Whether your goal is to treat yourself, woo a partner or surprise your guests, making a good cocktail at home is a skill worth mastering, and having the right implements to begin with is half the battle won. If you’re interested in learning how to start a home bar, the good news are, you can begin with a very simple but smartly chosen assortment of accesories and drinks, and build from there.
Before we begin adding to the shopping list, here are some general tips that will help you come up with a combination that fits your tastes, space and budget.
- Before you start planning the “what”, focus on the “where.” Do you have a space in your living room or kitchen (or other area) in which you can organise your drinks and accessories?
- Make a list of your four or five favourite cocktails and write down their main non-perishable ingredients. This can help you inform your alcohol buying decisions.
- Keep it simple to begin with and prioritise quality over quantity. Instead of stocking up with litres of mediocre stuff, opt for a concise selection of great quality spirits.
- Decide whether you’re willing to put time and effort into making your own bitters, cordials or other ingredients and consider buying appropriate containers for these.
- If you’re looking for inspiration, think of a theme that matches the style of drinks you tend to like for. Perhaps you want to build an Irish drinks repertoire, maybe the tropical charm of Tiki catches your fancy, or the vintage style classics are more for you. Don’t be afraid to get a bit geeky and have fun!
After you’ve refined your ideasand writen down your likes and preferences, it’s time to get started.
THE BASE SPIRITS
Choose three to five good quality spirits to set the bases of your bar. Stay away from flavoured drinks and keep it classic.
Gin and whiskey are the backbone of many cocktails so it makes sense that they are in your starter selection. Vodka is another good addition, as its neutral flavour makes it very versatile for mixing. Finally, a good golden rum and/or tequila blanco will be great for a delicious tropical touch.
Choose one that you’d enjoy sipping by itself, but don’t go super high end. Aim for a balanced, classic style and avoid overly peaty whiskeys as the flavour might stand out too much in drinks.
Try these at home: Mint Julep, Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Mahattan, Irish coffee. See more.
The trendy juniper flavoured spirit can be easily enjoyed as a G&T, but there’s a wide array of very easy to make cocktails worth exploring too. Choose a London Dry style gin or similar (pink and flavoured gins are lovely, but it will limit your cocktail making options!).
Try these at home: Negroni, Dry Martini, Gin Fizz, French 75.
Vodka is a wild card at the bar. Because of its neutral taste, it mixes well with many different flavours, from fruity, to chocolate to exotic herbs… You cna also use vodka as a base to experiment and create homemade liqueurs and flavoured drinks to play with.
Try these at home: Screwdriver, Moscow Mule, Black Russian, Bloody Mary.
Rum’s sweet character and warming feel gives its heart to a very diverse array of cocktails. From the flamboyance of Tiki to the humble Rum & Coke, it is a flavourful tipple and great for groups because it is very handy for batch drinks and punch servings. If you’re going for only one rum, a golden or white rum are best, but once you’re expanding your home bar, a dark rum is worth adding.
Rums we love: Santa Teresa Claro Rum (€31.99, Celtic Whiskey Shop), Bacardi Superior (€26.49, SuperValu), Appleton Estate V/X Rum (€38, Molloy’s), Doorlys 5 Year Old Gold (€34.99, Celtic Whiskey Shop).
When choosing a tequila for cocktails, going for a blanco (also known as white, silver or clear) is best, as most cocktails call for this style. Keep an eye on the label and make sure it says 100% Agave (or Agave Azul or Blue Agave), as that means that its raw material hasn’t been mixed with lower quality produce.
Try these at home: Tommy’s Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Paloma, El Angelito.
THE SUPPORTING DRINKS
Besides the main spirits, there are many different liqueurs that make frequent appearances in cocktail recipes. When starting your home bar, it is ideal to source two or three that are versatile, meaning that you will be able to incorporate them into several recipes.
This is a type of orange-flavoured liqueur made with the peels of bitter and sweet oranges. While “triple sec” is the generic name, a very popular brand name is Cointreau.
While Grand Marnier is another famous orange-flavoured liqueur, it is not exactly a triple sec (it is a combination of triple sec and Cognac), but a type of Curaçao, a liqueur that originated in the namesake island and tends to be sweeter than triple sec.
Cocktails that use triple sec include the Sidecar, White Lady, Lemon Drop, Cosmopolitan and even the Long Island Ice Tea.
Vermouths are fortified wines aromatised with different herbs and botanicals (very often wormwood, which is also a signature botanical for absinthe). Vermouth’s alcoholic strenght generally ranges between 16 to 18% ABV and you can find different types: most commonly dry white, sweet white and sweet red, with some innovations such as rosévermouth also in the market.
Some cocktails that require dry white vermouth include the Dirty Martini, El Presidente and the Gibson.
Cocktails that contain red vermouth include the Americano, Manhattan, Negroni and Blood and Sand.
