How to Stock a Home Bar

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 7, 2011 · 86 comments

in Manly Skills, Out on the Town

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from AoM reader Jeff Trexler.

For the gentleman who enjoys entertaining, a properly stocked bar is a must. A well-mixed drink can help schmooze a boss, romance a date, and impress a friend. Mixing drinks at home for friends and family makes me feel like some swanky 1960s gentleman pouring drinks in his Space Age-inspired mid-century home. I love that feeling.

Starting a home bar can seem like a daunting task to any man, but it doesn’t need to be so. Becoming a home mixologist should be fun! Today I hope to show you that stocking a home bar can be affordable and easy.

The Home Bar Rules

Home Bar Rule #1: Pick alcohol you actually enjoy imbibing. When I first started my own home bar, I only picked spirits that I thought would impress guests when I had them over. I ended up spending a fortune for alcohol that I hardly ever used. While you’ll use your home bar for entertaining, don’t forget that a home bar’s main customer is you. When you mix yourself a cocktail to sip on the weekends while you sit on the patio with your dog, you want to enjoy it. The dog doesn’t care what your favorite gin is. That is of course if this pooch isn’t your dog. He’s so smug.

Another reason I recommend picking spirits you enjoy is that the home bar is your chance to share your personal tastes with your friends and neighbors. I love seeing what other people enjoy drinking and the recipes they specialize in. What you stock in your bar and why you stock it makes for great conversational fodder.

Home Bar Rule #2: Start small. Repeat after me: Start small. Another mistake I made was trying to create a full working bar right out of the gate. Back when I bought my first house, I had a housewarming party. I just had bottles of vodka, gin, and scotch. I wanted to be a good host, so I dropped a boatload of money at my local liquor store. While I had a wide variety of liquors, because I had never used most of them extensively, I had trouble making the drinks people were requesting.

So my advice to the man just starting out: start small, grow gradually. Stocking a home bar is a marathon, not a sprint. I recommend beginning by getting the ingredients needed to make the cocktails you enjoy and know how to make well. Like Manhattans? Canadian whisky and vermouth. Martinis? Gin and vermouth.

As you get more comfortable mixing drinks, expand your menu to include other cocktails. When I entertain, I like to email people a week before the party to ask them their favorite cocktails. I’ll get the needed ingredients and practice during the week. *hiccup*

What follows are my suggestions on what a properly stocked home bar should have. But remember, use your own personal taste and take into account your own needs when making your final decision.


Gin. It’s one of the base spirits for many popular cocktails, so definitely have plenty on hand. Gin comes in four varieties: London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom, and Genever. I suggest starting off with a London Dry gin. Later on, add a Plymouth gin to the mix.

Vodka. An excellent liquor for doing shots with singing babushkas or for mixing into popular cocktails like Bloody Marys and Cosmopolitans. Vodka doesn’t have a strong color, taste, or aroma, so it makes for a perfect mixing liquor. The differences between vodka brands comes down to what they’re distilled from (potatoes, grains, sugar cane) and their texture in the mouth. Some (like Absolut) have an oily, silky texture while others (like Stolichnaya) have a watery, medicinal finish.

My go-to vodka is Grey Goose. Mixes nicely with just about anything.

You also have your pick between the different flavored and infused vodkas on the market. Personally, I stay away from flavored vodkas in my home bar. I can do my own infusing with garnishes, thank you very much.

Bourbon whiskey. An essential American whiskey for the southern gentleman. Great for sipping and classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned. Two bourbons that I recommend for the beginner mixologist are Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. Very affordable and they taste nice. At least, I think they taste nice.

Scotch whisky. Like Jack Donaghy, I too enjoy staring out a window, while holding a glass of scotch. It soothes the soul and assists in the thinking of deep, manly thoughts. My favorite Scotch-based cocktail is the classic Rob Roy. I suggest having a blended and single malt scotch in your home bar.

Tequila. A must-have liquor for your trips to Margaritaville. What type of tequila you stock depends on what you plan on using it for. gold Tequila is usually the cheaper type of tequila and is a great pick if you plan on using your tequila for mixed drinks. If you’d like to take your tequila straight up, you’ll want to go with this agave-based drink in its purest form–silver tequila. My favorite silver tequila is Patron.

Rum. This tasty liquor from the Caribbean is distilled from molasses. Dark rums are best for punches. Light rums are for mixing cocktails. I say start off with a light rum and add a dark rum when you have a big party where you’ll be serving punch.

Other beverages to have on hand. Before I host a party, I’ll add a bottle of wine and some craft beer to my selection. I’ll also pick-up a pack of craft sodas for my guests who are on the wagon for whatever reason. A good host is thoughtful towards all his guests.


Again, what mixers you decide to stock will depend on the cocktails you want to make. Here are the basics:

  • Club soda
  • Tonic water
  • Cola
  • Sprite or 7-up
  • Ginger ale
  • Orange juice
  • Cranberry juice
  • Tomato juice
  • Pineapple juice
  • Angostura bitters (Technically you don’t use bitters as a mixer. They’re to be used in splashes to add a bit of flavor to your drinks)


Garnishes add a bit of decorative panache to your drink. They also give you something to nibble on as you sip your drink. The type of garnish you add to a drink depends on the drink. Tequila-based cocktails often use citrus garnishes like a lime or lemon. Gin-based tonics use olives and onions. A man should never add garnishes to a scotch. That’s sacrilege.

If you don’t have a designated bar area with a fridge, you can prepare your garnishes the day of your cocktail party.

  • Cocktail olives
  • Cocktail onions
  • Horseradish
  • Limes
  • Lemons
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Ice

Glassware and Other Assorted Accouterments

You’ll need the proper tools for your apothecary of invigorating elixirs.  You can get pretty specific with your glassware. There are tumblers made specifically for certain cocktails. If you drink those cocktails frequently, but all means get them. But you can get by just fine without them. Here are the basics:

  • Martini glasses
  • Rocks glasses
  • Red and white wine glasses
  • Highball glasses or tall glasses
  • Beer mugs and pint glasses
  • Martini shaker and strainer
  • Toothpicks for the olives and onions
  • Napkins
  • A good Mixologist recipe book. Personally, I enjoy collecting vintage cocktail recipe books. I love trying different classic cocktails, plus they look nice in my home bar. You can find reprints of many old and popular mixologist books on The Professional Mixing Guide Cocktail Recipe Book from 1947 is a good one. A recipe book that I’m quite enjoying right now is Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Also check out The site was started recently by a redditor who found his grandfather’s old bartender guide and posted all the recipes online. You can search by name or ingredient, so it’s quite handy.
  • A collection of appropriate cocktail sipping music. You can’t go wrong with Sinatra and the other crooners. I also like to have some lounge and exotica music in the mix.  Ultra Lounge has great collections of swanky lounge music.

Home Bar Storage

Some of you might be choking on your cocktail olive at the size of this list. You’re probably thinking, “Sure, Jeff, this sounds all well and good, but where am I supposed to keep this in my tiny house/apartment/condo?”

A valid concern, for sure. I will attempt to resolve your doubt.

Remember Home Bar Rule #2: Start small. If you don’t have room or any place to store your home bar, keep your home bar small. Pick two or three different liquors and stick with those. When I was in an apartment, I kept my small bar in a cabinet above the fridge, and I kept my mixers and garnishes in the fridge.

Also, you don’t have to have your bar always stocked and prepared for a big party. When you host a party, stock up your bar to fill your needs. When you’re not anticipating a party, there’s no need to have gallons of tonic water or dozens of lime wedges on hand.

