Sometimes you just need a drink. But after watching the wizards behind the stick at your local drinking establishment, how could you even compete? A Negroni is not just a Negroni. Still, trying your hand at making a few cocktails and setting up your home bar should not be intimidating. It should actually be fun!
How to set up your home bar
My Lush Guide to Setting up the Home Bar makes the whole process so easy. You’ll discover what basic spirits to have on your shelf, what supplies you need, and which books start on your way to making a simple Old-Fashioned or Martini in no time. You might not be Tom Cruise from the classic film Cocktail, but you will have the tools necessary to make a decent cocktail when you’re desperate!
You can’t make drinks if you don’t have the stuff with which to make them. Of course, it’s most important, when stocking your home bar, to go with the ingredients that make up the cocktail you love. If you love a Negroni, buy a bottle of Gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth. If an Old Fashioned is your thing, go straight for the Bourbon shelf. Start with a few basics and then add on. Once you start mixing, and flinging, you’ll want to collect more and more bottles for your back bar.
If you wish to sample a whole load of spirits without spending tons, then you can always order small tasters at Masters of Malt and pick your favorite.
Here is a list of starter spirits and their corresponding cocktails:
- Bourbon: Old Fashioned, Boulevardier
- Tequila: Margarita
- Rum: Daiquiri, Mojito, Pina Colada
- Gin: Martini, G & T, Negroni
- Scottish/Irish Whisk(e)y – Highballs, Sipping
- Vodka: Martini, Cosmo
- Dry Vermouth: I added Vermouth to the list because you just can’t make a martini without it. It’s great when cooking as well!
Gin needs its partner-in-crime tonic to become a true G&T, so don’t forego the mixers. Remember, each brand can taste slightly different, so have a few small bottles of different types to sample until you find the ones you love. Make sure you have specific mixers for dark spirits like rum, as well as for gin, and don’t forget juices, like tomato, grapefruit and cranberry.
Garnishes & Syrups
A cocktail usually calls for a lemon peel to be added or a blue cheese-filled olive to be dropped in at the last moment. Have a selection of fresh fruits in your fridge when it’s cocktail making time. Also, a maraschino cherry is always fun to plop in – there is no judgment here! I throw syrups here as well. If you are having a party, pre-making sugar syrups always speeds up the whole process and get the drinks in your guests’ hands before they have time to say, I’m thirsty.
After sugar and spirits, the third ingredient in a cocktail is Bitters. Bitters are akin to seasonings in cooking. Like the staples of salt and pepper, I would begin with Angostura and Orange bitters for your home bar, then you can amass other bitters the more you use.
Would a martini have the reputation it has if it were served in a water glass? Would the Tiki cocktails exist without the tiki glass? Glassware is super important to every cocktail. Once you have the spirit, you have to have something to pour it into and that would be the glassware. I’ve written a separate post on glassware for the home bar but think flute, rocks glass, Nick and Nora, highball and everything else in between.
Whether you are shaking or stirring, you’ll need a shaker or a stirrer – got it. With this modern-day cocktail renaissance, as your confidence grows, you might get to point of wanting a centrifuge or a water bath, but for now this list of essential barware should suffice:
- Jigger – got it be able to measure it
- Stirrer – the fancy word for a bar spoon
- Mixing Glass – can’t have the martini without one
- Shaker – Shake, Shake, Shake
- Strainer – can’t have the ice coming through
- Muddler – a smusher to get oils and juice
- Ice tray – it’s got to be cold
- Bottle Opener – self-explanatory
Great Cocktail Books
Years ago, when Lush Life was launched, I asked one of my favorite bartenders what books would start me on my way to better cocktail making – he recommended three classic in the cocktail oeuvre: David Wondrich’s Imbibe, Dale De Groff’s the Art of the Cocktail and Gary Regan’s Art of Mixology.
With those in my library, I was on my way to understanding what a cocktail was and what a cocktail could be. Once you’ve devoured those, head down to your local bookstore to check out the tons of new titles on the shelf. Please check out my bookstore here for all the latest titles.
If you are stumped on the jargon used on the recipes, you can find out how to understand Bartending Terminology here.
Go Make a Cocktail!
There is no such thing as a bad drink. Well, maybe there is BUT how can you make a better Martini, if you’ve never even made one. So read your books, buy your shaker and bash about your kitchen making syrups, then invite over a few folks and start shaking.
Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- 2 oz Bourbon
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1 sugar cube
- 1 orange peel
Put a sugar cube into the bottom of a rocks glass with a teaspoon of warm water and saturate it with the bitters. Muddle the sugar until it dissolves. Add the Bourbon and stir, then stir some more. Add one sexy piece of ice or fill the glass with ice cubes.Stir until chilled. Twist the orange peel over the drink and then add it to the glass.
- 2 oz Tequila
- 1 oz Fresh lime juice
- 1 oz Simple Syrup
Add tequila, lime juice, and simple syrup to shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a Margarita glass with ice or without! Salt is up to you!