So you want to start a home bar, huh? Well if you’re like most people in Austin, the first thing you’ll do is head down to Twin Liquors and grab twenty random spirits based on which bottles look the coolest, pick up an ugly shaker with six recipes you’ll never use printed on the glass, a muddler because smashing things sounds cool, seventeen lemons, and for the love of God don’t forget to get a giant bottle of Baileys! You’re going to need the Baileys…for…something.
That’s pretty much how I started my first home bar years ago. I always wanted to get into cocktail culture and when I came into a small bit of money I went wild buying all kinds of things that didn’t really mix well. I knew enough to get at least some of the each of the basic spirits (Whisky, Gin, Vodka, Rum etc.), but since I didn’t really know much about cocktails I ended up with a lot of stuff that I didn’t need and barely touched. Here’s how to start a home bar the right way:
1. Find a good bartender and make friends.
A great bartender is going to be just as interested in cocktails as you are and happy to get to know someone who wants to learn about their craft. Tell them what you like and ask them to make you something they think you’ll enjoy. Depending on where you live finding this type of person can be fairly easy or next to impossible. For the last five years I lived in a small college town where the closest thing you could get to a cocktail was a Jager Bomb. Its not that you couldn’t order something slightly more elaborate, but the reaction I usually got when ordering an Old Fashioned was either utter confusion or, “Yeah, I think I can make that, what’s in it?” which never ends well. When you’ve found something you like, ask your bartender questions like, “What’s the secret to making this drink well? What do you recommend I try next?” Tip well and let them know you’ll be back for more.
2. Buy only the liquor you need.
Once you’ve found a few cocktails that you enjoy you’re ready to hit the liquor store. Resist the temptation to splurge on the most expensive brands or fanciest bottles of booze. Start small, check out our 5 Cheap Liquor Brands You’ll Love guide for the basics and besides that just pick up what you need to make the cocktails you already know you like. There will be plenty of time to expand on your cocktail repertoire and the base spirits you pick up will work for hundreds of different drinks with a few tweaks.
3. Invest in some good tools.
Make sure in the course of your conversation with your new bar-tending-buddy you find out exactly what tools they are using to make your drink. When you start out you’re probably going to need at least a shaker and a strainer. I’m partial to the Boston Shaker myself. This one may seem a bit pricey, but I’ve broken more than one so it’s worth buying something of higher quality. If you need anything else I recommend a kit like this one which includes the tools I use most in my own cocktail creations; namely a shaker, strainer, stirrer, muddler, and measuring jigs. There are many, many more, but these should be more than enough to get you started.
4. Buy fresh ingredients
If you’re going to go to the trouble of making your own cocktails at home do yourself a favor and buy some fresh ingredients. In a pinch you can get by with the stuff you get in the plastic lemon, but there’s really no comparison to fresh ingredients for your cocktails. The one thing to remember about fresh ingredients is only to buy as much and you need. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought way too much fruit thinking I’m going to go on a mixology spree and ended up throwing out good fruit. If you’re buying lemons be sure to check out our Make Your Own Lemoncello post and see how you can get the most out of your fruit.
5. Buy the proper glassware.
Pouring your freshly homemade cocktails into a red plastic cup is a sin and the Good Lord will smote your ass if you do it. These days you can find proper glassware just about anywhere and it doesn’t even have to be expensive. Check out our post on The Best Way To Build Your Cocktail Glass Collection to see how we built our set from scratch. If leaving your couch to go on a glass searching adventure is a bit to strenuous for you then I say check out Amazon for your sets. If you’re making a Martini or a Manhattan try this one. Take a look at these if you’re trying an Old Fashioned or a Whiskey Sour. Trying your hand at a Highball, Tom Collins, or Mojito? Check these out.