The Complete Guide to Building Your Home Bar
How to think about building a liquor cabinet for yourself and your friends at home. You're welcome.
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Having a proper home bar used to be considered aspirational. It was always a nice to have, for many.
2020 changed all that, as we’re spending most of our days at home. Where we used to rely on a local bartender for a good cocktail, now we find ourselves making them in our kitchen.
And with the holidays around the corner, it’s a perfect time to brush up on some cocktail knowledge and give you proper tips on stocking your own bar cart at home.
There’s no better human to educate us on all things cocktails than our good friend, Miguel Buencamino. He’s based in Charleston, SC, is a phenomenal mixologist, photographer, and an all around nice guy!
He’s got years of experience crafting cocktail menus for restaurants & bars, and has worked with the most notable liquor brands in the world. He’s also got the dopest bar we’ve ever sat in, inside his actual home (photos below).
Miguel breaks down exactly what we need to make damn good cocktails at home for you, your friends, and family (not the kids).
Here’s our Q&A with Miguel:
A little History…
Where does the “cocktail” come from, and what are the key proportions to building a proper cocktail?
In the early 1800s, a ‘cocktail’ was defined as a drink that combines a spirit (typically cognac or brandy), bitters, and sugar. Over time, mixologists modified ingredients to build upon this simple, three-ingredient cocktail. This prompted early bar patrons to choose between a diverse menu, or to order a cocktail “the old fashioned way”, hence the birth of The Old Fashioned cocktail.
My cocktail preference:
2oz of bonded bourbon or rye (at least 100 proof)
½ oz demerara simple syrup
5-6 heavy dashes of Angostura bitters
I’ll stir and pour it over a large ice cube and garnish with an orange twist and Luxardo maraschino cherry
Picking your spirits:
What types of liquor do we need to build a bar cart at home?
Always start with what you like drinking. There’s no use filling your bar cart with a bunch of spirits if you’re strictly a bourbon and/or gin drinker. If you’re an equal opportunity imbiber, start with the basics: bourbon/rye, rum, tequila and gin (sorry vodka fans).
With these base spirits you can create a multitude of classic cocktails.
There will be certain nights that call for drinking something neat or on the rocks. So, in addition to the basics, your guests will thank you for having a fine bottle of scotch or other whisk(e)y in a decanter.
Remy Martin Cognac VSOP
Old Fitzgerald Whiskey
Old Forester Rye
St. George Gin
Aperitifs, Liqueurs, & Digestifs
What other ingredients should we have handy to make simple cocktails at home?
Your base ingredients should be a bottle of aromatic bitters and sugar cubes, since both of these ingredients have a long shelf life and are key ingredients to an OG cocktail. I also have a few modifiers on hand…
Aperitifs (Campari, Aperol, etc) // adds a bright, bitter-sweet element to your cocktail.
Liqueurs (Banana du Bresil, Creme de Cacao, St. Germain, Dry Curacao, etc) // adds a specific sweet flavor to your cocktail.
Digestifs (Amaro Montenegro, Cynar, etc) // adds a dark, bitter-sweet element to your cocktail.
Other bitters (Peychaud’s, Orange, Lavender, etc) // often called the ‘spice cabinet’ of the mixology world, just a few drops will go a long way in transforming your cocktail.
Regarding grocery items for cocktails, I always keep the following ingredients handy:
Fresh citrus for juice and garnishes (limes/lemons/oranges)
Fresh herbs (mint, sage, rosemary - depending on the season)
Clear ice cubes (you can make this at home)
I also keep various simple syrups (1:1 sugar:water), cherries, and fortified wine in the fridge (dry and sweet vermouth always belongs in the refrigerator).
Barware & Other Essentials
What barware essentials do we need to make a proper cocktail?
Bar tools are useful for making a great cocktail and there are thousands of beautiful varieties of tools out there that serve the same purpose. When selecting your tools, be sure to stick to an aesthetic (tools typically come in silver, gold, copper, matte black, etc) and build your collection from there. That being said, a complete home bar would need the following bar tools:
Jigger to measure all your pours.
Cocktail shaker - I prefer shaking tins but a cobbler shaker is also fine.
Mixing glass for stirred cocktails.
Long bar spoon for stirring said cocktails.
Strainers - Hawthorne with fine strainers for shaken, Julep for stirred.
Bar Knife - I prefer this over a peeler for citrus.
All that being said, I think a wide-mouth mason jar is the most versatile, all-in-one tool if you’re on a budget. It's sturdy enough to shake cocktails with (they even make a lid that converts the jar into a cobbler shaker) and the straight sides make it easy to stir cocktails. The lid can be used as a strainer by just slightly pulling back on it and your cocktail can be stored for later if you shut the lid.
How about some bar tools that aren’t essential, but nice to have?
A solid ice pick if you carve your own ice
Clear ice sphere molds for drinking spirits on the rocks.
Ice and/or garnish tongs if you’re serving guests frequently
5L oak barrel for batch aging cocktails
Cocktail picks to elevate your garnishes
What glassware should you keep stocked in your home or bar cart?
Rocks glasses (aka old-fashioned glass or lowball glass) is a must have, you can serve a majority of your cocktails in them or just drink whiskey neat out of it. It’s versatile and timeless.
Coupes which can be used for anything from Martinis and Manhattans to champagne is another must-have. They are elegant and functional vs the traditional Martini glass. These are great for cocktails that do not require you to serve them with ice.
Collins glasses (alternatively, highball glasses) are great for cocktails that are typically topped with effervescence such as soda water or champagne.
Tasting glasses (Glencairn) are a great addition for any whisk(e)y enthusiast, it enhances the aromas that contributes to the tasting any spirit. More about how the Glencairn tasting glass works here.
Wrapping things up…
What are 3 simple, classic cocktails we can make at home?
Bourbon: The Boulevardier
1 oz 100 Proof Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir. Strain, Serve over ice. Garnish with orange twist.
Rum: The Daiquiri
2 oz Jamaican Rum
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
¾ oz Demerara Simple Syrup
Shake. Double Strain. Serve up in chilled coupe. Garnish with lime.
Gin: The French 75
1 oz Gin
½ oz Simple Syrup
½ oz Lemon Juice
3 oz Champagne
Shake gin, syrup, lemon. Pour into flute. Top with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Photos by Kirk Robert