When setting up a home bar, it’s easy to look at some of the inspirational projects on Instagram and feel a bit overwhelmed. There are some ambitious people that have turned garden sheds into a bar that could easily accept customers – they really are that impressive!
For most people though, you don’t need to undergo an extension or 6-month shed conversion to have a home bar that you can be proud of, while also still being fully functional.
Read on and we’ll reveal the 5 essential products that your home bar needs to not only impress guests but give you the best opportunity to mix your favourite drinks/cocktails, all from the comfort of your own home!
5 Essential Products Your Home Bar Needs
We mentioned people undergoing impressive transformations to create their home bar and while all these pictures often show fancy tech, draught pumps, and entertainment systems, there really are only a few key items you need to get a fully functional home bar.
Below, we’ll give you a rundown on the most essential.
1. Premium Spirit Range
No bar is complete without a spirit range, however, choosing a poor quality spirit (or only having a single bottle of vodka) will completely limit what you can do with your “bar”.
When it comes to mixology – both cocktail making and a simple spirit & mixer – the ingredients you use are key. In this case, it’s always better to opt for a premium spirit range.
For those that don’t know what spirits to buy, this could end up being a costly expense upfront, therefore, it’s good to build your spirit range gradually over time. If you can afford top-shelf spirits (not necessary) at least opt for a branded and good quality spirit.
Low-quality spirits not only produce a poor taste for the end product but they’re also more likely to cause people hangovers. If you want an enjoyable drinking experience, stay away from the bottom shelf spirits!
To help, there are specific spirits that every home bar needs. This is to give you versatility and to cover everyone’s personal preference as we all know someone that loves a margarita.
The most popular, and arguably most versatile spirit is vodka. A good quality vodka is relatively tasteless and as a result, it’s universally liked, much like how water is bland to taste, yet people drink it.
Whether it be as a long drink in terms of a vodka mixer or a base spirit for a cocktail, vodka is an absolute staple for a home bar.
Gin has always been a popular cocktail spirit through the likes of a Martini, Tom Collins, or Negroni but this spirit has seen an unbelievable boom in recent years as a result of the craft gin trend in the UK.
You can’t browse a gin range now without seeing an array of colours and flavours. The shelf space is now equal to that of vodka which would have been unheard of 5+ years ago.
While the variety is good for personal taste (everyone will have their favourite be it rhubarb and ginger or even parma violet) a staple will always be a London Dry gin which is both versatile and universally
Rum is a tricky one, mainly because there are three popular options:
- White Rum
- Dark Rum
- Spiced Rum
The safe option would be to get all three and cover your bases but realistically, this could be quite excessive. Spiced rum is the most popular in terms of modern spirits but when it comes to mixing classic cocktails, white or dark rum is the go-to.
Dark rum is dropping in popularity though so if you had to be strict on your options, choose a white and spiced rum for your home bar.
Bourbon whiskey has a varied and versatile flavour profile depending on how the spirit was aged and brewed. Tennessee whiskey (bourbon) is one of the most popular spirits as a result of the growing cocktail culture.
This versatile spirit blends well with a range of mixers and liqueurs making it a staple spirit for any home bar.
Whisky (Scotch whisky does not have an “E”, spelt whiskey) is not to everyone’s taste, the current trend is definitely sweet, fresh, and organic flavours. Having said that, there is still no denying that whiskey is one of the most popular and revered spirits around the world (some even rank it the best spirit!)
Bourbon whiskey is the versatile option listed above but when it comes to a whisky, most will prefer it neat or on the rocks. Therefore, selecting a whisky should be about the age and quality of the drink so don’t opt for a cheap option. A Johnnie Walker Black Label or Laphroaig 10 years old are both good options that don’t fall under the collectable whisky category but are still considered to be premium options.
There are a handful of other spirits that can help complete a home bar. These spirits are non-essential but may be preferred by people with specific tastes. Some other popular spirits might include:
- Low & No Alcohol
2. Liqueurs, Syrups, Bitters & Mixers
Once you have the spirit range covered, you next need to consider liqueurs, mixers, and even bitters. Think of a spirit as the main ingredient in a drink – be it a cocktail or a regular long or short drink. The spirit acts as the item around which you build the drink around.
Once you’re set on a spirit (or more than one) that you’ll use, you need the additional ingredients to compliment it. Liqueurs (coffee, orange, Curaçao, etc..) and syrups (gimme, sugar, etc..) are used to either enhance a cocktail or give it an edge.
Bitters are used to the same effect. These herbal beverages are made from concentrated alcohol with herbs and spices to combine flavours within a cocktail. Just one bottle of angostura bitters – the most popular brand – is all you need as you’ll only use a dash of bitters, meaning one bottle could easily last a year or more.
Finally, you’ll want a basic range of mixers (soft drinks). The brand you opt for doesn’t matter so much but you do want a healthy stock containing the following:
- Soda Water
- Tonic Water
- Fruit Juice (orange, cranberry, pineapple)
Select cocktails or drink preferences will call for different mixers like ginger beer but these should be based on personal taste, the above are essentials though.
