Putting together a home bar from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated, and it certainly doesn’t have to break the bank. With a few boozy staples and some simple tools, you’ll be well on your way to mixing up strong cocktails with a splash of style.
Old Overholt straight rye is many a professional and home bartenders’ go-to whiskey. And not just because it’s quite inexpensive — at least compared to some of the other quality ryes out there. Seriously, you can find a bottle of this stuff in most liquor stores for about $20 or less. It’s great for sipping, because it’s not too sweet, but it’s also a fantastic base for cocktails.
Cocktail strainer: If you’re planning to mix up chilled cocktails, you don’t necessarily need a cocktail shaker. The tops always seem to stick and they take up lots of room. Instead, try shaking up your drinks between two pint glasses, or even better, in a wide-mouth mason jar (with a lid, of course). A stainless-steel cocktail strainer is the perfect fit for the top of either, and is easy to clean and store.
Angostura Bitters: If you only have one bottle of bitters in your home bar, it should absolutely be Angostura Bitters. This classic mix of alcohol, herbs, and spices is the finishing touch for an incredibly wide range of drinks, from a simple champagne cocktail to a classic old fashioned. Even better, add a few dashes of Angostura Bitters to Old Overholt, and drop in a giant ice cube for a perfect, easy nightcap.
Double rocks glasses: Whatever you’re mixing up, it should be served with style and a little heft. That’s why every home bar should feature at least one set of substantial double rocks glasses. There isn’t much you can’t drink out of them — yes, even red wine — and they’re super sexy (in a Don Draper kind-of way). Go modern or vintage; either way, you can’t lose.
Sweet vermouth: With sweet vermouth and gin or whiskey, you’re well on your way to mixing up a variety of classic cocktails, including the Manhattan, the Negroni, the Boulevardier, the Martinez and many others. But be sure to get the good quality stuff, like Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth.
Hendrick's Gin: Gin is an acquired taste. And if you’d like to acquire a taste for it, Hendrick’s Gin is a great place to start. Fairly new to the market, Hendrick’s launched in 1999, and has since carved out a nice space for itself on liquor store shelves. The juniper berry — which gives gin its distinctive taste and smell — is certainly present, but not overpowering. It’s perfect for martinis or sipping, and is also a great base for a gin and tonic.
Giant Ice Cube Tray: What’s the difference between a cocktail that looks like money or one that looks like some schlub made it at home? A giant ice cube, that’s what. For less than $10, you can snag a silicone tray that creates 2-inch-by-2-inch ice cubes. In addition to looking cool, these cubes also serve a purpose: they don’t melt as quickly as other ice cubes, so your drink won’t get watered down while you take your time to sip it like a gentleman.
Orin Swift Wine: Offering guests a glass of wine is a classy move, and it’s nice to have something better than Two Buck Chuck (though there’s certainly a time and place for that, too). Orin Swift wine blends are totally reasonable, starting at around $18, and for the price, the quality can’t be beat. orinswift.com
A sturdy wine key: Here’s the thing about those fancy “bunny-ear” wine openers: they scream, “I never learned how to open a bottle of wine!” Pick up a sturdy wine key (the type servers use) and learn how to use it. They range from $3 to about $300 and anything above $5 should hold you over for a while.
Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky: If you’re looking for an impressive whiskey (er, whisky) upgrade, add a bottle of the Yamazaki Single Malt Japanese Whisky to your collection. It’s been called the best whisky in the world, and at less than $100 a bottle, it’s certainly worth a try. But don’t mix this with diet coke — this is meant to be sipped.