Let’s take a look at what home bar essentials should be behind your bar.
You bought a new house or you finished your basement, and now you finally have that space to build the home bar you’ve always wanted. Don’t disappoint your friends when they come over for the first time by not having a properly stocked bar. We’re going to walk you through the basic bar set up you need by breaking it down into four sections: bar tools, liquor, glassware and ingredients. These are home bar essentials you’ll need to offer your friends the most popular and common types of cocktails in addition to pouring wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages.
To make a good cocktail you need to have the right tools. Here’s a selection of essential bar tools to have for making most drinks. Learn the right way to use some of these tools with our guide to basic bartending skills.
A shaker is a fundamental piece of bar equipment that enables the thorough blending of cocktails that contain citrus juice, egg whites, or cream. To use, simply add drink ingredients and ice (usually) to the shaker, seal it closed, and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker frosts. The agitation chills and dilutes the drink, and introduces air, creating a frothy texture.
A cobbler shaker or 3-piece cocktail shaker is the perfect option if you are just starting out with making cocktails. It consists of a shaker tin, lid with built-in strainer and a cap to cover the strainer when shaking. The cap can also be used as a jigger for pouring shots. Cobbler shakers are traditionally smaller in size, and are ideal for preparing single drinks.
Preferred by professional mixologists, a Boston shaker is made up of a larger shaker tin and Boston shaker glass or pint glass that fits inside of the tin. You can assemble your own by acquiring a shaker tin and pint glass separately. You will need a strainer to place over your tin when pouring cocktails to keep unwanted ice or ingredients out. Some experienced bartenders can “crack” the shaker by separating the tin and glass just enough to pour out the cocktail without the aid of a strainer.
A French shaker is part cobbler and part Boston shaker. It features a shaker tin and lid like cobbler, but, it requires a strainer.
Mixing glasses come in a variety of intricate designs, but all that cut glass is more aesthetics than function. If you love beautiful barware, more power to you–but know that an inexpensive pint glass will get the job done, too.
Whatever glass you use, be sure it’s large enough to accommodate the volume of your ingredients plus ice, with room leftover.
Bar spoons are specialty spoons used for layering and stirring cocktails. They are typically long handled, made from stainless steel so as not to affect the flavor of a drink, and have good, balanced weight to them. The shaft is often coiled, which facilitates stirring. Most bartenders prefer a tight over a loose coil.
They are indispensable to the stirred cocktail. But how do you know when to stir as opposed to shake? A good rule of thumb is, if a cocktail is made entirely of spirits, like a Martini, stir it with ice to retain the drink’s clarity and silky texture. Cocktails made with carbonated ingredients that are built in the glass, like a Mojito, may also be lightly stirred once or twice.
A “bar spoon” is sometimes used as a unit of measurement in cocktail recipes. It is approximately equivalent to one teaspoon.
Cocktail strainers are bartending tools that filter unwanted debris (herb leaves, ice, fruit bits, pulp) from a finished cocktail. Cobbler shakers come with built-in strainers, but if you are using a Boston or French shaker or making a stirred cocktail, having some sort of strainer is a necessity.
There are three types of strainers:
The most common and recognizable type of strainer, Hawthorne strainers feature a handle, strainer spring and 2-4 prongs to help you hold it over your shaker tin.
Named after the popular cocktail, Julep strainers were originally designed to keep ice out of the facial hair of gentlemen enjoying a julep. The convex/concave design allows them to fit easily inside cocktail mixing glasses or a pint glass when used with a Boston shaker.
The fine cocktail strainer is usually paired with a Hawthorne or Julep strainer. It acts as a second barrier when pouring cocktails to filter fine particles, usually small ice chips or pulp and seeds from fruit.
The hourglass-shaped measuring apparatuses you see bartenders using at your favorite cocktail joint are called jiggers. Basic models are inexpensive and can usually be had for just a couple of bucks. Higher-end models are weightier, more elegantly shaped, and come in decorative finishes like gold and copper. Standard jiggers come in ½, ¾, 1, 1 ½ and 2 ounce sizes.
Precision is key. Craft cocktail recipes are calibrated to deliver a delicate balance of flavors, so accurate measurements are important. When using a jigger, be sure you know what size you have in hand and always fill it to the very top to ensure you’re not shortchanging your pour.
