Written by RJ Firchau
There are few things more enjoyable than having a properly stocked bar in the comfort of your own home. We’re not talking about having one go-to bottle stashed away in the back of your freezer and a 6-pack of beer that you picked up on your way home from work. What you need, friends, is a solid bar stocked with the basics so you can entertain (and impress) guests, as well as treat yourself to the gift of a properly mixed drink. Starting a home bar may seem daunting or superfluous, but when your lady friend (or your boss or anyone else that needs to be impressed) comes over and you can artfully craft for her a cocktail of her choosing, you’ll surely be glad you took our advice. We’re not saying that procuring the perfect Moscow Mule or Gimlet for your lady or your boss is guaranteed to help you score that second date or that promotion… but we’re not not saying that, either.
Now, stocking a great home bar is really not that hard to do. It is just based on how much you can afford to spend, and how large you want your arsenal to be. If you have a lot of money to blow and want a top notch bar with the finest curated liquors, then by all means, go forth (also, let’s be friends). However, you can also achieve a successful bar at home filled with the components that you’ll need to make a wonderful selection of drinks without costing you an inordinate sum of cash. However much money you have to spend on creating the perfect home bar, you’ll need to start with the basics. We’ve come up with a grocery list of essentials you’ll need to stock your home bar depending on your budget.
Pick Your Budget
We’ve broken down your “grocery list” (below) into three different budgetary ranges. Meaning, you really have no excuse not to have a bar in the comfort of your own home after reading this article! The numbers below are an estimate and our budgets are meant to be used as a guideline, as prices are subject to change, and things like glassware and bar tools will depend on which brands you ultimately choose to purchase. However, the big picture is that you can truly have a well-equipped bartender’s paradise at home without dropping thousands of dollars. We’ve broken down our liquor suggestions for $350, $500, and $650 total budgets (including 1 of each liquor essential–not including beer or wine, flair, bar tools, and glassware). We’ve made it easy, now go out there and make it yours.
What to Buy
Whiskey: Ah, whiskey. A good whiskey can soothe any man’s soul and is necessary when musing over deep, manly thoughts that only a strong liquor can assuage. For a solid bar, you’ll want to have both bourbon (the sweeter variety of whiskey) and rye (a little spicier) whiskey in your arsenal. A scotch whiskey wouldn’t be too bad to keep around, either.
$350 Budget: Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon $15; Old Overholt Rye $18
$500 Budget: Four Roses Bourbon $21; Sazerac 6 Year $30-$38; Bulleit Bourbon $30-$45
$650 Budget: Ardmore Traditional Cask Scotch $41; Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year $42; Macallan 12 Year Scotch $58
Vodka: The ultimate failsafe of many a home bar, be sure to keep at least one good vodka around. If you do enjoy vodka on it’s own go ahead and venture into other flavor-infused frills for shots and whatnot. If that’s not your thing, and your vodka consumption is limited strictly to the cocktail, stick to a smooth, flavorless, high-quality variety.
$350 Budget: Gordon’s Vodka $11; Svedka $20
$500 Budget: Kettle One $20; KAI Vodka $32
$650 Budget: Nemiroff Lex $33; Grey Goose $37
Gin: There’s all sorts of good options out there when it comes to gin, but if you’re looking to keep it simple, stick to a nice dry gin for your cocktail needs. If you’re a diehard fan of gin, you can kick it up a notch. It’s all up to you.
$350 Budget: New Amsterdam Straight $12; Gordon’s London Dry $20
$500 Budget: Beefeater $19; Beefeater Wet $24; Tanqueray London Dry $25
$650 Budget: Kensington London Dry $30; Bombay Sapphire $40
Rum: Make sure you have a white rum in your home bar, which is quintessential for mixing many cocktails. For punches, dark rum is key. If this home bar is for your personal use, white rum will do you just fine. If you plan to throw a party, add a dark rum into the mix.
$350 Budget: Myers Original Platinum $12; Flor de Cana 4 Year Old White $16
$500 Budget: Angostura Old Oak White $20; 10 Cane $30
$650 Budget: Tommy Bahama White Sand 30; Oronoco Fazenda Reserva $35
Tequila: Necessary for those evenings when nothing else will quench your thirst but a good old fashioned margarita (so, every single Tuesday night). The kind of tequila you get depends on what you’re using it for. If you’re all about margaritas, gold tequila will do the trick and is generally on the cheaper side. if you like to consume your tequila straight up, silver tequila is the way to go. No matter what, make sure the tequila you buy is “100% agave,” otherwise it’s full of fillers, and nobody wants that.
