Building your own home bar can be a fun and exciting way to get into the art of cocktail making. Not only can this become an interesting hobby, but a nice mixed drink or a classic cocktail can also turn you into the ultimate host the next time you have family or friends visit your home. You never want to disappoint your guests, so let’s discuss home bar essential liquors.
When it comes to stocking your home bar, you can certainly add your own flair and purchase bottles that appeal to your unique tastes and preferences, like sweet vermouth or dry vermouth. However, it is essential to start with the basics. There are a few core home bar essential liquors that any home bar or bar cart needs.
These essential types of liquor will become the foundation of the majority of your cocktails. They will also allow you to serve yourself and your guests drinks – like a mai tai or a mint julep – that are neat or poured on the rocks.
To help you get your home bar off the ground, we will go over all the essential liquors. We will also explain what types of cocktails and mixed drinks you can use these liquors to make!
Table of Contents
Bar Stock – Why It Is Important to Stock the Basics
Before we get into the different types of liquors you will need for your bar or bar cart, it is important to explain why it is useful to have these home bar essentials on hand. As mentioned above, these core types of liquor will form the foundation of the cocktails, mixed drinks, and shooters that you make.
Most cocktail recipe books will assume that you have each of these liquors on hand. Think of them as the key ingredients that go into most meals in a kitchen, like salt, pepper, garlic, onions, etc.
You can also serve them on their own, so you will want to familiarize yourself with their unique flavors and characteristics if you have any ambition to become a skilled home bartender. And of course, feel free to customize your bar cart. If your crowd likes mead or black licorice alcohol, for example, go for it!
Bar Cart Necessities
If you are planning to stock a bar cart rather than a full-sized bar, you can most likely get away just with the essential liquors. Once you have these, you can add a few liqueurs or mixes that cater to your preferences.
Stocking a Bar With Home Bar essential Liquors for a Party
If you are planning to host an event and want to cover your bases, simply having one of the home bar essential liquors will be sufficient. This way, you can cater to your guests’ preferences.
How Much Does It Cost to Stock a Home Bar?
While the total cost will depend on the quality and brand name of the particular bottles you purchase, you can usually get away with stocking a home bar for a couple of hundred dollars. While this may seem somewhat expensive, it is essential to note that this will set you up with a well-stocked home bar.
As you figure out your own tastes and preferences, you can add additional bottles or upgrade certain bottles to more sophisticated options. For example, if you prefer tequila, you may replace your cheaper bottle with a higher-quality alternative. If you find you have a preference for whiskey, you can add different types from different regions to expand your palate.
What Are the Key Liquors to Stock a Home Bar?
Now that you know why it is important to stock the home bar essential liquors, we can cover each of the key types. Remember, simply purchasing one of each of these bottles will give you plenty of options when it comes to hosting guests or experimenting with different kinds of cocktail recipes.
Vodka is the first essential liquor on our list. This clear and colorless liquor has no definite aroma or taste, which is why it is such a versatile liquor. The neutrality of vodka is one of its defining characteristics, which explains why the word originates from the Russian word for water.
You can use it as a base for a wide range of mixed drinks and cocktails without imparting its own flavor. Again, this explains why it is used for more cocktails than any other type of liquor. When you are first starting, you can purchase a budget-friendly bottle, as this will be useful when experimenting with cocktails.
If you are someone that enjoys a martini, you may want to splurge for a higher-quality bottle of vodka. There are now flavored Vodkas on the market, but you should avoid these if you plan on just building your bar with the essentials. But if you’re looking for something flashy, consider Goldschlager vodka.
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is incredibly flavorful and versatile. Its full flavor comes from the unique barrel aging process used during distillation. It tends to have a higher ABV rating than other types of liquor, which is why it is used in stronger beverages designed for sipping.
The robust flavor and its iconic role in American culture explain why bourbon is popular worldwide. Not only can a good bottle of bourbon be incredibly useful as part of any home bar, but the bottle can be a great statement piece, as there are plenty of iconic brands.
If you want to know more, World Whiskey Day also has a useful guide to Bourbon and How it is Different from Other Types of Whisky that is well worth reading.
Canadian whiskey tends to be smoother than bourbon, so stocking a bottle is really useful, especially if you prefer a milder taste. Since Canadian whiskey is usually lighter and smoother than other types of whiskey, it can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or with basic mixers, like cola or ginger ale.
Canadian whiskey also rose to popularity during American Prohibition, as it was often smuggled across the border to satisfy the thirst of American customers. This made it a common base for some of the era’s most iconic cocktails, like the Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, and Old Fashioned.
A bottle of brandy can help round off your home bar. This unique liquor is made from distilled wine, so it tends to have a fruity, caramel taste. It is usually enjoyed straight and is often served as an after-meal beverage.
While it is a little less versatile than some of the other base liquors, brandy is also used in a range of cocktails. It is even added to certain types of sangria and mulled wine, so stocking a bottle can really prove to be useful if you plan on hosting guests for summer backyard events or winter dinner parties.
If you like brandy, consider cognac as an option as well.
A fully stocked home bar will feature two bottles of rum. This is because there are two main types of rum. Each has its own unique flavor profile, which explains why they are used as ingredients in different kinds of cocktails and mixed drinks.
- Light Rum – Light rum, or white rum, is aged and filtered, so it has a clear, vodka-like appearance. Light rum is sweeter and more subtle than dark rum, which explains why it is used in fruitier cocktails, like the daiquiri, as well as minty drinks, such as the mojito.
- Dark Rum – Dark rum is barrel-aged, so it has a dark appearance and a more robust flavor. Some dark rums have added spices. Dark rum can be enjoyed on its own, with cola, or as the main ingredient in a wide range of tropical and tiki cocktails.
Tequila is an iconic liquor that originates from Mexico. It is made from the blue agave plant, so it has a truly unique flavor that is enjoyed all over the world. Having a bottle of tequila on your bar is an absolute must, especially if you plan on hosting lively parties.
While you can undoubtedly enjoy tequila on its own, with soda water, or on the rocks, one of its most famous uses is the iconic tequila shot, where a shot glass of tequila is paired with a lime wedge and salt.
Tequila is also a surprisingly versatile ingredient in numerous cocktails, including the classic margarita. The Paloma, Tequila Sunrise, and Chimayo all use tequila as a base liquor.
Like rum, tequila is also available in blanco (white, silver, or light) varieties, as well as anejo (dark, gold, or aged) varieties. While you do not necessarily need a bottle of each type when you are starting out, it can add versatility to your bar.
Experiment with different types the next time you are out at a bar or a Mexican restaurant. Once you determine your own preferences, you can add these types of tequila to your own home bar!
Gin is an iconic British distilled spirit made from a unique mixture of grain and flavorful botanicals. While most recognize it for its pronounced pine flavor, gin tends to be very complex.
There are also numerous styles and varieties, with the iconic London dry gin being the most famous. While you can enjoy gin on the rocks, most pair it with a lime or lemon wedge and a light-tasting carbonated beverage, like soda water or tonic water.
One of the most popular uses of gin is its central role in the classic gin martini. However, you can make numerous other cocktails with gin, which is why it is such a versatile type of liquor.
By stocking a good bottle of gin, you will be able to create the Negroni, Tom Collins, Gimlet, and, of course, a classic gin martini. Add a classic bottle of gin, like Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, or Beefeater to your bar and discover just how versatile and sophisticated this essential liquor can be.
Finding Liquor Near You
Now that you know more about the liquors required to stock a home bar, you can find a retailer near you. Use our Liquor Store Searching Tool to find liquor stores operating in your area!