If you’d like something a bit more distinguished than your kitchen cabinet to serve as the home for your home bar, consider getting a cocktail cabinet or mini bar. They’re small pieces of handsome furniture that you can usually put up against the wall. They’re nice because they can serve as a gathering point without having a huge bar installed in your home. Cocktail cabinets take up very little space, but can hold quite a bit of alcohol and glassware. I have friend who picked up a vintage cocktail cabinet at the antique store. It was a bit rough, but with a bit of elbow grease he was able to spruce it up. Here’s a nice example of a retro cocktail cabinet from the 50s:

A man with enough initiative can probably make his own cocktail cabinet. Imagine the pride you’ll feel when you can pat your mini bar, hand your friend a drink and say, “See this cabinet here, Jim? I made this little beauty.”

If you do move into a bigger place and you’ve really enjoyed being a home mixologist, then I can’t recommend installing a permanent home bar in your home enough. Many homes today come with wet bars and storage space for a home bar. If you don’t have that, with a little initiative and sweat, you can install your own bar in an unused room in the house.

A home bar will become a gathering point in your home when you entertain. I love standing behind my bar surrounded by a group of laughing people enjoying themselves on drinks that I made.

Well, gents, that’s all she wrote. I hope this little guide was informative and a bit entertaining. But more importantly, I hope it inspired you to get started with your home bar today. Don’t wait!


{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rhydian July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

First good art of manliness page-thing in a while

2 Jason July 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm

If you want a bar for mixing drinks, I’d recommend investing less in drinks traditionally consumed neat or with ice/water/soda and more in vermouth and other mixers such as cordials or schnapps. It’ll give you a far greater repertoire for less money. You can always select a nice bottle of scotch or top-grade tequila to keep in the back of the bar for honored guests later. Also, there are many brands of liquor that are pure enough not to leave your guests with headaches, but still have a reasonable price. Consider replacing the Grey Goose with Luksusowa, for example.

3 Matt July 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

When I finally got my own place, every week on Friday I would go to the liquor store and buy a new bottle of alcohol and try it out every way that I thought would taste good.
I probably only drank half of it that weekend. After a couple months I had a nicely stocked bar, and I had a chance to try out all sorts of different stuff, so I figured out what I liked. It also wasn’t a huge one time investment in alcohol.

Those days are behind me and my ‘bar’ consists of a six-pack, on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

4 Ian Wendt July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Silver or Blanco tequilas are NOT the highest grade. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “Gold” tequila, but the aged tequilas start with Reposado, which is less than a year aged and then goes to Anejo, which is at least a year. There are others that have been aged even longer, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s a traditional thing. If you want actual flavor nuances and more than just the rough taste sensation of licking an agave plant, start with a good quality Reposado. 1800 Reposado is a good place to start for little money and is quite enjoyable straight. Silver/Blanco tequilas are for mixing. Not the aged ones, unless you specifically want more dimension to your cocktails.

5 Kevin July 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I’m sorry, but this article lost all credibility when Grey Goose and Patron were recommended. Talk about over-priced crap.

6 Will July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm

A few good liquors that I’ve found for beginners, all of which are less than $20 for a bottle (.750l) are:

Whiskey- Canadian Club 6 year blended. This is the whiskey you see Donald Draper throwing back on episodes of Mad Men, and it’s still a great, inexpensive drink for anyone new to whiskey. They make even better lines, but this is still a great, inexpensive starter and mixer.

Gin- New Amsterdam Straight no. 485. Again, very cheap and very good. For some reason this never shows up on lists of the best gins out there, but I think it can go toe to toe with bottles well above its price range.

Tequila- Sauza Silver. This is every bit as tasty as the more expensive Jose Cuervo, and when mixing in drinks such as margaritas the complexity that top shelf tequilas bring will be lost behind all the lime and salt flavors. While I would recommend having a bottle of Patron or 1800 around for enjoying on its own, there’s no need for a pitcher of margarita to break the bank.

Dark Rum- While there are many more common options, one of my favorites is a brand called Kilo Kai. It’s thick, full of flavor and packs a delicious punch on its own.

Light Rum- Can’t go wrong with the Captain.

So, in general I’d recommend having some of these more inexpensive bottles around for mixed drinks, and spending more of your money on the pricier options when you’re looking for drinks to enjoy on their own, either sipped or in shots. That way, you can use the money you do spend more effectively to get a more fully stocked bar.

7 Whiskeyjack July 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Enjoyed the article, but the author’s recommended labels are terrible.

I’ve linked to an excellent website for learning about and comparing various liquors. You’ll do much better selecting the most highly rated brand within your price range than simply buying whatever catches your eye in the liquor store.

8 Stan July 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Grey Goose?? No way, unless you and your guests enjoy hangover. If you can not get Russian vodka, at least go get a bottle of Ketel One.

Patron as a choice of tequila is also questionable. First of all, blanco (silver) tequila is not the “purest form”, it’s just unaged. If you prefer blanco, go with 1800. I usually use Hornitas Reposado for my margaritas, or at least Jose Cuervo, but never Patron.

9 CL July 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Vermouth is mentioned early in the article but isn’t listed later under the alcohol section. A sweet (Martini & Rossi Rosso) and a dry (Noilly Prat) will expand your drink possibilities greatly without much added cost.

10 Clayton July 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm

This article is lacking. Calling a stemmed cocktail glass a “martini glass” is a shocking display of naivete. Also if the shaker was designed for martinis, I am quitting and going home. True martinis are made with gin, and they are never shaken.

Get yourself a copy of Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s book “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”. Do like Matt did above, make a new drink from this Bible every week. You’ll have a fantastic bar in no time, but you may bankrupt yourself doing it. Still, it’s worth every irresponsibly spent shekel to have that kind of firepower at your disposal.

11 Jim July 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Good basic advice to help someone get started. I don’t agree with all the specific brand suggestions, but that’s a matter of a taste. No need to get upset because a man likes a certain brand of alcohol. To each their own.

12 Alex July 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm

No, no! “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” is the best cocktail book.

Start small, yes, and stay small! Impress your friends with your own snobbish, opinionated approach to booze. For me, a good bar has gin, bourbon, rum, angostura, limes, and mint. A friend who asks for tequila isn’t much of a friend, really. Save the vodka for the children and Stalin. Unless it’s Polish, because I’m Polish!

13 Jeff Trexler July 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm

People are passionate about their liquor!

My suggestions are just suggestions and based on my own tastes. It’s inevitable that we’ll disagree, but that’s what makes home bars great! You can keep whatever you want in it because it’s YOUR bar.

CL- Good call on the vermouth. I didn’t catch that. Maybe I can have Brett add an addendum to the article.

Will- Thank your for your suggestions.

Whiskeyjack- That’s a fantastic site! I wish I knew about it when I first got started with this home bar stuff.

Ian- You are correct. Silver doesn’t mean pure, it just means it’s unaged. Gold tequila is silver tequila colored and flavored with carmel. It’s sort of sweet, which is why they’re great for mixing. Gold tequila is also usually cheap. You can buy it in huge plastic bottles.

14 Chris July 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Great article! I am on my second, built-from-scratch bars. My first one was “built-in” (i.e. – permanently installed in the house). Probably a helpful selling point, but necessitated a second project after we moved. The “Mother of all bars” can be disassembled into four parts and moved with the furniture if we ever move.
I have a dry sink in mine that is good for filling with ice and beer (or mixers) when we entertain. Also, a small refrigerator set on extra, extra cold keeps the Yuengling and Guinness at the right temperature.
I do stock a “bar brand” of some liquors: I drink gin mostly and use Beefeater for my Friday night martini and Gordon’s for G&T’s. Thanks for sharing your experience!

