Drinking has evolved a lot in the past couple of years. We collectively went from going out to the pub or a boujie cocktail bar to being inside and drinking what we can get our hands on from our local corner shops.
Now we’re slowly opening again, we are in a transitional stage where we are all eager to go out but the indoors is where a lot of us are most comfortable, and once we are allowed to have friends and family indoors – it’s time for the most wonderful dinner and house parties.
Here you are finding yourself wanting to prepare to be the best host you can be, or even to elevate what you have for those indulgent nights in. This guide will lead you at least in the right direction for Bar à la You.
THE HOME BAR BASICS
Pick a good spot. A home bar is something to be proud of.
It’s just as important as any other part of your decor and it’s a lovely talking piece when guests come over (and it might just be enough of a hint for them to buy you a little something to add to it).
You can opt to devote a corner of your kitchen, living or dining room to it.
If you want to elevate it, you can even get yourself a nice drinks cabinet either from a home furnishings retailer or alternatively look around your local antique shops to give something a second life – shop owners are more than happy to help and you will have something really unique.
Take a look at what you already have.
What are your favourite drinks? Favourite spirits?
It is always much easier to add to what you have than to entirely start anew. Everybody always has a bottle of something that someone gave them a few Christmases ago that hasn’t been drunk yet – here’s your chance to add it to your home bar.
Now you’ve taken inventory of what you have, think about what kind of drinks you’ll want to be making.
Start buying a few basic (but not supermarket own brand) spirits – you’ll want vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whisk(e)y to cover all your bases.
For example, our personal pick of spirits that are readily available from supermarkets but are of a decent price range would be:
- Absolut Vodka,
- Tanqueray Gin,
- Havana Club 3 Year (white rum),
- Havana Club Especial (dark rum),
- Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila,
- Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey
- Whyte & Mackay Scotch Whisky.
Angostura Bitters is also a good ingredient to add to a lot of your repertoire as it goes in a fair few cocktails you will come across in your travels.
You can also go a step further and go to your local spirits retailer. As those whose job is to solely sell these products, they will be more than happy to help you on your journey to create a selection that is catered to you for your needs and your price range.
Talking price range for a home bar – you will be in for £120 upwards to procure the core selection above – depending on the brands and quality you go for.
Never be afraid to ask questions and be candid about where you are with your home bar and what you aim to create. As you use your home bar, you’ll want to experiment with different brands of spirits too. It’s a great excuse to extend your bar – have options and fun talking points with your guests.
Buying your cocktail kit may seem daunting at first with so many options around so it is wise to have a consideration when you’re buying.
As with anything, if you pay more, you will get better quality. However, a lot of the time the higher end kits and shakers are made for daily use behind a bar and are built to be heavily resilient to the chaos of a busy bar.
A ballpark figure of around £30-£50 for the full set would suffice for a home bar where you are entertaining guests but not using the kit daily for hours on end.
In a cocktail kit, you are at least looking for a shaker, a strainer, a jigger (the measure), a bar spoon, and a muddler.
Anything extra is a fun bonus but not necessary. Additional items you may already have in your kitchen for cocktail making include a small, sharp knife (for fruits), a peeler, a citrus juicer and cocktail sticks. For tips and inspiration check out our alternatives for cocktail equipment guide.
Once you have your kit, don’t be afraid to use it. Bartenders may make opening a cocktail tin easy but it can take a few times to perfect the technique before you show off at parties.
Practice on your own or turn it into a cocktail party where everybody takes turns to try a recipe they have found. It’s a chance to try something new and get a few boozy creations down you, speaking of which…
Have a few fun recipes that you can work from or make. There are articles aplenty online including our own cocktail recipes, that you can work from. Pinterest is always a great source for curated lists of recipes. Favourites depend on your own flavour palette, and cocktail elitism is silly.
Fruity party cocktails are just as important as strong potent classics and it’s always good to have a good selection up your sleeve.
Don’t be afraid to change the amounts of ingredients to your liking too. Adjust the sugars and citrus for a sweeter or more sour drink.
For drinks that are just spirits/liqueurs, don’t be afraid to play around with the number of bitters or liqueurs that are in recipes. You will always find a varied amount from many different sources as you seek them out and there is genuinely no right and wrong for your own home bar.
Something to consider as well are the non-alcohol drinkers. The kids and those who choose not to choose alcohol don’t want to miss out on the fun and there are so many delicious alternatives to choose from.
You can look for mocktail recipes or alternatively if you’d like to work with what recipes you have, for fruity cocktails simply omit the alcohol and substitute a fruit juice in the recipe.
Keep the flourish of a lovely garnish so everybody gets to enjoy the festivities, or add even more for non-alcoholic drinks for that extra je ne sais quoi.
There are also plenty of alcohol-free spirits popping up in the market that imitate the zingy flavours of spirits.
Seedlip for example is a great company that has developed a wide variety of non-alcoholic spirits that are aromatic and punchy without the alcohol content that will slot perfectly in place of vodkas, gins and rums.
ON THE NIGHT
So you have the makings of a fantastic home bar with your spirits, ingredients and equipment. Next up, you will want to get your fresh ingredients and that will be all the fruits and garnishes (such as olives or cherries), juices and citrus.
Sugar syrup or gomme is something you can either make or purchase but if you are making, do it on the day and refrigerate the leftovers – this should keep for approximately 1 month (always check before using though as this can vary).
Ice is a very important part of the drink-making process and people often underestimate how much ice is needed.
You can put any ice in the freezer or left in the bags in the sink of course but alternatively, you can also invest in a nice ice bucket. Turn the making into a spectacle the same as a bartender would behind a bar.
Don’t forget to also stock up on wines, beers and soft drinks. Cocktails are amazing but it’s always good to give people options too. A good bar is a well-stocked bar. Although it’s also fun to make it a joint effort. You provide the cocktails and ask your guests to bring the rest.
MAKE IT YOURS
A bar, like a made-to-measure outfit, is a very personal thing.
What works for one person may not work for the other and depending on your wants and needs, you can do whatever you’d like with it.
There are no specific expectations, it is your home bar – do what you want! You can go as small or as big as you’d like and there are no rights or wrongs. You could even build your home bar with your partner as part of your date night activities.
Above all else, be proud of what you have. Know that you can always add, subtract, chop and choose. You are the artist and the bar is your canvas. Now go forth, arm yourselves with the knowledge and confidence you now have and create your bar!