This blog is for anyone wanting to set up a proper home bar, no matter the space available or budget. A home bar can be as simple or as varied as your personal preferences, budget and space allow.
STEP ONE: Planning Your Bar Area.
You will need to decide on how much space can you dedicate to your bar area.
Is it big enough for a bar cart? Will you use the top of your dining room buffet or repurposed furniture such as a bookshelf? Do you have an entire wall area? Also, what type of bar will you have? Will it be a built-in, a walk up or using furniture pieces for your bar set up? Before you finalize a spot, consider placing your bar area in an area where you don’t get direct sunlight, as sunlight will deteriorate your alcohols. Once you know where to place your bar and the type of bar, the next step is to get design ideas. No matter the size or space, start off by researching home bar design ideas. Both, YouTube and Pinterest are great places to start.
Once you have your bar design idea, no matter your vision, there are basic items you need to have. Keep in mind all that you would need for your bar and whether the space allocated for the bar is sufficient.
STEP TWO: What Alcohols Should You Have?
You most probably have a favorite spirit type and you may want to carry multiple brands of that spirit and that’s fine, but don’t sacrifice variety of spirits over your preference of one. Therefore you should have at least one of each of the following essential spirits:
Vodka, gin, white rum, aged rum, tequila blanco, Canadian Whiskey, Bourbon, Scotch Single Malt, Scotch Blend and Cognac.
When purchasing spirits, I recommend buying quality spirits because there are differences between the brands and both you and your guests are worth it. In order to make a vast selection of cocktails, you will need to include other alcohols such as liqueurs, fortified wines and amari. I’ll call this group the modifiers. The basics are:
Orange liqueur such as Cointreau, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, a couple of amari/bitter such as Campari and Aperol, coffee liqueur, such as Tia Maria or Kahlua and an Amaretto.
With these modifiers and your base spirits, you can make a great amount of cocktails to please all palettes. If you are on a tight budget, start off slowly and add a new bottle when you can. Once you plan to expand beyond the essentials, you can base your decision on the type of cocktail you plan to make.
STEP THREE: Proper Bar Tools
A piece of advice, when purchasing bar tools: stay away from home kitchenware stores or big box stores, as those bar tools are usually gimmicky and you often pay more than it’s worth. Instead, buy from a local professional barware supplier. If you don’t know one in your area, ask your bartender. Personally, I go to Alambika as do many professional bartenders. It’s a great source for all quality bar wares and so much more.
The essential bar tools needed are:
• Shaker with a 16 oz mixing glass or small shaker (cheater tin)
• Double sided Jigger 1 oz & 2 oz
• Bar spoon
• Hawthorne strainer
• Fine strainer
• Bar knife
• Cutting board
• Citrus press
• Ice tongs
• Waiters/wine corkscrew
• Bottle opener
There are additional bar tools which are very important and should be added as your skills and cocktail variety increases.
Additional bar tools:
• Julep strainer
• Stainless steel spouts (if you plan on hosting and you find yourself behind the bar more often than not, then invest in stainless steel spouts)
STEP FOUR. Glassware Options and Quantities
When it comes to glassware choice, use the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Seriously). The quantity of glassware you buy, should be based on how you plan to use your bar: is it mainly for you and a guest or two, do you have small groups over on a regular basis or are you the one who hosts all the family and friends parties?
The essential glassware are:
• Old Fashionds (short stubby glasses)
• Collins (tall straight glassware)
• Shot glasses
• Coupes or Martini glassware.
Personally, I prefer coupes, they have a great classic look, are great for martinis as well and they travel better than martini glasses. I would recommend 4 to 8 of each and you will soon see which glassware you will need to have more of. As your skills and bar evolve, you may want to build on your glassware selection.
STEP FIVE. Ice, Ice...
You bought quality alcohol brands, nice solid glassware that feel great in your hand but what about the one item that can spoil your drink or make it great and it costs you nothing. Ice quality matters: don’t underestimate the role and importance of ice. Normally the trays that come with your fridge are just not good enough. The cubes are too small, because of that they melt too fast. For your Old Fashioned glassware, you want to have nice big cubes, 2” cubes are great. You can easily find 2” silicone ice tray molds. It will bring your drink to another level. Not only does it look awesome, but it will greatly slow down your dilution. Having crystal clear ice is wonderful but not everyone has the time or the need to have it. But I do recommend you filter your water first before filling your ice trays. This will reduce odours and eliminate harsh minerals that can affect the taste of your cocktail.
STEP SIX: Mixers.
Having a good selection of carbonated beverages and juices as well as fresh Lemons & Limes is a must if you want to expand your cocktail options. When using lemons and limes, you want to press the juice fresh as needed. Stay away from store bought lemon and lime juices as there is no substitute that can compare to the real thing.
For carbonated and juice beverages, I recommend the single use bottles or cans when making cocktails for yourself or for small gatherings. This will greatly reduce your waste. For bigger events, use the 750 ml to 1 litre size options in order to reduce your costs.
There are numerous mixers on the market, but do get what you need to start and when you are hosting make sure to stock You don’t need to keep the mixers at the bar if your space is limited. Instead, have them stored away and take them out as needed.
STEP SEVEN: The Essential Additives
In order to have a legit bar and the ability to make a vast selection of cocktails, you will need to include some additives such as bitters, syrups and garnishes.
For Bitters, Angostura Original and an Orange bitter are must haves. You can usually find them at your local grocery store. Once you start understanding the role of bitters and exploring the possibilities, then you can start adding additional bitters based on what cocktail you plan to make or create.
Basic syrups can be done at home. it’s easy, it costs pennies to make and it can last up to three months, from the basic Simple Syrup to unlimited flavoured syrups. Additional syrups that you may want to purchase would be honey, agave, orgeat and maple syrup, all of which can be found at your local grocery store.
As for garnishes, stick with the basics; lemon, lime, and orange slices, and a small jar of cocktail olives. You can go one step further and buy dehydrated slices of Lemon, Lime, Oranges, Pineapple, apple, etc., plus a jar of quality cocktail olives and tasty black cherries.
PLEASE PLEASE, stay away from the bright synthetic maraschino cherries. For amazing garnishes and a large selection of syrups and bitters check out Alambika.ca
Once you have a good selection of mixers, syrups and garnishes, create and plan to offer mocktails (non-alcoholic drinks) when hosting. Your guests will appreciate the fact that you thought of them too.
STEP EIGHT: The Extra Touch.
Make your bar look complete by adding a few bar books. Definitely 1 or 2 cocktail books but let’s not forget books based on spirit knowledge or history of cocktails. Select books you will actually use and enjoy.
Finally, let’s not forget about some cocktail napkins, reusable cocktail pics and reusable straws. Have these items at the bar and ready to use when needed.