15 Aaron Round July 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Loved the article, will definitely be putting these steps to use straight away. Thanks Jeff

16 Steve Harrington July 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm

“Calling a stemmed cocktail glass a “martini glass” is a shocking display of naivete.”

Yowzers. Being an uptight snoot=not manly.

Anyway, enjoyed the article, Jeff! Great tips for the average joe.

17 Whiskeyjack July 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm

It’s a very good article, Jeff.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have described your recommendations as “terrible”; “over-priced and likely to disappoint” would probably have been better. In any case, they’re hardly central to your article, so well done!

18 Bernard Brandt July 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I entirely agree with you about using simple and inexpensive spirits for bar drinks.

Do not, however, underestimate the value of using them to make your own liqueurs.

Vodkas infused with lemon, orange or lime zest (no white pith, thank you) make excellent liqueurs. So do those infused with black pepper or jalapeno.

Rums or vodkas infused with good ground coffee beat the hell out of Kahlua or its equivalents.

Rums infused with spices beat The Captain all to hell.

And brandies or cognacs infused with orange zest and spices, and perhaps a bit of honey, beat the snot out of Grand Marnier.

The recipes are all out there on the internet, for those who want to search for them. And it costs an awful lot less, too, for a unique bar experience.

19 Colonel July 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Building my own bar? Now that sounds like a fine idea!

20 Tryclyde July 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I have a bar in my “pub” and have it ready to go with good beer, single malt scotch, rum, tequila, and vodka. If someone wants coke mixed with their rum, or any fruit with their vodka, maybe they’ll find it in the kitchen fridge upstairs. My crew focuses on beer tastings so there’re not many cocktails being served at my bar,

21 matt July 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I think there are a couple things missing from this article from mixers and garnishes.

I LOVE Manhattans, so my bar is always stocked with sweet vermouth, and Marischino Cherries. I also like Gin martinis, so dry vermouth is a must.

I like to have a bourbon whiskey, and for that I go with Makers Mark. I also have Jack Daniels and Crown Royal, the latter I really love in a manhattan.

I’ve also had really good experience with an antique soda maker that is phenominal (and cheap) to make club soda… This makes by FAR the best Tom Collins.

I would have loved to write this article because the home bar is by far one of the first things I took pride in stocking when i became a home owner.

22 Devon July 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Excellent post! And extremely timely for me as tomorrow is the paycheck I have budgeted for getting my bar started. (not the whole check of course)

23 Clint July 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

The iPhone has a great app. called Mixology that you tell it what acohol and mixers you have and it will tell you what drinks you can make. Made for a great night of experimenting

24 Alex July 7, 2011 at 11:20 pm

How could you forget Cachaça! :)
I bet no one dislikes a well-done Caipirinha.

Cheers from Brazil!

25 Steve July 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Three years ago when I hosted a friend’s birthday party at my apartment, I started a home bar. I completely agree with Mr. Trexler about rules 1 & 2, but I would like add a couple corollaries.

#1 Stock what you enjoy.
#1.5 Stock what your friends enjoy.
Think about who you are likely to have as a guest: girlfriend, family member, close friends, etc. If you threw a party, who would definitely come?

#2 Start small.
#2.5 Start cheap.
If you’re a whiskey drinker, buy yourself a decent whiskey. Then add inexpensive versions of the staples: vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, beer, white wine, red wine. If you’re being frugal, this will cost less than $100. As you host more, you’ll slowly learn which items are popular among your crowd, and can buy the preferred brands of those beverages.

The only thing I completely disagree with Mr. Trexler about is glassware. He recommends six different kinds of container, and that’s a huge investment. If you have tall glasses (which you can drink milk from at dinner), short glasses (aka juice glasses), and wine glasses, you’re covered.

Some things I like to keep around, and why:
Frozen orange juice and cranberry juice – It lasts forever and makes great, simple, popular drinks.

A bottle of champagne – The first time someone at your house says “Guess what, I just [got promoted, got engaged, pregnant, graduated, etc.]” you’ll be a superstar if you immediately whip out a bottle of cheap champagne, pop the cork, and give a toast. If you want your party to be an event to remember, make someone’s news an event to remember.

Apple Pie – It’s a liquor and people like to do shots of it. But, it has half the alcohol content of vodka, whiskey, rum, gin, etc. When I’m hosting at my house or someone else’s and the night has progressed to the point where someone thinks it would be a good idea for a group to do a shot together, I like to pour this. (or something else that is 20% rather than 40% alcohol, and tasty rather than harsh) It’s a polite and slightly sneaky way to keep party goers from over indulging.

26 greatzamboni July 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

I want to reccomend a great re-issue, a pocket sized book, “Cocktails- How to Mix them” by Robert Vermiere, originally published 1922, redone by Mud Puddle books NY- i got mine at the Polo shop here in SF.. folks this is no frills olde school stuff by a real bartender, not a newfangled “mixologist” who i still think of as someone who should be in charge of music at your wedding- get a copy and try the “the harvard” extinct and fantasic

27 The Duke July 8, 2011 at 7:21 am

The one thing i don’t see mentioned here is the one way to avoid a bar-discussion like the above: Labels and brands.

Research has shown (read ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell for instance), that a bíg thing in tasting is how we THINK something will or should taste. Some people like Jim Beam, some like Wild Turkey. There is nó arguing with taste. But if you are at a party, and you really think Wild Turkey has it all on Jim, and the host only has Jim, you might be slightly disappointed. Your liquor-loosened tongue might even be enticed to start a very unmanly (because you will make your host feel inadequate) conversation about brand vs brand.

I myself am a student. Some might say that i have got my priorities wrong, but i just don’t have the cash to stock my bar (that is, a shelf in my bookcase) with the sort of libations i consider ‘the good stuff’. However, i do enjoy a drink, i do like to mix them up, and i do like to store what my friends drink, because i want to be a good host. This being the case, i settle for what one might call ‘cheap crap’ and i myself consider ‘agreeable’ liquor. Agreeable being non-headache-inducing non-spectacular low-end liquor.

This brings us back to Malcolm Gladwell. If i would stack my bar with bottles labeled ‘Wall Mart Cheap Ass Bourbon’, and pour my friend a drink, he would indefinitely taste a glass full of headache and poison. So i don’t.

I keep my liquor in a couple of beautiful, second hand carafes. Now, inevitably, they don’t taste a glass full of headache and poison, but they get a glass full of ‘Cristal Carafe No.1′, topped of with what they ASSUME is in there. They taste that first impression, and that impression is good. Most people will still ask what is actually in it, and i will tell them that it is ‘Wall Mart Cheap Ass Bourbon’ with a smile. The won’t consider the drink less tasty, but they will think a lot fonder of Wall Mart Cheap Ass Bourbon.

The aforementioned bourbon will never taste as great as a grade A bourbon, but by using the carafe you eliminate the bad first impression, allowing people to taste their drink how it should be tasted: Curiously. After that, their taste buds will tell them what they think, as it should be.

Even if you think that everything i have said is a load of conniving psychobabble, every manly man should agree that serving you drinks from a carafe simply looks the part.

