So you’ve finally realized that those fancy cocktails you get for $13-15 at the bar can be crafted in the comfort of your own home at a fraction of the cost.
Or maybe you’ve reached a stage in your life when you’d like to be able offer your friends a proper adult beverage when they come over. You’re done with the embarrassment of asking, “do you want vodka or… water?”
Either way, I commend you for taking the step to set up your own home bar. It’s a great decision for a number of reasons.
Unlike wrinkles and mortgages, it’s one of the rare positive side-effects of growing older. It says, “Now that I’m an adult and I’ve embraced entertaining guests at my place, I think I need to be able to offer my guests some options when they ask for a drink.”
There’s also something comforting in being able to make yourself a fancy cocktail at home. Economically it’s a great move, since you’re no longer spending hundreds of dollars at a bar. And best of all, you can enjoy that fancy homemade cocktail while you’re sitting on your couch in your underwear on any given night (unless you have roommates, though).
Once you have a proper bar at home, cocktails become more about the journey than the destination. And the journey is A GREAT LOOK. When you’re just ordering your usual drink at a bar or even when you “branch out,” you don’t have much room to experiment. When you have a home bar, you can explore and tinker—the control is in your hands.
So without any further ado, here are the essential items you need to set up a basic home bar:
As with anything, barware is an area where you could spend a lot of money if you wanted to. That’s all fine if you have it, but before we get fancy let’s get you set up with the essentials.
This helps you measure in 1-ounce or 1-½ ounce increments. I know you’re thinking, “but in most bars, bartenders don’t measure when they pour the booze—and it looks so damn cool…” That’s ok if you’re making something simple like a rum and coke. But if you’re making anything more interesting—with more than 2 ingredients—you might want to do some measuring. When you make a Manhattan, adding any more than that “just right” amount of sweet vermouth can ruin the delicate balance. That’s exactly why I never order manhattans at most regular bars.
This helps you combine ice with booze and other drink ingredients. For drinks like the Manhattan and martini (which generally should be stirred not shaken, by the way—Bond was an oddball) shakers allow you to mix and chill the ingredients while imparting an ever-so-slight amount of water from the ice to help smooth out the drink. For drinks that combine citrus and other disparate ingredients, some experts say that shaking vigorously helps create a chemical reaction that can help bind the ingredients together for a smoother mouthfeel.
When you’re buying a shaker, you don’t have to go crazy expensive. Key to this is getting a shaker that (1) keeps the liquid in the shaker when you’re shaking it, and (2) helps you strain the ingredients when you’re pouring into the glass. You can go bar-style with a pint glass, stainless steel tumbler and a strainer. But it’s probably easier just to grab a garden-variety shaker with a built-in strainer.
Essentially this is just a long-ass spoon for mixing drinks. The length allows you to stir ingredients in various size glasses, from shallow tumblers to tall highball glasses. It also makes it easier to grab a garnish like an olive or a cherry out of a jar. These often have a twirled metal handle that supposedly assists in mixing.
A muddler is a long stick with a flat bottom used to mash fruit and other ingredients in the bottom of drinks. It is essential for drinks like the mojito and the mint julep and is often used to muddle together sugar cubes and bitters for drinks like the old fashioned. Traditionally they’re made out of wood and look like little baseball bats, but newer designs can be made from plastic or stainless steel and have a toothed or textured surface on one end. My grandfather’s muddler (pictured here) was one of the few things I inherited from him and something I continue to treasure. I’m ashamed to say, I think it took me like 3 months to figure out that it was actually a muddler and not just a miniature baseball bat.
The handheld citrus squeezer is perfect for juicing limes for cocktails like the margarita or lemons for something like a whiskey sour or gimlet. You may think that fresh citrus is more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” But the truth is that fresh citrus is one of the cornerstones of many good cocktails. Once your palate has gotten used to the beauty of fresh lime in your margarita and fresh lemon in your whiskey sours, there is no going back to margarita mix or sweet and sour mix. Bartending guru Shawn Refoua of SF Mixology even goes so far as to say that the quality and freshness of the citrus in a drink is actually more important than the booze you use.