If you have a soft spot for coffee-flavoured cocktails, having a coffee liqueur at hand makes sense. Besides featuring in classics such as the White Russian, Black Russian and the Espresso Martini, coffee liqueur is very handy as part of desserts, boozy milkshakes or even by itself after dinner.
Two of the most famous coffee liqueur brands are Kahlúa and Tía María. They are both rum-based and have an ABV of 20%. For a stronger kick, Patrón XO Cafe is a tequila-based coffee liqueur with 35% ABV.
A recent and very interesting addition to the coffee liqueurs list is Black Twist, made in Ireland with a whiske base and sitting at 25% ABV.
Amaro is Italian for “bitter”, and the name defines a category of herbal liqueurs traditionally enjoyed as digestif. They are generally very intensely flavoured, bittersweet and with an ABV that can vary from 16% to 40%. While there is a wide variety of amari, two of the most easily recognised names are Campari and Aperol.
While both are bright red and made in Italy, Campari is way bitter and more alcoholic (25% ABV), and Aperol is a bit sweeter and lighter (11% ABV).
While Aperol is great for the very popular Aperol Spritz, Campari tends to be the one used for many classic cocktails including Americano, Negroni and Sbagliato. If you want to be creative and choose a less famous Amaro, keep an eye open for names like Averna and Fernet-Branca. You can find more info and inspiration about herbal and bitter drinks here.
Stock up: Aperol (from €16,99, Celtic Whiskey Shop, O’Briens Wine, SuperValu), Campari (from €25,50, Celtic Whiskey Shop, O’Briens Wine), Averna (€25.99, Celtic Whiskey Shop), Fernet-Branca (€35.95, Molloy’s).
While the sky is the limit when it comes to mixers, bitters and other cocktail additions you can have at hand, there are a few iconic ingredients that you’ll see in many recipes. Stock up on these and build up from there.
This cocktail essential is a concentrated mixed of herbs and spices that will add a kick to your drinks. It’s history traces back to 1824 and while it was invented in Venezuela, it is nowadays produced in Trinidad & Tobago. Looking for artisan bitters or alternatives? Check out our cocktail mixers feature.
You’ll need it for cocktails including Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Planter’s Punch, Pisco Sour and Singapore Sling.
A super easy way to give your homemade cocktails a pro touch is to have syrup at hand and use it instead of sugar. Simply make it by heating equal parts of water and sugar until it disolves (but don’t let it boil). Let it cool and bottle it.
A classic garnish with a long shelf life. Go the extra mile and get premium cherries, they are worth it. For example Luxardo Maraschino Cherries (€8.99, Drinkstore.ie).
Gin Garnish Kit
With the G&T craze, you’ll find botanical kits in mamy places, from premium off-licences to discount supermarkets. The ones from Drinks Botanicals Ireland are worth checking out as they contain non-perishable ingredients and are neatly presented (you can always make your own as well).
Craft soft drinks
Having a small assortement of craft soft drinks is also a great way to up your cocktail game with zero effort. For a list of tonics and other ingredients worth trying, check out this feature on premium mixers.
The world of cocktail tools is wide, but you’ll be able to mix a large amount of drinsk with just a few basics.
Shaker – There are several styles, but the most common two are the Cobbler and the Boston shakers.
The Cobbler shaker (or three piece shaker) is great for begginers because it has a cap that closes the mixer glass so it is easier to handle, however, its built-in strainer sometimes can be covered with ice.
Available from €11.22 at Hugh Jordan.
The Boston shaker comes with two glasses, one made of metal and one made of glass. While it takes a bit more skill to use, it fits more volume so it’s great for mixing more than one drink at the time. Because it doesn’t have a built-in strainer, you’ll need one if mixing with this type.
Whichever type you choose, go for stainless steel for the metal parts (stay away from cheap plastic shakers).
Also known as stirring glass, and as you can guess, it is used for stirred cocktails. Choose one that’s completely transparent and not too narrow, as you want to achieve some dilution as you stir.
Available from €9.99 at Nisbets.
This elegant and long spoon will slide around the stirring glass’ edges as you stir your drinks. Choose one with no less than 10 inches.
Available from €10.21 at Hugh Jordan.
Also known as Hawthorne strainer. It is a necessary complement to a Boston shaker and it should gently sit on top of the glass to allow you to pour your drink without seeds, ice or other unwanted sediments.
Available from €2.82 at Hugh Jordan.
Fine mesh strainer
Sometimes you’ll need even further sieving for a clear and smooth cocktail. This small tool will be your best friend in those moments.
Available from €5.19 at Nisbets.
Use this to measure liquids accuratedly. This hourglass tool generally measures 1 1/2 ounces on the large side and 3/4 ounces on the short one.
Available from €6.99 at Nisbets.
Use it to muddle fruits, herbs and spices (Mojitos, anyone?).
Available from €2.44 at .