How to Stock an at-Home Bar (Without Spending a Fortune)

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How to Stock an at-Home Bar (Without Spending a Fortune) | Wit & Delight
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

Want to stock up your home bar, but not sure where to start? Hi, it’s your resident home mixologist, here to help! I may not be a professional bartender, but my husband Alex and I have made it our life goal to make all the great cocktails in the world, in the comfort of our own home. With 250 under our belt, we’ve learned a hell of a lot along the way. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a homemade cocktail expert…without breaking the bank.

Build your at-home bar around your favorite drink

We’re here with a unique approach to home cocktails—pretty simple mixology, you could call it. It’s the same as our approach to healthy home cooking. Here’s what we think: don’t go out and buy a bunch of liquor bottles that you might not use. Instead, base it around a single recipe that you love!

I tell people the same thing when it comes to home cooking. Don’t feel like you have to buy every spice at first, or every type of pan or kitchen gadget. Find a recipe that sounds delicious, and start there! Buy the spices and tools you need for that recipe. You can stock your bar in the same way, which is less overwhelming and helps keep the cost down! We’ll show you a few examples here…

At home bar tools
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

The bare essentials: basic bar tools

Before you start loading up on liquor, there are a few tools you’ll need for the job. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Cocktail shaker & strainer: A shaker is used for many drinks—shaking the liquor against ice chills it and dilutes it slightly. Here’s our favorite cocktail shaker, which also comes with a strainer and muddler.
  • Mixing glass: Other cocktails like a martini or Manhattan are stirred with ice in a mixing glass. Here’s the one we use.
  • Citrus juicer: Many cocktails use fresh lemon or lime juice, and a great juicer is key. We like this press citrus juicer because it’s easy to use.

The big 5, plus the supporting cast

When you build an at-home bar, we suggest that you pick your favorite drink, or a favorite, and then build within that theme. More on that below! But to give a little background on the types of liquors you’ll see in cocktail recipes, here’s a quick and dirty overview.

The vast majority of cocktail recipes you’ll see will use one of the most popular five liquors. I call them “The Big Five,” which I’m not sure if I heard from a professional bartender or made up myself! Either way, you’ll see these five in most of the classic cocktails:

  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Rum: White, dark, or aged/golden
  • Tequila: Blanco (unaged) or reposado (aged)
  • Whiskey: Bourbon, rye, Scotch, or Irish

There’s also a background cast of supporting characters that make up most cocktails. These are secondary cast members you’ve probably heard of but might not know intimately. Examples:

  • Cointreau, Triple sec, or Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
  • Vermouth: Both sweet and dry
  • Cognac
  • Campari
  • Amaretto
  • St. Germain
  • Mezcal
  • Kahlua
  • Etc.

We suggest stocking up on these liquors based a specific cocktail or a style of drinks you love (like this classic whiskey sour). Here are some specific examples!

How to Stock an at-Home Bar (Without Spending a Fortune) | Wit & Delight
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

Example 1: Italian-style at-home bar

Do you love a classic Negroni? Build out your bar based on this popular bitter cocktail. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Gin
  • Campari
  • Vermouth

Once you mix up the classic, drink through all these Campari Cocktails to use up your bottle, which keeps things cost-effective! Add bourbon to your setup for a Boulevardier, and dark rum to make a Jungle Bird.

Example 2: Lime classics at-home bar

Do you love a Moscow mule or a gimlet? There is a whole list of lime cocktails you can make with just a few ingredients:

Example 3: Go for gin at-home bar

Gin was very popular during American Prohibition, so it’s spawned some of the greatest cocktails in history. Buy gin, then buy new liquor as you tick down the list of Great Gin Cocktails.

How to Stock an at-Home Bar (Without Spending a Fortune) | Wit & Delight
Image by Sonja & Alex Overhiser, A Couple Cooks

BY Sonja Overhiser - March 9, 2021

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March 9, 2021 9:46 pm

Your photography is amazing.

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