As a new year looms with promise, resolutions come to mind. When it comes to drinking, many people think about “dry January” plans. After surviving 2020, it seems like just drinking less is a more promising option. Perhaps what I am most looking forward to in the New Year is having people over, when it’s safe. In preparation for gathering again, there are some easy ways to get your home bar ready to entertain. If you’re anything like me, you have accumulated things during 2020 but haven’t organized much. So, whether we’re locked down for three, six, or nine more months, we can at least get ready for the parties we dream of hosting. Let’s get started!
Step #1: Inventory Your Home Bar
In 2019, many of us started the year with Marie Kondo and her Netflix series. Our closets and drawers never looked better. (If you’re more of a reader, her book is also a great motivator to get organized.) When it comes to your home bar, two of Marie Kondo’s rules still apply: keep only what you love and organize the rest. During 2020, I have tripled my bottle collection and taken up half of our refrigerator with simple syrups and cocktail experiments. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with where to start. I suggest tackling a new category at a time: booze; mixers and bitters; bar tools; glassware; and cocktail books. Here’s an easy check-list to get you started. You can use it for each category.
- Take everything off your shelves or out of cabinets. This helps you see what you have.
- Group the items by what they have in common. For example, if you are starting with booze, put all your bottles of amaro together. Make another grouping of mezcal bottles. And continue until they are all categorized.
- Decide if you use all of the things you see. Sticking to the booze category, if there’s something you don’t like, set it aside in a new group. We often keep things because we spent money on them. For things you don’t like, maybe you can trade with a friend or just throw it away (recycling what you can). If it’s something you like but just don’t use, write it down. (We’ll get back to that list a bit later in the post.)
- Check expiration dates on mixers and throw out anything expired. Liquor doesn’t typically expire, as long as you store it properly. (Although, I did get rid of a bottle of Cream Sherry from the 1980’s this year.) And anything you’ve made, like simple syrups, should be thrown out within a couple of months.
- Go back through the list for each category.
Step #2: Organize Your Home Bar
Now that you have sorted each category into what you will keep, and what you will give or throw away, it’s time to organize! This can be so satisfying but you might need a couple of things to help wrangle the chaos. For example, I love this organizer for my bitters. It’s not expensive and it makes it easy to see what I have. It can be mounted to a wall, inside a cabinet door, or set on top of your bar. These pull out drawers are a game-changer for my glassware. (A shelf was removed from a cabinet to make room for two drawers.) I lined them with padded drawer liner to keep things from shifting when I close the drawers.
Once you have all the things you need, start putting things away by category. I like to keep all my liquor bottles organized by type. Each shelf gets its own spirit. For things like agave spirits, I organize them from least to most aged. Or, I like to keep all of my simple syrups together in the same shelf in the refrigerator. It’s much easier to keep track of everything that way. When I get ready to go to the store, it also helps me know what I need. Although, I am guilty of buying backups of thing I love, like Crude Bitters and Four Roses Bourbon.
Step #3: Stock Your Home Bar
Now that your bar is organized, it’s time to see if anything is missing. If you’re just getting started, here are my suggestions for setting up a standard bar, and the tools you’ll need. Also, stop putting off buying the bottle you really want to make that one drink. You deserve a flavorful year ahead! If you are looking for where to pick up what you’re missing, might I suggest a local cocktail shop? As the economy gets back on track, the small businesses in our communities have been hit extra hard this past year. If you live in the United States, here are ten shops to check out. Many of the places on the list also have online stores as well.
#4: Replace Your Cheap Bar Stuff
My first set of bar tools was an inexpensive, glass and plastic bar set. I thought it was great until the shaker top started to leak. I then purchased my first set of shaker tins and it really changed how my drinks turned out. Most recently, I upgraded to this complete set, thanks to A Bar Above. It works so well, is dishwasher safe, and looks great on my counter. Maybe you have a couple of items that need to be replaced, or a bottle of cheap liquor that works but isn’t the best tasting. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to upgrade your home bar. Just pick one or two things to get started with. Like instead of using your everyday drinking glasses, buy a set of nice rocks glasses. It will make your home feel like you’re out somewhere special.
Step #5: Read Your Cocktail Books
Remember that list of neglected ingredients, glassware, mixers, bar tools, and cocktail books from Step #1? Let’s get it out. Maybe you never use your bottle of Batavia Arrack because you don’t have any recipes for cocktails you love. Let’s fix that! You can invest in some new cocktail books, or you can read the ones you already have. Many cocktail books include an index in the back that includes specific ingredients. Look up what you’re not using and see if you can discover something new to make. Mark things you want to make in advance so you don’t have to hunt for something later on. I like using these flags to mark my favorite recipes.
By now, I hope your home bar is looking ready to serve up some great cocktails. Whether you are mixing up a drink for one, a household, or a group of friends, a little organization goes a long way. Wishing you a very happy new year and I hope we are all back together in person soon. Cheers!