I made this post because one time I brought a woman home from a bar after a long night out. I won’t get into all the details – like, you know, her leaving early because she had to work in the morning. But what I will talk about is my utter embarrassment when I realized all I had to offer her to drink was: a coke zero, nearly-expired milk, and a bottle of banana-flavored vodka I had leftover from an ill-fated party I threw back in college.
I realized that I needed to have an adult kitchen and an adult kitchen means stocking up on home bar essentials.
We’re not going to go crazy in this post. I’m not going to recommend that you keep fresh cinnamon sticks or constantly be buying fresh limes as you throw out the ones that go bad in the bottom of your fridge.
No, we’re going to focus on the bar items you need at your house to make a wide variety of drinks and not look like an idiot when you have people over.
A well-stocked bar leads to:
- A more fun night
- Better conversations
- Expanding your drink horizons
Here are the home bar essentials that I keep stocked up on, including drinks I learned how to make.
The 4 Liquors You Should Have On Your Shelf
Vodka is a versatile liquor. You can use it to make vodka and soda, vodka and tonic, moscow mules (if you have ginger beer), a vodka martini.
It’s great for refreshing cocktails on warm summer nights.
Want something simple and aways refreshing for brunch? Make a screwdriver, which is vodka and orange juice.
Whiskey is another staple. You can drink whiskey neat or on the rocks or with a splash of water. You can also make whiskey sours and whiskey and soda.
Want something really easy? Have a whiskey and cola.
Gin is a little more unique. Most people don’t ask for gin, but it’s also a cocktail that shows your friends you’re seriously about cocktails.
You can make a gin and tonic for something easy, or a negroni for something a little more complicated. You can also make a Tom Collins, which is just gin, simple syrup, and soda water.
No bar is complete without tequila – learn to make margaritas (it’s not hard, as a real margarita isn’t the slushy drink you get at franchise restaurants).
Vermouth needs to a staple to make any home bar complete. It’s called for in hundreds of cocktails, whether you’re making a gin-based cocktail or a whiskey-based cocktail.
6. Soda Water
Buy glass bottles of soda water and keep them in your fridge. You can use them to make a vodka and soda – a crisp, refreshing cocktail. Or a whiskey and soda – something a little warmer.
7. Tonic water
Similar to glass bottles of soda water, you want tonic water to make gin and tonics, vodka tonics, and so on.
Even if you’re not a soda drinker – just keep two or three cans of coca-cola in your fridge. This lets you whip up an easy crowd favorite, like Jack and Coke.
The Three Tools Every Home Bar Needs
11. Cocktail ice cubes
Real mixologists know not to use normal ice when making a drink, even one as simple as whiskey and cola. Why? Because the ice melts too quick. Instead, get cocktail ice cube makers, fill them up with water, and let them freeze in the freezer. This way they’re ready to go whenever you need them.
The Extra Stuff to Make You Seem Fancy
Buy a jar of cocktail onions and leave it in your fridge. This way you can drop one or two in a vodka martini.
Like a jar of onions, a jar of olives can stay in your fridge until you need to use it.
Making a cocktail is a game of balancing out the sweet and the bitter. Bitters come in various flavors – from your standard go-to Angostura bitters to orange-flavored bitters, grapefruit bitters, and so on.
Adding a dash of bitters to the right cocktail – like when you’re making an old-fashioned, makes a world of difference.
15. Lemon/Lime Juice
Having fresh lemons and limes on hand is a hassle. The goal of having the home bar essentials guide is being ready on the fly.
Because of that, we like having lemon and lime juice in the fridge.
You don’t have to go buy all of this at once.
You can slowly build up your home bar essentials.
Here’s how I did it: I bought a bottle of liquor every month until I had a bottle of quality vodka, whiskey, gin, and tequila on my shelf (none of that bottom-shelf, well-brand).
Then I added mixers. Vermouth is the most expensive venomous at around $10 a bottle. Soda water, tonic water, and cola is super affordable.
Then I bought the extra items – jarred onions and olives, bitters, cocktail ice cubes, and lemon and lime juice.
In that way, over the course of a few months, you have all the items you need to turn your home into a respectable bar.
You can have friends over and offer them something besides a soda or bottle of water.
The next step – learning how to make some basic cocktails.