Muddlers come in wood, stainless steel and plastic. Stainless steel muddlers typically have a rubber head with teeth perfect for crushing and extracting juice from fruit. Wooden muddler will have a rounded or flat head, which is better for drawing oils and aroma from herbs and reduces the chance of over-muddling. Muddlers should be long enough to reach the bottom of even tall vessels.
Citrus is an important ingredient in a variety of cocktails and the ideal way to extract fresh juice from lemons, lemons, oranges and grapefruit is a citrus juicer. One popular style of juicer is the enameled hand squeezer. It is relatively inexpensive and manages to extract far more juice from a single piece of fruit than bare hands alone.
If you frequently find yourself whipping up pitchers of margaritas for throngs of thirsty guests, you might consider a professional, lever-style juicer. These countertop models get out every last drop of citrus and are less stressful on joints than hand squeezers.
There are a few other bar tools and bar accessories you’ll want to have for a complete home bar
- Cocktail napkins & coasters
- Cocktail straws, stirrers & picks
- Bottle openers
- Bar caddy
- Ice bucket
- Bar mats
- Garnishing tools
- Cutting board
When stocking your bar there is a basic list of liquors that you will want to have on hand. These are going to be the basic spirits you’ll need to make most popular cocktails and mixed drinks. The brands or styles you choose may depend on your personal preferences or those of your guests.
- Whiskey(Bourbon & Scotch)
- Rum (White and Dark)
As for other beverages you’ll want to keep on hand, you can never go wrong with having a red and a white wine. Stocking a couple styles of beers is also a good option. This could be a popular American light lager along with a craft beer. If you aren’t sure on what kinds of craft beer to offer, then consider buying a variety pack.
Any good bartender knows that there’s a special cocktail glass for just about any kind of drink. You don’t need to stock every kind of glassware at your home bar, but think about what kinds of drinks you and your guests like to enjoy. Luckily for you KegWorks carries are large selection of bar and cocktail glasses.
The coupe is a really great all-around piece of glassware to have around. Instead of buying special glasses for Martinis, Margaritas and champagne, just pick up a set of coupe glasses and you’ll be covered for all three. They are much better at preventing spills than a Martini glass, the stem is great for keeping warm hands away from chilled drinks and the footed base makes for a very stable piece of glassware. Plus, they just look classy sitting on your bar.
When it’s time to break out the “good stuff”, you’ll need some rocks glasses on hand. Whether you want to be like Don Draper and have an Old Fashioned or just want to sip your favorite whiskey with a couple ice cubes, this is the way to go. If you’re a little more serious about your whiskey, then check out KegWorks’ full selection of whiskey glassware.
Highball and Collins glasses are tall and slender glasses that are designed for tall mixed drinks, including the ones they are named after. They work great with any cocktail that has a larger proportion of its non-alcoholic mixer, including gin & tonics, rum & Cokes or Mojitos.
At some point during every party someone is bound to say “hey, let’s do shots!”. Be prepared for that eventuality by keeping a handful of shot glasses behind your bar. They also come in handy for bomb drinks and for measured liquor pours when your jigger goes missing.
Pint glasses are great for both making and consuming drinks. When it comes to crafting cocktails pint glasses make up one half of a Boston shaker. They are also great to use when muddling ingredients or crushing ice. You will obviously want to have a few around if your group is more into beer drinking than cocktails, but you can serve mixed drinks and non-alcoholic beverages in pint glasses as well.
A good cocktail can’t just stand on its alcohol-based ingredients. You need to have a supporting cast of mixers and garnishes for the complete package. Here are some cocktail ingredients you’ll want to have on hand.
- Sodas & Tonic Water: Cola, club soda, ginger ale, tonic water, lemon-lime
- Juices: Orange, lemon, lime, cranberry, pineapple, tomato
- Cocktail mixers: Margarita, Bloody Mary
- Cocktail bitters: Angostura, Fee Brothers, Peychaud’s, Regan’s
Now that you have your list of home bar essentials, get out there and start stocking up. We’re sure if you add a good mix of these must-haves for your home bar, that your place will be the new favorite hang out for your friends.