They say you can't judge a book by its cover. While that is true for books, you can gain a lot of insight by checking out what's stocked in the bar. As Drinkology, by James Waller (a personal favorite) states if "the liquor cabinet contains only an unopened bottle of grenadine and a liter of cheap vodka with three fingers worth of hooch left at the bottom- is that a friendship you really want to pursue?"
Now I do have friends who don't drink, or have absolutely pitiful bars (which is why I never come empty handed to their house) but when they come to my house, I want to wow them with an array of options. However, with all the options out there, what exactly do you need to have in your home bar? Surely you don't need four different bottles of whiskey, an entire fruit bowl of condiments, or every specialty glass out there right?
The good news is no. Even the bar around the corner doesn't have everything possible. So to help you navigate the plethora of glassware, bar tools, and beverages, we have put together The Basic Bar Checklist! These will be all the essential items to have your bar ready for most of your beverage desires!
Cocktails go in and out of favor, and likewise with the specialty glassware they can be served in. With that in mind, we have listed out the bar essentials of glassware with notes about serving suggestions.
Beer glasses: Be it beer mug, pilsner glasses, or pint glasses, every bar needs a few beer glasses. Typically you want to look for 12-16oz glassware. Now I personally despise the shaker pint glasses that most bars serve beer in. They are great for stacking but do nothing to help enhance the aroma of the beer. On a secondary note, I never put beer glasses in the freezer. Frozen beer glasses are used in bars around the country to hide defects in beer including old beer.
Champagne flute/coupe: Champagne flutes allow for the musing of the champagne (bubbles) to keep for longer. That is about the only merit to the champagne flute. I personally prefer to use champagne coupe or saucers (a la Great Gatsby or flapper era). They open more of the aroma to my palate and can also be utilized as a cocktail glass. Versatility make them that more appealing.
Martini glass: Not just a sophisticated accessory for James Bond, the martini glass is essential to every bar for mixed drinks. From appletini to vesper, the martini glass's conical shape can hold it all.
Rocks glasses: Not only for bourbon on the rocks, these glasses are versatile for margaritas, old fashioned, and punches.
Tumblers: This tall glass, ideally suited to be brought out with a tray of summertime sippers, works well with any tall iced down cocktail.
Wine glasses: I can't honestly imagine a bar without wine glasses. There are both red and white wine glasses the first being larger and usually more open at the mouth. That being said, you can totally get away with having one type of wine glass. I would go with red wine glasses as they lend to more versatility.
The bonus glassware are options that you may choose to add based on your drinking preferences. For example, if you are an avid margarita drinker, it would probably be a good purchase to have some margarita glasses.
Cordial glasses: I personally love a digestif or aperitif occasionally, so I keep a few in my home bar for those dessert wines and cordials like limoncello.
Shot glasses: I don't have shot glasses in my bar, mostly because I never drink shots. However, if shots are your thing by all means have a few for your fellow shot takers.
Margarita glasses: If margarita Mondays are your thing, or the bevy of frozen beverages you can put in them, then these glasses deserve a spot in your bar.
Snifter: These glasses are specifically designed to capture the aromas of liqueurs like brandy, cognac, bourbon and scotch.
Bar equipment can easily get to super fancy and superfluous things that look wonderful gathering dust on your bar, but you will rarely use. Most of what you need to have in your bar are items easily found in your kitchen, which is also why placing the bar a stone's throw from the kitchen is ideal.
Paring knife and Cutting board: Fairly obvious, but have these on hand for slicing up citrus wedges for cocktails.
Churchkey & Waiters Friend Corkscrew: Not going to get too far without a bottle opener, corkscrew, and can opener. A churchkey is a tool that combines a bottle opener with a can opener. A Waiters Friend is a corkscrew with a leverage kick and a bottle opener.
