditional cork. You won’t want to be caught without one when it comes time to open that bottle of Chardonnay.
- Napkins/Coasters. Fun cocktail napkins can be a conversation starter, as can humorous coasters. They’ll also help protect the surface of your bar.
Essential Liquors for a Home Bar
A fully stocked home bar should contain a variety of liquors and wines from which your guests can choose. You can’t go wrong when you have at least one bottle of the following behind your bar:
- Vodka for mixing a Vodka Martini, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, or Moscow Mule.
- Gin for when you’re planning to serve a Gin Fizz, Tom Collins, Gibson, or a Gin and Tonic.
- Tequila is essential if you’re creating a Paloma, Tequila Sunrise, Margarita, or Negroni.
- Rum is needed for creating a Daiquiri, Pina Colada, Mojito, or Mai Tai
- Whiskey should be on hand for mixing a Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, or a Manhattan
Mixers To Stock in Your Home Bar
Again, depending on the kind of cocktails you’ll be serving, you’ll want to stock up on mixers:
- Lemon and lime juice.
- Orange juice.
- Tomato juice.
- Club soda.
- Tonic water.
- Sour Mix.
Crafting the Perfect Cocktail: Must-Have Ingredients
Beyond the basic liquors and tools, creating memorable cocktails requires a few additional ingredients. Stocking up on these will elevate your home bar:
- Bitters: Essential for many classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Angostura bitters are a popular choice.
- Simple Syrup: Ideal for sweetening cocktails without the grittiness of sugar. You can easily make your own with equal parts sugar and water.
- Fresh Herbs and Spices: Mint for Mojitos, basil for a twist in Gin and Tonic, or cinnamon for spiced rum drinks add a fresh and flavorful touch.
- Fruit Garnishes: Lemons, limes, oranges, and cherries are commonly used for both flavor and presentation.
Organizing Your Bar
When organizing your bar, you’ll want to put all your essentials within easy reach. Determine where your tools will be (corkscrew, jiggers, strainers, etc.) and make sure that’s where you always keep them. This saves time wasted searching for a tool you really need that inadvertently got tucked away somewhere.
If yours is a dry bar, make sure you have a pitcher or two of water on hand, so you won’t have to leave the bar to fetch it. If you’re using water for rinsing out glasses, keep an empty bucket under the bar to dump out used water.
Keep a mini-fridge or ice chest under the bar for chilling mixers and garnishes. Lastly, keep a few dish towels on hand for spills.
And now you’re set. Time to get the party started.
Advanced Cocktail Techniques for the Home Bartender
To truly impress your guests, learn these advanced cocktail techniques:
- Muddling: Essential for releasing the flavors of fresh fruits and herbs.
- Layering: Creating visually stunning layered cocktails requires a steady hand and understanding of liquor densities.
- Flaming: Adding a flamed citrus peel or herb can dramatically enhance the aroma and flavor of a drink.
- Infusing Spirits: Infuse your own vodka or gin with fruits, herbs, or spices for unique, personalized flavors.
Pairing Cocktails with Food
Understanding which cocktails pair well with different types of food can greatly enhance the dining experience:
- Light Cocktails with Appetizers: Serve Gin and Tonics or Aperol Spritzes with light appetizers.
- Rich Cocktails with Hearty Meals: Pair Old Fashioneds or Manhattans with steak or heavy pasta dishes.
- Sweet Cocktails with Desserts: Match dessert wines or sweet cocktails like Espresso Martinis with desserts.
Hosting a Cocktail Party: Tips and Tricks
Finally, here are some tips for hosting a successful cocktail party:
- Pre-Batch Cocktails: Prepare large batches of popular cocktails to save time.
- Theme Your Party: A themed party, like a 1920s speakeasy, can make for a memorable evening.
- Interactive Cocktail Stations: Set up stations where guests can try their hand at mixing their own drinks.
- Non-Alcoholic Options: Always have a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails for designated drivers and non-drinkers.
In conclusion, a well-equipped home bar is about more than just the essentials. It's about creating an experience, from the perfect cocktail to the ambiance of the gathering. With these additional tips and tools, your home bar will be the highlight of any social occasion.