Stock the Bar 101
You need only a select group of 10 essential spirits on your bar to make most cocktails. In Host, we share the bottles we use at home most often and try to keep on hand at all times. These are high-quality brands for mixing drinks or drinking on the rocks, but none of them will break the bank. If you can't find these specific bottles, ask your favorite wine and spirits store for recommendations -- they'll help you out. And, yeah, throw out the bottle of butterscotch schnapps.
Over time a home bar can end up as a repository for strange, sweetened liqueurs and handles of bad booze that your friend brought over that one time, all gathering dust and taking up space. In our new book Host, we share how to stock the ultimate bar cart. Step 1: Throw out the stuff you're not using. Step 2: Stock up on these basic ingredients.
- Sugar Cubes: We keep whole cubes of sugar on hand for muddling into cocktails. Use raw, unrefined sugar to add a nice depth of flavor to darker, spirituous cocktails, and white sugar for clear cocktails.
- Simple Syrup: We keep bottles of simple syrup in our fridge for sweetening cocktails. The method for making simple syrup is easy: combine equal parts of sugar and water in a sealable container and shake until full dissolved.
- Bitters: Bitters are potent cocktail seasonings. In addition to adding balance and depth of flavor to cocktails, they're essential to many classic drinks. Choosing bitters can seem overwhelming as there are so many varieties, but most fall into two categories: dark and light. We suggest having one bottle of each.
- Club Soda: Club Soda is essentially carbonated water with a dash of salt. While simple in theory, it's worth tracking down a brand that is highly carbonated with fine bubbles and crisp flavor.
- Tonic Water: Tonic water at its core is a blend of sparkling water, quinine and sugar. Be sure to buy a version that uses real quinine and cane sugar (no corn syrup allowed.)
- Ginger Beer: While making your own ginger beer can be easy enough, sometimes convenience wins the day. Try to find a bottle with plenty of deep ginger spice.
There has been an explosion of varieties of bar tools on the market today lately as making cocktails at home has become more popular (two very enthusiastic thumbs up for that!) We love a well-stocked home bar and these tools are the key pieces you need to start shaking and stirring up drinks at your place.
- Shaker: There are several types of cocktail shakers, but we prefer a three-piece cobbler shaker (like the Mason Shaker!) for ease of use and for how great it looks on your home bar. To use it, simply add your ingredients, put the strainer and cap on and shake up your cocktail.
- Mixing Glass: Having a high-quality mixing glass on your home bar is just as important as having a shaker; both are used frequently but for different types of cocktails.
- Carafe or Pitcher: Making large batches of cocktails is helpful when you're entertaining a crowd, and a good carafe is a must for large-format drinks.
- Muddler: A muddler is used to crush ingredients (everything from fruit to fresh herbs) to release and build flavors in cocktails. The end of your muddler should be flat; any sharp teeth will tend to shred your ingredients, and you'll end up chewing your cocktail.
- Bar Spoon: A bar spoon is a multi-purpose tool that can be used to stir cocktails and measure small amounts of potent cocktail ingredients. It so doubles as an ice cracker if needed (prepare for an ice shower though!)
- Strainer: To strain your finished stirred cocktails, you need a basic strainer. We recommend a julep strainer for versatility; its larger holes and simple construction make it easy to use and clean.
- Jigger: Used to measure liquid ingredients for cocktails, a jigger is a must for home bars. We suggest picking up a double-sided stainless steel jigger with a 1:2 measurements. If you need to measure out an amount that's different from your jigger size, just use the side that matches closest and estimate the amount by eye.
Ice Trays: We suggest having the trays to make three main types of ice: 2-to 3-inch large cubes, 1-inch square cubes and crushed ice. With these options, you can make any type of cocktail.