The Basics For Setting Up Your Home Mixing Bar

Recently, I was asked for some advice on what essentials you should have stocked in your home bar in reference to assembling a proper cocktail bar. 

That’s a great question, and one that I often am asked. I will be posting a series of articles on bar tools and cocktail sundries each week here, discussing more in depth, but I thought I would do a quick summary on the basics first…

So, before you start purchasing actual mixing ingredients, make sure you have the right tools and glassware. 

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Basic Tools: 
I suggest, a cocktail shaker, a mixing glass, a Hawthorne strainer, a bar spoon, a paring knife, a muddler and a vegetable or citrus peeler.

There are often kits out there on the internet that include most of these items at really reasonable prices. Go with tools that match your aesthetics and seem to be of good quality so that it is a long term investment.

Basic Glassware: 
I suggest an old fashioned glass, a rocks glass, a coupe/cocktail glass, a collins glass, a cordial glass and a shot glass. ‘Libbey' brand has some box sets that are really useful for starting your glass collection. You don’t have to break the bank here, again, choose styles that match your aesthetics and that are good quality.

And now some essential ingredients to get you started. 

Bitter Tinctures otherwise known as Cocktail Bitters: 
Cocktail bitters are absolutely essential to the majority of classic whiskey cocktails and modern craft cocktails. You can’t go wrong with Angostura & Peychaud’s, they should always be a staples in your home bar, but you will want to have other bitter flavors in your arsenal. I recommend, grabbing Bitter Truth’s Cocktail Traveler’s set. It’s perfect for experimenting and familiarizing yourself with different bitter flavors. The selection in this pack is perfect. (ttps://goo.gl/fbBazb)

Once these little guys are spent, I think you’ll find yourself pretty comfortable with bitters and you want to start collecting. 

Here are some recommended brands:
Peychaud’s
Dashfire
The Bitter Truth
Fee Brothers
Hella
Regan’s

 

Cocktail Syrups:
Another absolutely essential tool for your home bar, syrups, do not have to make cocktails sweet; they offer balance when used properly. I really love bitter, citrus and spicy flavors, so when I am building a cocktail, I use a small amount of an infused syrup as a balance to the amount of bitters that I include in my cocktail.

Now, here is where you have to be careful and choosy; you don’t want to add chemicals and artificial sweeteners in your cocktail, so stick with craft and natural brands. 

I make all of my own syrups and I will cover how to make your own as well in future articles, but to get you started, I would go with mini packs, for example, Amoretti is a brand from California. They make premium floral syrups, and use all natural ingredients. They have a huge selection, but the pack is what I would recommend to begin with. (https://goo.gl/wvAqyL)

These may initially seem too ‘flowery’ for whiskey, but trust me, you will love using them to elevate the floral notes in your whiskey and whiskey cocktails. 

Here are the essential syrups I feel you should always have;
Simple Syrup or Demerara Syrup
Maple Syrup
Tonic Syrup
Grenadine

Some great brands:
Bitter Milk
Eli Mason
Liber & Co

Again, where you can get sample packs, do so. It’s the best way to start a collection and sample flavors until you find what you really like. 

Potable Bitters otherwise known as Amari:
One day, I hope to write a book on my passion for Amari, (plural for Amaro). You can expect several articles in the future discussing potable bitters histories and showcasing different brands. 

This is a bit of a rabbit hole, so let me just feel confident that I warned you.

One of two things will happen: number one is, you will use you Amaro as an ingredient in many of your cocktails. You’ll measure exactly as the recipe suggests and you will only use it that way. The second possibility is, you’ll become seduced by this wonderful spirit and once you are properly in love, you will discover an entire new world of flavors. 

For now, let me just give you some basics. 

Amaro is a bitter herbal liqueur. In simple terms, most are crafted in Italy, but there are also Amaro that go by a different names in other European countries like France and some Eastern European countries. 

There are many different styles of Amaro, some are heavier, some are more bitter and assertive and some have big fruit notes. So, again, I suggest building a collection as you will find many uses for them. 

Let’s say I had to only choose three, here are the three I think you should always have on your bar: Cynar, Averna, Campari, Gran Classico and Ramazotti (Crap, I can’t do it!) Just buy all of the Amari out there, just all of them! Ok, I’m kidding… kind of. 

This will be a little more of an investment, and some brands may be more difficult to find, but hey, you're a whiskey lover, you understand the value.

Vermouth, otherwise known as a Fortified Aromatized Wine:
Again, I plan on discussing fortified and aromatized wines more in depth in future articles, let’s discuss the basics.

You can’t have a Manhattan without vermouth. So there it is, need I say more? 

Ok, I will. There are many whiskey cocktails that call for vermouth, so it’s definitely a must for your home bar. Typically we talk about Vermouth as white or red, or sweet or dry. There is so much more to vermouth than those two categories. But for now, as we are just discussing the basics, here is what I recommend you have;

Dolin Rouge & Dolin Blanc or Gallo Sweet & Gallo Extra Dry
Carpano Antica Formula - This one is an absolute must!

You can’t go wrong with these brands mentioned above, and I suggest that you pour yourself a dram from each and experience the flavors on their own. Doing this with any cocktail ingredient will really help you learn how to pair it with your whiskey.

Cocktail & Bourbon Cherries: 
No home bar is complete without the right cocktail cherries. I always keep a jar of cocktail cherries on hand in addition to bourbon cherries. I make my own, but in a pinch or if I’ve run out, I will always choose Luxardo cherries, which are available in most grocery stores, or on the internet. I also love, love Egberts cocktail cherries from Dashfire. They are wonderful. (ttps://www.dashfirebitters.com)

Again, refrain from brands that are full of chemicals. Sometimes I don’t want to put bourbon cherries in a rye cocktail and that’s why I choose to have non whiskey cherries in my bar. So, at home, I make bourbon, rye & cocktail cherries, I will go into detail with recipes in a future post. 

Brands I recommend for bourbon cherries are, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. & Woodford Reserve.

Mixing Spirits:
You will find many pre-prohibition cocktail recipes (which I prefer because I feel they are spirit forward) and now modern recipes that call for what I deem ‘mixing spirits’ because I use them more in cocktails than enjoying them on their own. I will delve into these more in-depth in future articles, but here is a short list of the basics.

Some must haves are:
Benedictine (Don’t be lured by B&B, often the mixture is far too sweet) 
Cointreau or a quality orange liqueur
Brandy
Cognac
Curacao (you’ll probably use orange more than blue)
Sherry

I’ll give you some examples of cocktails that call for these friends, 
The Fred Collins Fiz - Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice, Orange Curacao
The Original Bourbon Cocktail -  Benedictine, Cointreau, Bourbon
Vieux Carre Cocktail - Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Bitters
Kentucky Calling - Bourbon, Sherry, Amaro, Mole or Tobacco Bitters
The Boulevardier - Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth 

(I’ll post these recipes with measurements on Facebook & Instagram)

So these are the basics that I recommend having in your home bar so achieve interesting, flavorful and whiskey forward cocktails. 

Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on all of these items and more.

Cheers!

Sailor
ABV Network Mixology
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Jeremy Schell