One last little fun fact: It has come to my attention that Ketel One Vodka is pretty big there in the States. Ketel One is one of Hollands biggest and oldest distilleries, mainly producing Jenever (Dutch Gin). Their greatest turnover comes from USA-based vodka sales (covering right about 70%) of their total turnover. Now comes the fun part: They don’t sell Ketel One Vodka in the Netherlands, because NOBODY would believe Ketel One would produce even a decent vodka…….

28 Alex Devlin July 8, 2011 at 7:37 am

I love reading articles like this. I like to learn from others about how to start in these areas. I’ve often thought about having my own bar in my house but never knew where to go after having a few good beers and a couple of different liquors. So reading about how others have done it is a great way to start.

I have to comment on those who disagree with these selections. There are certain things that every one will have their own opinions on. Alcohol, religion, politics, sports, cars & women are the main ones it seems. The right thing to do if you’re a real man is to listen to someone else’s opinion, respect them and their opinion, and then if you disagree, say so and give your reasons why you prefer something different. That way you may convert them to your preferences. But telling them that they are just so wrong and don’t know what they’re talking about is the most disrespectful thing a man can do. Anyone who starts their arguments like that are then talking to empty space, because no-one is listening to them any more. Say “I prefer these…” and then say why you prefer them. Share your knowledge and share in theirs. They might have a mix that you discover is better than the one you were using, so you can learn and add it to your own. Remember that there was a time when you didn’t know which was which. But you listened to others and learned. Now if one of those people had started by telling you that you are completely wrong in everything you thought just then, how much do you think you would have listened to them?

Real men listen, learn and share. That’s why we are no longer living in caves but living in man caves with bars, big screen TV’s and a darn good drink in our hands! :-)

29 Eric F July 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

Most excellent point Alex!
I have had the opportunity to taste many variety’s of tequila in all price range, colors, ages and styles. I prefer it in a shot now and again, no salt, no lime. My preference is the 1800. It has flavor and character and just happens to be reasonably priced.
I second the idea of stocking what you like and liking what you stock. it can be difficult and possibly painful to get rid of something you really don’t like.

30 Derrick July 8, 2011 at 10:42 am

Jim Beam and Wild Turkey is good Bourbon??? The only time you drink Beam is in the stadium on Saturday afternoon… never at your home on a Friday night, Makers, Woodford and Basil Hayden would be more logical choices. And to the getlemen who thinks that Crown and Jack are bourbons, they’re not, blend yes – bourbon no.

31 lady brett July 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

good primer! especially the rules you start off with. (though, now that i’ve the space for slightly more liquors, i do stock things that i don’t tend to drink myself because as a host i realize not everyone wants to drink bourbon and gin. not that i understand that, but i respect it.)

for those looking to make your own bar cabinet, if you are more of a hobbyist than a woodworker look into reinventing a nice piece of furniture. i finally have a nice bar, which i made by gutting and refurbing an old stereo cabinet (the stereo itself was far beyond repair, unfortunately).

and, to further inform (or confuse) anyone looking to start off, i’ll add in my own brand preferences:

bourbon – is what i mostly drink, and i highly recommend jim beam for mixed drinks as the best cheapish option. for cocktails, though, i’d go with something nicer. i love trying a new bourbon, but i’ve still not found anything (i can afford to try) better than knob creek.

gin – my second favorite liquor. i haven’t had time to try everything (ha!), but i’ve tried enough to decide that bombay saphire actually is worth my money. but i’m still looking for a decent lower-tier (the jim beam equivalent, i suppose). i’ve heard a lot of praise for new amsterdam, and while it is smooth for the price, it is lacking in flavor – tastes like a vodka with a splash of gin to me.

rum – i drink cruzan. i can’t say i have much experience with rum, but i am quite happy with how it makes a cocktail, and the price is good.

vodka – i don’t drink much vodka, but i buy sobieski – after a bit of experimenting it was the first i ran across with a good combination of smoothness and reasonable price.

i can’t help you with tequila. i still have both bottles i was gifted at our housewarming, nearly untouched.

32 Ryan D July 8, 2011 at 11:54 am

I realize that this intended group is Manly focused, but come on guys, how many women do you know to enjoy a Manhattan or any type of whiskey for that matter? I agree that the home bar is for yourself, but like Steve has said, you must also consider who else is most likely to use your bar.

I recommend to have some cordials on hand as a starter too. They generally are on the cheap side, so you can skimp by with a minimal bill but add flavor and some pretty colors. My bar consists of these core staples:
-Apple pucker
-Peach schnapps
-Berry schnapps
-Triple Sec

33 Terry July 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm

One glaring omission to an otherwise fine article is that there was no discussion of Irish Whiskey. For anyone interested, you can’t go wrong with Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve.

34 Chris July 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

To save money consider shopping in another state. We live in Alabama where the sin taxes drive up the cost of alcohol – especially anything other than beer and wine. To get around this local peculiarity, we buy our spirits when we go visit my wife’s family in Missouri. The cost is about half.

35 Clayton July 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm

One thing I’d add about cocktail/martini glasses – get small, simple ones! 6 ounces is a good size for a cocktail glass. The ‘inverted road cones’ that many people end up owning are a little ungainly and top-heavy.

Hard to look the man of class if you’re knocking your pucker flavored appletini all over your wife. Also smaller servings won’t have time to lose their chill.

36 Morghan July 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Glenmorangie Original 10 year is the best value I’ve found in Whisky.

There are many better bottles, but at $40 for 750ml it’s priced well below it’s quality and you’ll find yourself spending a lot more to get a better scotch.

Not sure how it mixes though, seems like Sacrilege to put more than a splash of water in my alcohol.

37 Vinit July 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm


Fine article there. This comes in just about the time I am readying my home bar. The woodwork is all done and I have about a decent collection. I am planning a grand “bar opening party” for my friends once it is done.

I am a complete beer drinker who has just delved in to the world of single malts. But keeping in mind what my friends and relatives might like, I have collected a few other drinks as well. Just a small description of what I have in my home bar:

Single malt : basic single malts like glenfiddich, Glenmorangerie, macallan, talsker
Blended scotch: chivas regal, black lable, and my absolute favourite double black lable
Gin : beefeater and Bombay sapphire
Vodka: Russian standard, grey goose, absolut,smirnoff
Tequila: Jose cuervo ( silver, gold, platino,)
Rum: Havana club and Bacardi
Champagne : moet
Looking to add some wines.

Although I drink beer, I care about my friends and their preferences. So have added a bit of everything. Also I do agree that a bar that is well stocked shows the interest and the effort the person has taken to stock it. It shows that you have well researched the stuff. And research does including articles like these.

I would also like to add that if you have added some nice premium brands to your bar, it shows your good taste and definitely gives you some bragging rights. They even look good in the bar. I have added some nice novelty looking bottles just for the show.

I also comepletely agree with the duke in comment no 27 that carafes really add panache to any bar. There is a completely diff charm to open the crystal top and pour some whiskey out of a carafe into a cut glass whiskey glass. (Bonus points if you are dressed in a silk home robe.)

Just my 2 cents.

38 Evan July 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm

The thing to remember about gin is that, since most gin cocktails don’t have much else in them, the quality of the gin is more important than the base liquor in many other types of mixed drinks. That said, my preferred gin is Bombay Sapphire.

As for scotch, I use Johnny Walker black label for my dry scotch manhattens but if I’m drinking it neat, I will use Glenlivet which is a good smooth, 12 yr single malt at a reasonable price.

I only drink rum in cocktails, usually Mai Tais, so I find Myers dark rum to be a good compromise of cost vs quality. It’s also good mixed with Dr Pepper.