Measuring tools: The measuring tools you utilize depend entirely on the method you like to make mixed cocktails. Most bartenders utilize a Jigger-pony measure. This is that hourglass shaped vessel where the one cup is larger (1.5 oz.) and one is smaller (1 oz.). However, if this seems a bit much, a set of measuring cups and spoons are just as handy.
Bar towels and napkins: At some point there will be a spill. Having a bar towel handy for mopping up spills and napkins or coasters for your guests, keep your bar tidy and your furniture free of drink rings.
Toothpicks: Something has to hold your condiments together! Regular wooden toothpicks or those delightful little plastic swords are both wonderful to have on hand.
Standard Shaker: A standard shaker is a three-piece tool with a cup, strainer, and lid. These are pretty typical for all the home bars, as it combines the Boston shaker (larger metal cup and glass combo preferred by bartenders) and a strainer in a handy set.
Pitcher with mixing rod: Making a batch of cocktails for your friends can be tiresome mixing one at a time, but having a pitcher and mixing rod allow you to make a larger batch and enjoy more time with your company.
Ice bucket and tongs: If you have a fridge with ice tray or better yet an ice dispenser you really don't need an ice bucket and tongs.
Citrus Squeezer: I love fresh squeezed juice for my cocktails. Honestly it takes them to a whole new level.
Bar spoons: These are long stemmed mixing spoons for stirred cocktails in tall glasses. Could not imagine my summer cocktails without them.
Now let’s get into the fun stuff! Yes my friends its finally time to talk about the booze to have in your bar! What is listed below is merely a guideline to help you create a supply that will satisfy most cocktails. What really needs to be in your bar depends entirely on what you like to drink.
Now note that I have not included any specific brands. Brand choice should be made on preference and means. Don’t feel you need to buy top shelf for things that you don’t enjoy regularly, or enjoy so regularly that you can hardly keep it in stock. We aren’t looking to break the bank here. Also, when there is a good boutique option, I prefer to bring in something from my travels to bring a story to my bar.
The Basic Bar:
Beer: Some theorize that it was beer not bread that brought civilization together at the start of man. So it stands to reason that no bar should be without the glorious suds to bring us together. If you are not a beer drinker then I wouldn't say you need to have more than a six pack on hand for your beer guzzling friends. My household barely makes it through the week with less than a 12 pack. If you aren't sure what type of beer to buy or get headaches with the number of options in the beer aisle, you cannot go wrong with a good import. I always aim for an independent craft option, local if I have out of town friends coming to visit!
Wine: Having a bottle of red or two as well as a couple of bottles of white keep your oenophile friends happy. I am a big fan of old world wines, but if trying to interpret the wide array of grapes and terroir gives you the shakes, settle with a good cabernet, chardonnay, and something bubbly (cause no bar should be without a little sparkle). Always store your wine bottles in a cool dark place (in a cabinet perhaps?) lying on the side so the cork does not dry out. Don't have your whites or your sparkling chilling for more than a couple hours prior to serving.
Bourbon/ American Whiskey: Preferably small batch, this barrel aged spirit deserves a spot on your bar. Whether straight, on the rocks, or mixed into a Manhattan, this amber spirit is a must for your bar!
Triple Sec: This is an orange flavored liquor made from dried orange peels and sweet oranges.
Gin: Most gins get the bulk of their flavor from the juniper berry but this can be a bit polarizing flavor. Luckily there are many American botanical gins that boast a number of different botanical aromas and bodies for your gin and tonics.
Rum: Light, gold, spiced, or dark, your bar needs a decent rum for a bevy of tropical cocktails and the ever-popular rum and Coke.
Blended Scotch: Can't have a Rob Roy or Rusty nail without a good blended scotch on hand.
Tequila: Bianco or Anejo are both excellent options for your margaritas and tequila sunrises.
Vodka: Vodka can be distilled from grains (rye, wheat, corn etc.), potatoes, soybeans, grapes, sugar beets, and even molasses. For the basic bar, I would go with a good plain vodka and avoid getting caught up in the flavored versions.
