In previous posts, we’ve talked about tools every home bartender needs and how to pick a cocktail you’ll actually like. Once you have these, it’s time to learn how to stock a home bar. People often want to make their own cocktails but find the liquor store overwhelming or too expensive. Many people make rum & cokes or gin & tonics because it’s easy to keep what you need on hand. No shame if you love those drinks. But, if you want to expand your options, here’s what I would recommend for your home cocktail bar.
Before we get started, this is what my home bar looks like. I have obviously gone way beyond the basics. However, that means I have done a lot of important research so you don’t have to. Buying things you don’t actually love is a waste. So let’s talk a little bit about what you’ll be making before you shop. I hope my recommendations will help you get everything you need to make the six basic cocktails. What are the six basic cocktails? I am so glad you asked!
What are the Six Classic Cocktails?
As with many bartending concepts, there are some disagreements about how many classic cocktails there are. As bar culture and tastes have evolved, things have gone in and out of favor. However, there is general agreement by most that there are six drinks every bartender should know. They are: the Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, Martini, Sour, Highball, and Flip. These six provide the foundation for every other cocktail. For more on making variations on the classics, check out this post.
Daiquiris are among my favorite drinks. They are a group of cocktails that contain rum, citrus juice, and a sweetener.
2. Old Fashioned
Another favorite of mine is the old fashioned. It’s certainly very versatile. The main cocktail is made of whiskey, bitters, simple syrup, and a citrus twist.
This is probably the cocktail I make the least, but is still a huge favorite. A classic dry martini is gin and vermouth with an olive or a lemon twist.
According to the list I linked above, the sidecar is one of the six classic cocktails. However, the sidecar is actually a kind of sour. The sour family of drinks are made with a base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener. And, according to these rules, they actually make the Daiquiri part of the Sours. (You can see how these arguments between bartenders and cocktail historians can go.)
I’ve always thought a Highball sounded like the fanciest of cocktails, but it’s also the simplest. For all you fans of a rum & coke, a Highball is just a spirit plus a non-alcoholic mixer.
And, last but not least, and the most advanced to make, is the Flip. A Flip is a cocktail that contains a spirit, a sweetener, and a whole egg. Flips can also contain just an egg white, but if we’re being picky about the Classics, I wanted you to know.
Stock a Home Bar
Looking over the six classics, you might have an idea of what you might need to buy. We’ll keep it basic for the purposes of this post. These selections weigh quality and price as well, so you can get the first set for around $100USD. You can get it under $100 if you buy a cheaper tequila.
How to Stock a Home Bar: Essential Liquors
This lineup is all you need to make the six classic cocktails listed previously. To stock a bar with the basics you’ll need rum, gin, tequila, whiskey, and a dry vermouth. You could technically get away without the tequila, but that would take away the ability to make margaritas, palomas, tequila sunrises, and more. There’s also flexibility on the whiskey (or bourbon). I think finding something that you like that is versatile is great. If you’re not sure how, try a whiskey tasting.
Stocking Your Home Bar: Extra Spirits & Liqueurs
So much of what you choose to add to the basic lineup depends on your tastes. If you love vodka, buy a nice vodka. I have the rye vodka from Westslope Distillery. I would also suggest adding sweet Vermouth, dark rum, an orange liqueur like Curaçao, an apéritif like Campari, and a rye whiskey. While these aren’t critical to have, they do bump up the number of variations on the classics you can make. I find myself reaching for these the most. These, and mezcal, but we’ll get to that in a future post.
Mixers & Others to Stock in Your Home Bar
Along with your basic bottles, you’ll need a couple more items. These will help to expand on what variations you can make. For the bitters, you’ll need at least one kind to make an Old Fashioned. Angostura, aromatic and orange, and Peychaud’s bitters are the most common flavors you’ll come across in recipes. (In case you’re not familiar with bitters, here’s a post with more details.) Besides bitters, you’ll need a few standard mixers. I highly recommend any of the Fever Tree brand tonics, Topo Chico for a basic soda water, and keeping a few canned juices for mixing. Fresh juice is always best, but juicing a pineapple every time you need one is a lot. Speaking of juice, I always keep lemons, limes, and grapefruit in my fridge.
Once Your Home Bar is Stocked
Once you have the basics, you’ll probably want to keep going. Here are a couple of tips to keep things interesting without buying more bottles of liquor.
- Infuse the liquors you do have. You can infuse small amounts of liquor to up the amount of variations you can make. Here’s an example.
- Make a fruit syrup. You can mix up classic cocktails easily with a fruit syrup. Here’s an example along with a couple of recipes for variations on the classic cocktails above.
- Infuse your simple syrups. There are countless variations of flavored simple syrups using a variety of bases. For infused syrups using honey, sugar, and agave check out this post.
And that, my friends, is how you stock a home bar. While it might seem like a fairly pared down list, you can still make incredible and unexpected drinks like this. (You can just use tequila as a stand in for mezcal if you haven’t added that to your list yet.) Wishing you all the best in your home bartending adventures. Cheers!