For Bourbon I recommend Makers Mark. For vodka, I prefer something like Absolut.

For cost, I recommend shopping for liquor at Costco if you can. You can get large bottles of good brands (Bombay/Makers/Absolut) for the same price their smaller counterparts would be at other stores. Since the bottles are so large, I’ll pour some off into a small bottle and keep that in the liquor cabinet and store the larger bottles elsewhere. This works well since I keep my vodka in the freezer and the larger bottle would take up too much space.

Don’t know what to say about Tequila. I’ve just never been a huge fan of it. Though Cazadores is all right.

39 Vinit July 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm

@ Evan Glen Ivey is definitely a good whiskey

Also I would like to add that shot glasses are a must along with tall slim glasses, short wide glasses , stem glasses and beer pint glasses.

Also missing in the original list is a peg measure (hourglass shaped), and a muddler.

Also I world recommend a nice conversation starter piece of art or sculpture or any other kind of adornment in your bar. I am planning to add some vintage alcohol advertisement posters and a few of my favourite qoutes framed around my bar.

40 Peter July 8, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Couple of comments.
1) I used to be a big fan of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, but came to to conclusion that it’s too sweet for me. If you’re into spiced rums try Sailor Jerry Rum. It’s very lightly spiced and great value for money.
2) Buy the 1.75L bottles. They are generally $3 – $5 more expensive than the 750ml bottles, so you’re getting another full liter of booze for very little extra cost.
3) A tip from my days as a single man – If you want to keep mixers on hand that you won’t drink (diet soda) buy it in cans. Now you can make a drink without wasting 2L of soda. I know that the cans are more expensive, but I never had to deal with flat soda spoiling my (admittedly slim) chances. Obviously buy 2 or 3L bottles of mixers for a party.
4) Seconding the carafe comment. You can get them cheap at a flea market. Though once you have two or three, you’ll start to get a lot of them for the holidays.
5) Unless you’re a wine snob, you don’t need separate glasses for red & white. Check out your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store for glassware. They’ll have tons of funky glasses from the 70′s for about $0.25/glass

41 jeff July 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I live in apartments where space is at a premium and I cannot build something I can’t move out and don’t want something on a trolley. I stick my booze on the top of a tall table behind my sofa. All the liquor is on a Japanese lacquer tray with Gin, Single Malt Scotch, and Rum in decanters, the rest I keep in their bottles but with an easy pour spout. All I do when guest come is bring out ice, the beers, and a decanted wine. Worked for thirty years after I learned how to keep it under control from my sister who ran bars for most her life. The brands I like are the ones my guest are served.
Gin (Tanqueray)
Scotch (Johnny Walker Red (blended), Glenfiddich Single Malt)
Canadian whiskey (Canadian Club 10 Year Reserve)
Bourbon (Elijah Craig)
Vodka (Stolichnaya)
Jamaican Rum (Appleton Reserve)
Dry Vermouth
Have supplies to make a martini, Bloody Mary, Gin and Tonic, and Screw Driver with plenty of club soda.
Buy a mix of red, white, and a couple specialty wines; nothing over $20.00 per bottle.
A mix of micro brews, Pilsner, Lager, Port, and a couple bottles of Stout; a blend of a few ales too and keep them in the fridge.
Get a Scotch heavy whisky glass, a tall glass, and a tumbler; Pilsner glass and mugs. Buy at dollar stores for nest to nothing
When the bottles get real low I use them in the kitchen. I make some sauces that are better than anything you’re likely to ever drink.
Ice bucket.

42 pat July 9, 2011 at 1:52 am

If you’re interested in a decent quality drinking rum (as opposed to mixing rum), I would recommend checking out Pyrat XO Reserve. Runs around $35 for 750ml. It’s about the only alcohol I drink. I find the flavor too distinctive and overwhelming to mix in any kind of cocktail, but it’s excellent to sip on. Just opening up the bottle leaves the entire room with a pleasant aroma. If you’re in the top income tax bracket, Pyrat Cask 1623 is top heap drinking rum.

43 Evan R. July 9, 2011 at 3:00 am

Ditto, ditto, and ditto
Steve (16), I agree, being snooty/uptight/arrogant = not manly.
Bernard (18), Yes, infusing liquors is not only fun, but delicious.
Steve (25), Good suggestions all around. I like the champagne idea, I had not thought about that before…
Duke (27), I agree with the idea of preconceived taste, and like the idea of switching the bottles, however, this will not work on someone with a developed pallet. That being said, if your friends/guests are not wine/liquor aficionados, there is no reason not to go ahead and buy the cheap stuff, especially when mixing.
Alex (28), Real wisdom, thank you
Ryan (32), Double ditto. Real men drink manly drinks, women do not. That being said, liqueurs and juices are your friend.
Evan (38), Good point about the Gin. I am a gin man myself and can back up that statement.

The most important thing is starting small. Making drinks at home is cheaper than going out for drinks, but at home you pay by the bottle(s), not by the glass. That being said, you can make a pretty diverse set of drinks with this (my personal) “standard” list:
Triple Sec
Peach Schnapps
Apple Pucker
Sweet Vermouth
Dry Vermouth
Lime Juice
Sour Mix
Orange Juice
Cranberry Juice
Tonic Water
Club Soda
The first four liquors plus Triple Sec, Sour Mix, and Coke will give you a Long Island Iced Tea, which is a personal favorite. Also from this list you could get Margaritas, multiple Martinis, Whiskey sours, Whiskey and Cokes, Rum and Cokes, Gin and Tonics, Vodka Tonics, Screwdrivers, Fuzzy Navels, Sex on the Beaches (if you spring for the pineapple juice as well), Tequila Sunrises, Tom Collins, and — Manhattans, Washington apples, apple jacks, old fashioneds, and sidecars — depending on what type of whiskey you buy, because some of these take different kinds of whiskey. Also, most bartenders would argue that you use lemon juice and simple syrup over sour mix. While I agree with that, there are still the time and money factors for the beginner’s mixing/shopping list.

As an afterthought, I usually buy blue curacao as well. Midori/Melon Liqueur and Armoretto make for good drinks for the ladies, and peppermint schnapps added to your whiskey (Brandy) makes a wonderful drink called a “Stinger”. Float a little Galliano on top of a Screwdriver and you have a Harvey Wallbanger…

My list is too long now. I’m done.

White Russian.

44 P.M.Lawrence July 9, 2011 at 3:42 am

Gin comes in four varieties: London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom, and Genever.

There is also Sloe Gin, made with sloe berries instead of juniper berries.

45 P.M.Lawrence July 9, 2011 at 3:48 am

Over on Guide to Drinking for the Teetotaler it suggests:-

Brown Pelican

* 2 parts Apple Cider
* 1 part Ginger Beer
* Over ice

Cider contains alcohol – often, more than beer does. If it doesn’t, it’s not cider, it’s apple juice. If you don’t use language that way, you will be ambushed when someone eventually gives you what you didn’t want.

46 Evan July 9, 2011 at 4:59 am

@ P.M.Lawrence

You’re thinking hard cider. Regular apple cider is just unfiltered apple juice.

47 Evan July 9, 2011 at 5:03 am

As an addendum to the cider thing. Apparently cider refers to unfiltered apple juice in the US and Canada but refers to what could be called “hard cider” in much of the rest of the world.