Vermouth: A dry martini or Manhattan is just not complete without some vermouth. Sweet or dry, your bar needs this fortified wine spirit.
Brandy/Cognac: Brandy and cognac always make me thing of Victorian after dinner parlor, and portly men with snifter and cigar in hand. However, if the is something you adore, by all means have a bottle in your bar!
Single malt scotch: Much like having a small batch bourbon, this is nice addition for the whiskey drinker in your crowd.
Irish Whiskey: My Irish lineage makes this absolutely a must for my home bar. Particularly during the cold/flu season, when a warm whiskey is prescribed.
Liqueurs: Every bar should have a few specialty liqueurs of your choice based on the cocktails you like to make the most. My bar features a bottle of crème de Violette, Lillet Blanc, limoncello, and a cactus pear spirit I was thrilled to find. Here are a few ideas for your bar:
Crème de cacao (white or dark)
Crème de menthe (white or green)
Crème de cassis
Schnapps or fruit brandy
Condiments: You've got the tools, the glasses, and the spirits. Time for the finishing touches! When getting juices, sodas, and the like aim for smaller cans like 12oz or less. They keep longer and you don't have things expiring in your fridge.
Basic Bar Condiments:
Angostura Bitters: Bitters were actually utilized as over the counter medicine for all sorts of ailments back in the day. Angostura bitters are easily one of the most easily found and utilized in a number of cocktails.
Grenadine: You probably remember this rich sweet and tart syrup from having Shirley Temples as a kid. It should be a bar staple for your non-alcoholic and alcoholic desires alike. If processed sugars are worrying you, there are excellent homemade recipes out there as well.
Simple Syrup: Though there are already bottled versions of this at your local store, simple syrup is incredibly easy to make at home. Pour equal parts water and sugar into a saucepan and heat until dissolved. This is also the opportunity to add other ingredients like lemon peel, rosemary, or other herbs. Allow to cool, remove the added ingredients if any, and pour into a closable container.
Kosher salt: What else would you rim a margarita glass with?
Black pepper: Fresh cracked black pepper is essential to a great Bloody Mary. I also enjoy it in a good potato vodka.
Lemons, Limes, & Oranges: For your bar citrus, try and go organic since a number of recipes include a zest or peel.
Maraschino Cherries: A small jar should last you a while.
Green olives: Whether stuffed with garlic, pimento, or blue cheese, these emerald little beauties are a must to finish off your martinis!
Favorite Bloody Mary Mix
Better Condiments: The above list covers just about all the basics, but if you want to be extra prepared, there are a few things you could add, that may already be in your refrigerator.
Tabasco: For those who love to spice it up.
Worcestershire: Adds another dimension to some cocktails, and elevates that Bloody Mary. Seriously just a dash makes all the difference.
Eggs: A number of fantastic cocktails have an egg white involved in the making to create a rich and creamy texture and beautiful foamy cap. There are some who are a bit hesitant to have egg whites in their cocktail. However, with modern grocery and food standards the risk of salmonella is minimal. Regardless, utilize at your own risk.
Specialty bitters: Angostura bitters ran the show for the longest time in the world of bitters. Luckily several specialty bitter makers with an array of different boutique flavors have made a resurgence in the cocktail world. Personal favorite at the moment is lavender bitters, chocolate, and a botanical blend with hibiscus.
Other fresh fruits: Muddled berries, mango, coconut cream, cucumber, pineapple, passionfruit, really whatever your heart desires. Fresh in season fruit add a next level to some cocktails, and are a colorful garnish to boot!
Super fine sugar
Always remember that your home bar is really about what you like to drink and what you want to have for your guests. It should tell a story of your preferences and personality. Utilize this list as a guideline to customize your home bar and don’t be afraid to leave out things you rarely/never would use. Most importantly have fun!
Celebrating all that we raise, sip, guzzle, clink, drinks and most affectionately cheers with!