Building a Home Bar

Erica's bar cart with cocktail glasses, whiskey, and gin

I love a good cocktail. There are times when going to a happy hour at a restaurant hits the spot, especially if it’s somewhere with a really creative cocktail menu. I actually prefer to drink a home, though. It’s generally cheaper than buying cocktails out, and I don’t have to worry about driving. Plus it’s a chance to play with flavors and recipes! I feel like I’ve built up a pretty good range of home bar staples. I’ve also spent some time playing with recipes creating cocktails for the first two seasons of the podcast I cohost, Lit Sh*t. I’ve learned a thing or two about making cocktails at home, and I’m excited to share it today!

Stocking Your Home Bar

When it comes to liquor, there are a million different options out there. I like the excitement of a new, funky, liqueur, but I was always ending up with random bottles of things that only go in one cocktail I know. I’ve learned that I really only need a handful of basic types of liquor, and I can leave the variations to professional bartenders. Here’s what I recommend keeping on hand if you want to be able to mix a variety of cocktails at home:

  • Whiskey or bourbon
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum

Adjust your spirits to fit your taste. I don’t find rum particularly exciting, so I usually don’t keep it on hand. Likewise, Greg and I love whiskey, so we usually have several different kinds on hand. I also usually have an irish cream, creme de menthe, and Kahlua, but those are more for baking. If you’re just getting started and aren’t sure what brands of each liquor to buy, try some things and see what you like! I love looking for spirits that are distilled near Austin, where I live. I’ve also found that the people who work at liquor stores are usually really nice and excited about sharing their knowledge and recommendations, so lean on them as well.

I also like to have the following non-alcoholic ingredients on hand:

  • Simple Syrup-you can make your own by dissolving 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water on the stove
  • Ginger Beer
  • Tonic water
  • Lemons and lemon juice

Finally, there are a handful of tools that are helpful:

When to shake and when to stir? I’m still working on developing my instinct here, but I have a general rule of thumb I follow. For things that I want to cool down quickly so it doesn’t get watered down by the ice, I use a cocktail shaker. For things where part of the flavor experience is how the drink changes as ice melts and dilutes it, I use a spoon to stir it. I also use a shaker if there is an ingredient I’m worried about getting all the flavor from, like herbs and some fruits. The trick with shaking is not to be shy-shake vigorously for thirty seconds.

My Basic Cocktail Ratio

Whenever I’m trying to build a cocktail, I usually start with a basic 2:1:1 ratio. This means you use 2 parts liquor, 1 part sour, and 1 part sweet. A good example of this is a basic whiskey sour-I would use 2 oz whiskey, 1 oz lemon juice, and 1 oz simple syrup. From there you can adjust the ratios to fit your taste. If I’m adding a mixer like ginger beer or tonic water, I use the the 2:1:1 ratio for the other ingredients and then top it with the mixer until I’m happy with it.

Adding to Your Flavor Profile

If you want to experiment with additional flavors without buying additional liqueurs, there are several places I’ve found you can add flavor:

  • In your mixer, like adding in fruit juices
  • Muddle raw ingredients like fruit or herbs in your glass
  • Infuse your liquor-combine your ingredient (like spices or fruit) with a liquor carrier (vodka is great for this) in a jar and let it sit overnight
  • Infuse your simple syrup-Boil the ingredients in water for a few minutes before adding the sugar to make your syrup

For an example of an infused simple syrup, check out our lavender rose lemonade recipe.

From here, you can make endless combinations of cocktails at home. If you need inspiration, try making cocktails inspired by your favorite book, favorite movie, a song, etc. That’s what I did for Lit Sh*t. Just have fun with it!

What are your home bar staples? Do you have any go-to recipes? Do you have any recipes using non-alcoholic spirits? That’s another area I’m really wanting to experiment with. We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or on social media.

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