48 one of the jeffs July 9, 2011 at 9:21 am

I think when you’re talking about hard cider you are talking in America about Applejack, which was apple juice allowed to ferment then frozen and the liquid poured off. The liquor was around 40 proof and was a staple in early America. I seem to remember my grandfather making it during Prohibition. There is a distilled version but it is nasty, and too sweet. I don’t know what yeast is used in making Applejack, but it might be a fun project to research and try out. I hope my Scotch will forgive me if I make some Applejack and have it sitting next to 18 year old Scotch.

49 Will July 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

ARRG! While I agree that bourbon is an absolute essential, I cannot believe that you count Jim Beam as a good selection. There are so MANY reasonably priced bourbons that are FAR better than the regular Jim Beam. The key to good bourbon is the amount of time it’s in the barrel. Although the minimum (by law) is 4 years, that’s simply not long enough. It must be aged at least 7 years to be counted among the good bourbons. A fine example of a decent bourbon in Makers Mark. However, if you want a GREAT bourbon, go for one that’s aged 9 years or longer such as Knob Creek. Another fine bourbon is Woodford Reserve.

50 men life July 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I only drink rum in cocktails, usually Mai Tais, so I find Myers dark rum to be a good compromise of cost vs quality. It’s also good mixed with Dr Pepper.

51 Dustin July 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I really enjoyed the breadth of the article. However, there were some glaring misconceptions on a few items.

1) “Gold” tequila is inexpensive as is “silver”. Look UP on the shelf next time you are in the liquor store you will see tequila split into 3 main categories: blanco (white), reposado (rested), anejo (aged). The base spirit (always look for 100% blue agave) is the same. The difference is in aging. The difference in price comes from the process: Patron and Don Julio uses a classic, more labor intensive, process where Sauza uses a more mechanized process. The decision is personal tastes and budget. Be careful with most items from Cuervo, they tend to not be 100% blue agave.

2) Not all rum is made from molasses. Some are made from pure sugar cane (10 cane) and not all rum is spiced. Most are aged in barrels for a variety of years and tend to take on characteristics of a good bourbon/whiskey. You can find a few high quality rums at a comparable price point to spiced rums that would make any captain and coke fan second guess their usual order. Again I would be careful with the mass marketing brands of bacardi/captain. You are now able to find much higher quality at a similar (or cheaper) price point.

If you are stocking a home bar, why not differentiate yourself from your local watering hole and supply your friends with something they can’t readily get elsewhere? It’s a way to show your creativity and uniqueness (while having a great time).

52 Rob Bright July 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Nice article and I had similar experiences with overbuying. . . I am mostly concerned with finding good liquor for reasonable prices. As such, I’d recommend the following:

Milagro Silver Tequila. About $28 around here – which is 40% less than Patron – and the reviewers (and, more importantly, my tastebuds) rate it nearly as good, if not as good as Patron.

Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch. About $30, which is REALLY cheap for a single malt. Not as good as some (Highland Park 12 is a bit better, but costs $41), but Pulteney is a best buy. If you like peaty, smoky scotch, try Laphroiag 10 at about $38. 95% as good as Laguvalin 14 – and Lagu costs $90. A perfectly drinkable blended scotch is McIvor for $14 if you can find it.

Forty Creek Canadian Whisky. $20. Very feminine and easy to drink. Was my daily dram for about 9 months until I switched to scotch.

I’m not much of a Bourbon fan, but Elijah Craig is a good one for under $20 and Evan Williams Single Barrel is excellent for $27.

New Amsterdam Gin. $15. I’m not a gin expert by any means, but you can drink this one straight and it mixes very well.

Appleton Rums. Better than Bacardi for about the same price.

Grey Goose Vodka is nice, but too expensive for my taste. Sobieski and UV Vodkas cost about $20 for 1.75 liters and they mix perfectly well. Pinnacle is also a good, inexpensive choice for mixing and they have a “Whipped” creme vodka that is killer in a variety of drinks.

As to wine, my wife is the wine drinker and Bogle Petit Syrah is her favorite for the $$.

53 Spade July 10, 2011 at 12:11 am

Already planning for the home bar in the house I don’t yet have, so this will be bookmarked.

Anyway, as a tip for the whole “cocktails for parties” thing, both my wife’s ancient “how to throw a party etiquette book” and a book of cocktails and such we picked up recommend an easy way around that. Pick one or two cocktails/shots/whatever that “match” your party in some way or another. Advertise this fact (my home bar is going to have a chalkboard, or the old “what do you have?” “Beer X, Beer Y, wine, some liquor, oh and we’ve got this neat cocktail z”). This keeps you out from behind your bar mixing random things or trying to remember random drinks and you can practice that cocktail before hand to get it down pat and you can premake some stuff. And you can still bang out a martini quick if somebody wants one,

54 john July 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

Mostly sound advice here, though I don’t agree with the advice on so-called “craft beers,” most of which are rather vile swill hiding behind overly strong and hoppy flavors. Stick with the better German brands if you want good beer, period. On very good and relatively inexpensive brand is Hansa, if you can find it.

For Scotch stick with Johnny Walker Red, or perhaps Black if you prefer. Both have a nice heavy Scotch smokiness. Bourbon drinkers might want to try Ezra Brooks, a rather lightly flavored but full 90 proof inexpensive bourbon. I’ve converted a good many committed Bourbon drinkers to this brand.

Gin? Beefeaters for martinis, please, and the cheaper Gordon’s for GTs No point in wasting Beefeaters on gin drinks with sweet mixers, such as tonic or bitter lemon.

Vodka calls for (Gasp!) Burnetts, a downright cheap brand that also happens to be the smoothest and least flavorful vodka I’ve ever sampled. Perfect for VTs, vodka Bitter lemons, and any other long mixed drink. Burnett’s Gin? Perish the thought!

When it comes to tonic, use only Schweppes. Nothing else comes close.

55 Winston S July 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

Recommend Tito’s Vodka – It’s American and Texan, not French. Tastes very smooth and sounds manly. Also around $20.

56 Mike N July 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Good, solid article.

As to vodka, my choice is Smirinoff. Reasonably priced and always rates very high in comparison tests.

I have been drinking vodka martinis for over forty years now and here is my NSHO on a significant component- dry vermouth. Always, ALWAYS, buy French vermouth, not Italian or any other variation. To back up my assertion that French vermouth is “required” is a classic little book from the 60′s called “The Perfect Martini Book”. Stated quite clearly, French vermouth only! I’m sure James Bond would approve!
Another tip” beyond the classic olives or lemon twist, try a small, twist of fresh lime rind. Adds a different citrus flavor. My wife suggests a couple of black cherries.
Cheers! Salut!, Nostrovia! Kampei!

57 Greg K., PA July 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Great article! My house Gin for years was Gilbey’s, which is very much on the inexpensive side (around $16/handle in PA) but a solid gin for the price (and Alton Brown likes it, so I guess that gives it some foodie cred). I’m also a fan of a Philadelphia distilled gin called Bluecoat. I still keep a bottle of Hendrick’s around, but that stuff is expensive and doesn’t get brought out often.

While I’m not a huge rum person, Sailor Jerry is surprisingly good and not at all expensive.

Finally, most drinks we associate with Bourbon (Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, etc.) were likely originally made with Rye, which I find to have a more interesting and complex flavor. Long story short, Prohibition all but killed Rye production, but I highly recommend giving it a try. I plan on splitting a case of Old Overholt with a friend the next time we go out to restock.

And if you’re a brandy drinker and want to shake things up a bit, give Slivovitz (a Rakia) a try.


58 Clockwork July 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm

@John – Many craft beers in America are fantastic, and calling them “vile swill” is way off.

