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The Basics For Setting Up Your Home Bar

Stock these essentials for classic cocktails.

Cocktails on Bar

Photo by Meredith

The Well-Appointed Home Bar

Maintaining a well-stocked bar can be an expensive endeavor. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely, so you can build your collection gradually without any worry of spoilage. As when stocking a bar for a gathering, buy the highest quality liquor your budget will allow.

A well-stocked home bar includes:


  • Bourbon: used in Manhattans and old fashioned cocktails
  • Gin: for gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and of course, the original martini
  • Rum: stock both light and dark. Use in piña coladas, mai tais, daiquiris
  • Scotch: for drinking on the rocks, or mixing in Rob Roys (Scotch Manhattans)
  • Single Malt Scotch: for sipping neat (without ice). There are many to try, with smoky, peaty, and caramel overtones. Experiment as your budget will allow
  • Tequila: for margaritas and tequila sunrises. Premium brands of aged tequila are good for sipping
  • Vodka: buy the 1.5-liter bottle; this is a versatile spirit. Use in vodka martinis, vodka Collins, sea breeze, Cape Cod, vodka & tonic, White Russians, screwdrivers, etc.
  • Whiskey: enjoyed on the rocks or in whiskey sours and hot toddys
  • Sweet Vermouth: essential for Manhattans
  • Dry Vermouth: essential for martinis
  • Triple Sec or Cointreau: this orange liqueur is added to many cocktails, from margaritas to hurricanes to Long Island iced tea
  • Liqueur: With so many to choose from, this is an area where you can let your personal taste be your guide. You may want to buy liqueurs that you enjoy drinking and for cooking: Cointreau, Kahlua, and peppermint schnapps are delicious in chocolate desserts
  • Brandy or Cognac: generally enjoyed on its own
  • Port: this sweet fortified wine is generally served as a dessert wine
  • Sherry: dry sherry can be used in cooking or as an aperitif, while cream sherries are enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif
  • Beer: beer does have a shelf-life; if you don't drink it yourself, only buy it when you're having guests
  • Wine: you needn't be a collector to keep an assortment of wine on hand. Store a bottle or two of white wine in your refrigerator for impromptu guests

Check out our complete collection of Cocktail Recipes.

Mixers and Garnishes

  • Bitters: used in Manhattans and other cocktails
  • Olives: for dry martinis
  • Lemons and limes: for all manner of drinks
  • Maraschino or brandied cherries
  • Grenadine: this pomegranate-colored (and, traditionally, flavored) syrup is used in Shirley Temples, tequila sunrises, and layered drinks
  • Lime Juice: sweetened lime juice is available in the mixer aisle with grenadine
  • Sweet and Sour mix

Cocktail Garnishes

Photo by Meredith

Bar Toolkit

  • Ice bucket
  • Ice scoop (tongs are too fussy, and a spoon can be unwieldy. If you don't have a scoop, a cup or sturdy glass will do)
  • Lemon zester
  • Cutting board
  • Paring knife
  • Jigger measures
  • Corkscrew
  • Bottle opener
  • Cocktail shaker(s)
  • Long-Handled bar spoon
  • Muddler
  • Strainer
  • Pitcher
  • Dump bucket

cocktails lined up

Photo by Meredith

Classic Cocktails Collections

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