$350 Budget: El Ultimo Agave Tequila Reposado $15; Sauza Hacienda Reposado Tequila $17
$500 Budget: Familia Camarena Reposado Tequila $22; Abreojos Silver Tequila $29
$650 Budget: El Jimador $22; 3 Amigos Anejo $30; Avion Silver Tequila $40
Other: These aren’t necessarily essentials, but it’s good to add a few extras to your bar, depending on what you like. If you’re a wine drinker, have a good white and red, at the least, in your home bar. If you enjoy a nice brew, beer is always welcome to the party. If you’re entertaining or throwing a party, be sure to pick up a little of each to imbibe all of your guests.
Extra Flair (~ $75-$150 depending on what you already have, what you get, and in what quantity)
You’re gonna need more than just an arsenal of liquor to have a truly perfect home bar. However, the extra stuff is easy to acquire and, odds are, you probably have most of this stuff lying around in your kitchen already! Here are some surefire ingredient basics you’ll want to keep around to make an impressive array of drinks.
- Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit)
- Jalapenos (if you want)
- Bitters (on a budget? Stick to one solid bottle of bitters: Angostura bitters, to be exact)
- Sugar cubes (preferably brown sugar cubes)
- Simple syrup (make your own)
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Coke (or your sodas of choice)
- Ginger ale/ginger beer
- Cranberry juice
- Tomato juice
- Pineapple juice
- Triple sec
- Tabasco sauce (and if you really feel like getting inventive, grab some Sriracha too while you’re at it)
- Salt, Pepper
- Cocktail onions, olives, and other accoutrements (if you want)
Tools (~ $50-$70. Low end if you stick to the first 4, high end if you get all the gadgets)
You don’t need anything too fancy, but the following pieces of equipment should certainly suffice. From beginner to novice bartender, every man should keep the following at the ready in his home bar:
- Shaker: Most proper drinks are shaken or stirred, after all. And shakers work wonders at providing a perfect amount of chill to anything from a shot to a cocktail.
- Hawthorne Strainer: You’ll need one of these funny looking devices to strain all the ice and/or pulp out of your drink before consumption.
- Jigger: Accuracy in cocktail making is important. Having a jigger handy to measure your alcohol of choice will ensure that your drinks will be made consistently, every time.
- Cocktail Stirrer: Sorry boys, a regular old spoon just won’t cut it for the kind of bar we’re talking about. A long, thin bar spoon will help you stir any cocktail quickly and efficiently without creating a lot of unnecessary disruption that could make the drink cloudy. Also, many cocktail stirrers also act as muddlers on the reverse side, which is great if you’re on a budget.
You should be able to make do with those 4 essential tools. However, if you’re trying to go the whole nine yards (and your budget allows), you might as well add these to your shopping list as well:
- Citrus Juicer: For all your lemon and lime needs. As much as you can, always use fresh citrus. You’ll taste the difference.
- Mixing Glass: A simple yet elegant glass, while not necessary, comes in handy if you’re a big fan of stirred drinks.
- Muddler: For bringing out essential oils and potent flavor in citrus and herbs, a muddler is a necessity. Who doesn’t love a good minty mojito?
- Channel Knife: Perfect for getting just the right kind of twist out of a citrus peel. Believe it or not, twists often add essential aromatics to a cocktail, and are not to be overlooked!
Glassware (~ $100-$200. This can honestly be as cheap or as pricey as you want, depending on quality, quantity, and variety)
Please, please don’t make a perfectly concocted cocktail and serve it up in a Red Solo cup. Glassware for cocktails can get pretty specific, but when trying to save money, you’re safe sticking to the basics–which should cover most of your bases anyway. Have, at the very least, the following glassware at hand and you’ll be ready for most anything.
- Martini glasses
- Rocks glasses
- Coupe glasses (not necessary, per say. But they’re pretty rad.)
- Highball (tall) glasses
- Red and white wine glasses
- Assorted beer mugs and pints
- Red Solo cups for use strictly when throwing parties with a larger crowd than your glassware supply can accommodate
If you follow our grocery list (and you should) and choose 1 liquor per category, snag all the flair, grab your bar tools (basic 4 if you’re saving money, all 8 if you’re going all out), and some affordable glassware, it’ll cost you between…
$350 Budget = $290 to $316
$500 Budget = $336 to $481
$650 Budget = $381 to $630
See? A not too shabby price tag for a pretty sweet (and very well-stocked!) home bar. We’d call that a win-win situation in our book. And, once you’ve got all your glassware and bar tools together, the cost of stocking your bar only gets cheaper from there on out. Now all you need to do is get shopping, learn some bar terms and signature cocktail recipes (Google can seriously be your best friend here), and invite over all your friends to show off your inner bartender.