59 Ben P July 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm

A note to anyone reading, you have try this stuff for yourself and find out what you like on your own. For example, I still don’t get all the bashing Jim Beam takes by some, only to offer up Makers Mark as a good bourbon, which is one of the most terrible liquors I’ve ever had. Jim Beam is smooth and a little sweet, while Maker’s Mark is rough and it burns. I’ll take Jim Beam any day over Maker’s. So try things out for yourself and realize that people get pretty intense about their liquor choices.

The “martini shaker” should be replaced by a Boston shaker and Hawthorne strainer. You can get a nice Libbey brand set for $10 at Target or Amazon. You will also eventually need a muddler and bar spoon, which can be found online for less than $10 each. The muddler for proper mojitos and caipirinhas. The bar spoon for proper stirred martinis. I think a home bar needs a dedicated refrigerator. Keep an eye on the local classifieds and Craigslist for a used one. Turn the temperature pretty low on it. Keep beer, chilled wine, drink mixers, garnishes and certain liqueurs like Bailey’s in the fridge and use the freezer for ice, vodka, peppermint schnapps, and Jagermeister. You also need something to measure with. I’ve found the little 1/4 cup Oxo measuring cup to be perfect for measuring ingredients at home, and a lot cleaner and easier than a jigger. Might want to also get the matching Oxo 1 cup and 2 cup measuring cups for measuring out pitchers worth of drinks for parties.

There are as many variations of Rum as there are of any other liquor. There’s clear rums, black rums, aged rums, spiced rums, overproof rums, and the new flavored rums. There’s a difference between Jamaican rums, like Meyers and Appleton, and Cuban/Virgin Island rums, like Bacardi and Cruzan. If you ever get into making Tiki cocktails, you’ll learn more about rum than you realized was possible. =)

Surprised there was no mention of Tennessee whiskey. Around here, Jack Daniels would be a necessary part of any home bar. Might even be able to skip the bourbon in favor of Jack.

I haven’t seen anyone mention Ciroc yet. It’s one of the smoothest and best tasting vodkas I’ve tried. It’s a bit expensive, but about the same price as Grey Goose.

60 Jeff July 11, 2011 at 2:53 am

I am a jerk and will say this article was not very good. The author seems not to really know what he’s talking about, there’s a lot of mistakes and half-informed opinions.

If you’re interested, I think it’s worth buying a book about cocktails and giving it a quick once over. Say, Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology.

One thing: use fresh fruit & mixers instead of pre-mixed drinks (where you just add tequila!) or concentrated citrus juice. That is every bit as important as the quality of the alcohol.

61 Jeff July 11, 2011 at 3:13 am

One more quick thing…the author says “Gold tequila is silver tequila colored and flavored with carmel. It’s sort of sweet, which is why they’re great for mixing. Gold tequila is also usually cheap. You can buy it in huge plastic bottles.”

Gold Tequila is cheap and available in plastic bottles, but is basically unrelated to 100% agave derived tequilas. It’s more like a tequila-flavored vodka. If you care about the taste of what you’re drinking, don’t get anything that isn’t 100%, because inevitably it will be about 2%.

I also think, it’s worth getting a variety of rums and perhaps American whiskeys as well. They vary quite a bit and there’s many excellent varieties that sell for less than $20 a bottle. I just wish Cuban Havana Club 7 was available in the US…

62 Joseph Calderone July 11, 2011 at 8:31 am

This is a great article! Start small, good advice and in these economic times smart! Grey Goose is an excellent choice for a home bar, and the singing babushkas was a great link! Think you have a better plan? Then get it published, but then again, you might have to get out of your high chair, Waaaa!

63 Andrew Porter July 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

One suggestion I have is to get a bottle of something people don’t know well, find one or two cocktails to make with it, and offer it to your more adventurous drinkers. Campari, Aperol, Amaro, Lillet, St. Germain, and Absinthe come to mind. Leopold’s is a Colorado distillery that makes some nice stuff for this. Try their Three Pins Alpine Liqueur.

64 Fred July 12, 2011 at 1:27 am

Aside from the pretty glaring confusion about tequila and the failure to include a brandy, the article ignores essentials for cocktails. The most versatile would be sweet (french) and dry (italian) vermouths and an orange liqueur. After that, it petty much depends on the drinks you’ll favor. Oh, should have sweet & sour and simple syrup, though you can make these.

65 dannyb278 July 12, 2011 at 10:31 am

Franky, i am starting to think that AOM is filled with know-it-alls that are a bit to quick on putting down other peoples tastes/ideas. That being said, two bourbons i would reccomend to drinky neat or on the rocks are

Bulleitt (22-26 bucks)(my favorite) and
Elijah Craig (20-24 bucks)

These are moderately priced bourbons that wont break you bank account and that taste great. Try Bulleit if you like a little bit of rye in you pallette, as it has more rye in it than most corn mash whiskeys.

I also like to have a bottle of Jack with me. some people just dont appreciate the taste of a fine whiskey or bourbon no matter how good it is and will insist on mixing it. I WILL NOT ALLOW MIXING OF GOOD BOOZE. Let them mix with Jack Daniels, a booze i will drink straight out of the bottle when around good campfire.

66 Matt July 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm

As a Kentuckian living right off the Bourbon trail, I’ve got to add my 2 cents. I’m amazed to see tha Buffalo Trace hasn’t shown up on this list. It’s the go-to for my friends and me. And, if you’re in the Cincinnati-Lexington-Louisville area, you can find “private” single barrel bottles at some larger retailers (I know the Party Source in Newport, KY has it) for the same cost as their standard blended. About $20 a bottle, and I perfer it to many more expensive Bourbons.

67 Josh July 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Buffalo Trace…Thank you Matt. I came here to say precisely this. Evan Williams and Elijah Craig are passable bourbons for the price (both are made by Heaven Hill if that means anything to anyone) but do not compare to some of the smaller distillery bourbons in the same price category. Buffalo Trace is a Frankfort-Lexington style Bourbon and almost eliminates any reason to shell out for Woodford Reserve. Four Roses come to mind in the $20 price point for a Bardstown area Bourbon and is hands down better than Williams and Craig.

To the poster that said Makers Mark is rough and burns, that is kind of the point, if you don’t like that then stay away from Knob Creek, Bakers and generally Bardstown area based Bourbons. One glowing exception would be Basil Hayden, a Jim Beam product that is designed to be sipped straight and is so smooth I couldn’t imagine mixing it.
Enjoy your Bourbon.

And If someone could point me in the direction for accurate information on Tequila it would be greatly appreciated.

68 Jeff July 13, 2011 at 3:51 am

What accurate tequila information do you want? Wikipedia’s tequila page will tell you the basics, and there’s plenty of review sites out there. Personally, I would just find something that’s 100% agave and well-priced and give it a try. They’re all good and it comes down to personal taste. Reposado is probably the way for a beginner to go.

“I WILL NOT ALLOW MIXING OF GOOD BOOZE.” – I understand if you’re talking about mixing rum with Coke or a fruity Vodka drink or something like that. But I would say, every single real cocktail benefits from quality booze. So why not?

