What should every home bar have? While liquor tastes may vary, there are a few items you should keep on hand, on your bar table or in your liquor cabinet, that will make whipping up a cocktail easy and aesthetically pleasing.
From liquors to mixers to glassware, we’re discussing what makes the best at-home bar, and how to keep it minimalist so that it doesn’t end up looking like your college dorm windowsill after a Saturday night.
Here are the best items to have for your perfect, minimalist home bar:
What is the best home bar trolley?
There are so many great bar trolleys out there, and they’re usually quite easy to find secondhand or vintage. A great bar trolley has enough space for everything you need, at least two levels, can be cleaned easily, and will age well (meaning its both high quality and the style is timeless).
The Bølling Tray Table, designed by architect Hans Bølling in 1963 and now produced in Denmark by Danish company Brdr. Krüger, is simply a perfect little piece of design. It’s easy to assemble, easy to clean, durable, and it has looked modern since it was made. The genius part? Both trays are removable and reversible, so you can use them to serve.
What liquor should I have in my home bar?
Obviously, only have the liquors that you actually like and will drink. It’s fine to have a bottle or two that you save for special occasions or guests, but for the most part, stick with what makes you happy. That said, if you want to be able to make most cocktails with ease, thee bottles you’ll want to have on hand are:
Vodka is kind of the baking powder of liquors; it’s in a lot of things and you generally don’t want to taste it. Where the simile ends, however, is that there is actually really good vodka that tastes…well, good. Not like lighter fluid! Shocking, we know. We recommend Purity Vodka, which is made in a Swedish castle, and Den Klodsede Bjørn (the Clumsy Bear), small batch vodka handmade in Denmark.
Aside from the ever-delicious gin and tonic, what do you need gin for? Everything! First of all, real martinis are made with gin, and if you haven’t sipped a really delicious gin on the rocks, you haven’t experienced all gin has to offer. A good gin to have in your collection is one that is subtle enough to be mixed for cocktails but tasty enough to stand on its own. We recommend the Bay Leaf Gin from Copenhagen Distillery, with a subtle bay leaf note. Their Dry Gin is also superb: it’s single botanical (juniper only), so it’s got a lovely sweetness followed by a dry finish.
For those who love whisky, it would be outrageous not to have it in your home bar. If you want to drink it on its own, a single malt is the way to go. For mixers, something a little less expensive is smarter. For both, we recommend Teerenpeli Distillery in Finland; they produce a number of whiskys, including a single malt, one with a sherry cask finish, and one with a Madeira finish.
Whether to get a light or dark rum (or both) depends on the kinds of cocktails you like. Prefer mojitos? Light rum. Want a Dark ‘n Stormy? Definitely dark rum. Try FAIR Rum, the world’s first fair trade rum, suitable for cocktails or sipping.
Tequila is the liquor that most people seem to leave out of their home bar because of “that really bad night in my 20s” but when you finally taste a high quality tequila (and drink it like a human and not a fish), it’s one of the best liquors around. And a good bottle doesn’t even have to be expensive! We’re currently enjoying the Tres Agaves Blanco, which has citrus and mint notes. So refreshing on its own or in a margarita.
Extras that can be nice to have on hand include:
Apperitifs such as aquavit, Aperol, vermouth, lillet, Campari, and Pimm’s.
Digestifs such as grappa, ouzo, cognac, armagnac, and chartreuse.
Bourbon Whisky; this is a must-have for some, particularly in the USA, and a nice-to-have for others.
Liqueurs can be sipped on their own or mixed for some great cocktails. The most common ones are amaretto, Irish cream (e.g. Bailey’s), vermouth, and orange liqueur. Why not try something a little different, like the Mexican Coffee Liqueur from Copenhagen Distillery? And because it’s so Scandi, we’ll suggest St Germain Elderflower liqueur as well.
What mixers should I have in my home bar?
Strictly speaking, mixers aren’t necessary to have on-hand at all times. Many of them can simply be purchased when you know you have guests coming, or when you find yourself craving a specific cocktails.
Sodas of all sorts are good to have on-hand. A simple whisky and soda, or vodka-soda, can really hit the spot. Others soda mixers like cola, ginger ale, and lemon soda are great for specific drinks, or just for the people who really like soda.
Tonic water is a must-have for gin and tonics, vodka-tonics, and whatever else-plus-tonic (have you tried port and tonic? Get on it). It’s soda water with a little something extra. Though there are plenty of good ones, Fever Tree Tonic has been a go-to for years.
Bitters are like the salt and pepper of the cocktail world. They add a little seasoning. And if you want a proper Old Fashioned, bitters (specifically, Angostura bitters) are essential.
What’s the best glassware for my home bar?
Although some people like to go whole-hog and get different types of glassware for every kind of drink and occasion, we prefer having one type of glass that can be used multiple ways. This cuts down on the sheer amount of stuff on your bar trolley, but also on pretentiousness.
Our go-to is the Stub glass by Danish glassware company Holmegaard. They can be used as wine glasses, beer glasses, water glasses, and for any kind of cocktail or straight liquor. The shape is classic and slightly geometric; it is the Platonic ideal of a glass. They also stack easily and, while they’re high quality, are not overly delicate. Get a set of 8 – 12 and you’re good to go!
What extras do I need for my home bar?
There are a few extras that will prove useful, and won’t take up much space:
Ice cubes! You can’t keep them on your bar trolley, but having ice cubes ready to go is the #1 sign of a good home bartender. Having those useless, cold “whisky stones” is not. You’re literally just freezing rocks. Get rid of them.
A small removable tray is both useful and minimalist; it won’t take up much space if it’s kept under a bottle or two. It adds visual interest to the trolley, and it allows you to serve yourself or your guests a drink like you’re an old timey butler! We love this silver one from Kahler Design.
Bar tools are…functional, to be sure. Unless you’re often straining and shaking and muddling and doing all sorts of other fancy things, mostly your bar tools will just sit there. But using them is your thing, go for it!
A cocktail recipe book or two can be a great addition to your home bar if you’re looking to be inspired or creative with your drinks. And why not? Just because a dry vodka martini was good enough for James Bond doesn’t mean it has to be good enough for you.
12 Bottle Bar: A Dozen Bottles, Hundreds of Cocktails by David and Leslie Jacobs Solomonson, €16
The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, €26
Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold, €32
Photos by Freya McOmish.
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