3. Cocktail Barware
Cocktail making is definitely a key hobby or passion for anyone making a home bar. We’re not saying you need to be an expert mixologist capable of flaring or flipping spirit bottles before you pour, the fun comes from simply mixing up the drinks and either recreating the classics or experimenting and adding your own twist.
Whatever the reason for making a cocktail, you’ll want to have the right tools/equipment to carry out the task. We’d advise getting a cocktail set that will have all the equipment needed to mix most cocktails. When choosing a basic set, you’ll want to make sure it includes some specific items.
A cocktail bartender’s go-to item. The Boston shaker to a mixologist is like a drill to a joiner – this one piece of equipment is responsible for creating all of your shaken cocktails. You’ll rarely notice in a bar but when it comes to making a cocktail, you’d be surprised by just how many require shaking!
A Boston shaker is the best option. It uses one part steel tin and one part tempered glass. This allows you to dilute, chill and mix ingredients efficiently with ice before pouring.
Cocktail Shaker and Strainer
When using a Boston shaker, you also require an additional strainer when pouring. A more popular item that you’re likely to get in a cocktail making set is a cocktail shaker with a built-in strainer in the lid.
These shakers are one single part and have a screw-on lid, this lid often houses a second smaller lid containing a strainer so after shaking you simply remove the smaller lid to strain and pour.
A jigger or measure is a small metal item used to measure your ingredient quantities. The best kind of jigger will be double-ended, one end with a 25ml measure (standard UK single shot) and the reverse with a 35ml measure.
You might think these small items are unnecessary, after all, who really measures the alcohol they drink?
Well, when it comes to making a drink that’s boozy but also tastes good, you need to be able to measure how much liquid is used for each ingredient. Mixers aren’t too strict but when it comes to spirits, liqueurs, and syrups, getting the measure wrong can ruin the entire drink!
Finally, a pourer (speed pourer) is a small and narrow spout that you place in the spirit and liqueur bottles for ease of pouring. If you’ve ever tried to pour a spirit into a jigger for an exact measure, you’ll know it’s almost impossible as more misses the jigger than what goes into it.
A speed pourer allows you to accurately pour your drinks while looking like a pro bartender in the process! You might not think these are necessary but there’s a reason you never see a bartender pour straight from an open bottle without a pourer or optic…
So, you’ve got all the ingredients needed to make the perfect drink, there’s just one issue – you open the kitchen cupboard to see only mugs, regular glasses, or wine glasses available.
When making a cocktail or long drink, half of the experience is in the presentation. Without the correct (or preferred) glassware, you just won’t have the same mixing or drinking experience.
When it comes to glassware, there’s a lot of options to consider depending on the types of drink you will be making. Some of the following will therefore be beneficial to have:
Hi-ball glass – Used primarily for making a long drink of “building” a cocktail. This is a standard option in most bars.
Low-ball glass – This is a type of glass mainly used for short measure cocktails (Negroni or Old Fashioned) or for drinks neat or on the rocks – this is where the spirit is poured over ice with no additional ingredients.
You’re most likely to see scotch whisky, bourbon, or a liqueur used in these glasses.
Martini glass – As the name suggests, these glasses are primarily used for a Martini cocktail and its varieties. The wide rim and shallow glass mean this glass isn’t used for volume-based drinks but more intricate/delicate cocktails.
Coupe glass – A coupe glass is similar to a Martini glass in that it has a long stem with a shallow glass, the difference being where a Martini glass is triangular in shape, a coupe glass is rounder.
Originally used for champagne, the coupe’s function has changed over the years and is now used mostly for cocktails that require shaking. The coupe glass holds the strained liquid along with the froth on top to create Insta-worthy looking cocktails with ease.
Shot glass – These aren’t essential but is it truly ever a party unless the shot glasses come out at some point? It’s always useful to have 4-6 shot glasses just in case someone mentions tequila or sambuca.
Something often missed from many home bar setups is ice. This is an afterthought for almost all first-time “home bartenders”. When you go out and order a drink at the bar, ice is always one of the first (if not the first) ingredients to be added.
In cocktail mixology, ice has a number of uses which include:
- Chill a glass
- Chill and dilute a drink
- Shaken with cocktail ingredients to froth and chill them
- Used for presentation in certain cocktails (like balls of ice or XL cubed blocks)
This is the easiest ingredient to miss but also one of the most difficult to source for a home bar. In an actual bar, they either have ice machines on site making both cubed and crushed ice or they use an ice delivery service – which shows just how essential this product is.
It’s of course not feasible to have ice machines at home or to order ice on a weekly basis (though this is an option for special occasions).
Instead, you either need to buy ice ready-made from a supermarket or make some yourself with an old school method – with ice cube trays or moulds.
Creating a home bar can seem like a daunting task, people focus on bar counters, ice wells, shelving, and a range of other furniture & decor options thinking this is what makes a home bar. The truth, however, is that when creating a home bar, the items used to make the drinks are the most essential items.
It’s no good having a shelving unit to beautifully display your spirits if you have no spirits to go on them. Therefore, the items we consider to be essential for a home bar is:
- Spirit Range
- Cocktail Barware
Once you cover these items as a priority, you can then work on building a physical home bar but if you want any sort of functioning bar at home, you need to get the above items as a starting point.