69 BonzoGal July 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Some great suggestions here, both in the article and comments. A few more from a cocktail enthusiast:

- Beefeater’s is a great all-purpose gin, and inexpensive. I’m partial to that or Tanquerey for my martinis, and Plymouth for G&Ts.
- You don’t need a toothpick for olives or onions- just slide them in.
- The ultra-ultra-ultra dry martini is overrated. If you want to just drink gin, go for it- but if you want a martini, don’t be afraid to add a decent amount of vermouth and stir that mo’fo ’til it’s ice cold.
- A small (2 oz.) COLD cocktail is better than a large room-temp cocktail. (That doesn’t cover neat spirits, of course.)
- I don’t much like vodka for anything except Bloody Marys, but YMMV.
- I second the vote for fresh juices. Fresh squeezed citrus juice will make your cocktails sing.
- A tip for parties: have a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge for non-imbibers. Many non-drinkers don’t want soda pop, and iced tea is a great substitute.
- My “house brands” are Bulleit bourbon, Wild Turkey rye, Johnny Walker Red whiskey, Sauza Hornitos tequila, Appleton Estates rum, Campari amaro, Luxardo Maraschino (for Aviations), Grand Marnier orange liqueur, and Fernet Branca for a bracing after-dinner shot. Those, some soda water, Angostura bitters and simple syrup, and I’m set.

70 Matt July 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

@ Josh: You, good sir, are a man of fine taste. I was actually going to mention that Four Roses Single Barrel (about $35, if I remember correctly) is my splurge Bourbon, but figured that was getting a little too hoity-toity. I didn’t know about the different classifications (Bardstown vs. Frankfort-Lexington), though. Methinks some time spent reading, and maybe an refresher (refreshing?) afternoon on the Bourbon Trail would serve me well. Thanks for the info!

71 Jason July 15, 2011 at 7:55 am

Good article! I am very pleased to see others backing Beefeaters Gin on this post. When I first started drinking Martini’s, this was the first one I tried(because it was my grandfather’s choice)and have been using it ever since. I’ve tried others; Tanqueray, Bombay Blue, New Amsterdam, some good, some bad, but I always come back to the Beefeaters.
On the comment about the craft beers being over hoppy and not too good, Thats a problem with beer right now, a whole lot of it being produced and not a lot of quality. All in all, a good article and thanks for the info.

72 Brian Splash July 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm

“backfire effect” what can l say , you are very passionate about the brands you drink , and good for you , but shouting down other peoples preference in consumables is pointless so why do it .
As far as my choice of beverages , l try to go with something that is close to its origin
re : bourbon , l will go with something that is made in Kentucky , like ” bakers ”
rum , British ” british navy pusser’s rum ” and so on , so shout me down and watch me dig my heels in !
As far as the article goes , it was a good read , as are all the articles on this site .

73 Wayne July 18, 2011 at 5:52 am

one of the jeffs: (48)

Hard Cider is cider that is allowed to ferment naturally like a beer and isn’t distilled (Commercially available hard ciders like Woodchuck are more like a malt liquor drink.) Apple Jack is a liquor distilled from apple juice, closer to apple brandy. It’s actually kind of hard to find Applejack, nobody really makes or drinks it anymore.

Someone mentioned Cruzan already, but I highly recommend their Single Barrel variety. It’s about 30 dollars for a 750ml bottle, but I think it tastes better than their normal light or dark blended rums and is leagues ahead of spiced bottom shelf varieties like Captain Morgan.

74 Devin Gonzales July 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I was a little turned off after scanning info about tequilas. Perhaps it is also good to start small when writing about your bar.

But I try to be constructive so let me share what I mean. The author asserts that silver tequila is premium, and “gold” tequila cheaper. This is misleading. There are 3 main types: Silver, Reposado, and Anejo. Reposado and Anejo are aged in wood barrels which adds a characteristic gold color. Anejo is the darkest because it is aged the longest. Silver tequilas are ideal for margaritas, and reposado/anejo are ideal for sipping in order to appreciate the more complex flavor from aging. I would hardly describe them as cheaper. Of course, this author could be referring to Jose Cuervo or Suaza tequilas. The “gold” tequila from the cheaper distilleries gets it’s color from food coloring and is not aged in barrels. Patron is ok, but indeed the world beyond patron is grander (and often less expensive).

I’m not sure this article would be helpful in terms of stocking your bar. If you want a great book that will educate you I suggest, “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks.” It’s the best I’ve seen so far.

75 Peter July 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Some good ideas for just starting out. Don’t know if anyone mentioned this but two things I think the list needs for a basic bar set-up are dry and sweet vermouth. Can’t make a manhattan or martini without em! Two very simple cocktails that every man should know how to make, and make well. Also Eric Felten’s “How’s Your Drink” is an excellent book on cocktails and stories about them, complete with “recipes.” Used to love his weekly column in the WSJ. Bottoms up!

76 R.C. Albright July 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm

For Bourbon I would suggest Rowans Creek or Noahs Mill. $30 a bottle for an amazing value. In my humble opinion.

77 miles August 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm

um.. no mention of triple sec? a must-have for many mixed drinks

78 Travis January 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

no mention of Hennigan’s?

-”…no smell, no tell. Scotch.”

79 Mark March 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm

If you’re talking single malt I can’t recommend Highland Park nearly enough. It’s a little on the pricey side but I’ve yet to meet a better sipping scotch than the Highland Park 18yr.

80 Jason March 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm

This thread has been a pleasure to read. I have been slowly accumulating a nice home bar. The bar itself is very unassuming and fits in our dining area (fairly narrow brick row home in Philly). I like to keep a mix of high and low end liquor. I tend to use the lower end liquor for various mixed drinks. For drinks that are fairly straight forward (whisky neat, martinitis, gin and tonics, etc) I like to use those for which I am a big fan:

Scotch: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs, Lagavulin 16 (my favorite and the manliest scotch that I’ve had)

Irish Whiskey: Jameson 18

Bourbon: Knob Creek, Bullet bourbon (not bad and is inexpensive)

Gin: Hendricks (great martini with cucumber not olives), Beefeater (inexpensive)

Vodka: Belvedere, Froggy (inexpensive)

In addition to these, I keep some silver patron, dark rum, bitters, countreau, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, kalhua and grand marnier around. Keep a nice stock of soda water and tonic. For tonic: Fever Tree or Q-tonic are great tonics that don’t have high fructose corn syrup. Lots of fresh citrus and some mint if having a party. Same goes for Prosecco, Champagne, Red and White wine.

When solo, I tend to lean towards Scotch or Bourbon.

Great article and topic to discuss. I’ve had a great time slowly building a collection.

81 Chris J July 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm

A great read. Moving into my first apartment in a week and cannot wait to begin building my own collection. I do have a question for all of the knowledgeable home-bar “owners” here. I am looking to get a set of glassware in a one stop shop. Does anyone know of a set of glassware for a fairly low price that comes with (for example): 6 highball glasses, 6 rocks glasses, 6 wine glasses and 6 martini glasses?

I have a shaker, strainer, jigger, spoon, muddler, and those sorts of accessories, but I haven’t been able to find a quick set of bar glassware.

Any help would be appreciated.


82 Eric Scheirer Stott December 2, 2013 at 1:32 am

Don’t forget to include a bottle of Rye whiskey alongside that Bourbon- Overholt is a good inexpensive choice. Regarding Vermouth, if you are just mixing occasional cocktails buy small bottles and refrigerate them once you’ve opened them- while Vermouth seldom actually goes bad the taste difference between a fresh bottle and one that has been sitting opened at room temperature for a year or so is notable. Invest in some liqueurs and cordials: Curacoa and Triple Sec can both be had quite cheaply, though if you’ve got the money invest in a bottle of Cointreau. Get a drinkable bottle of Brandy (Christian Bros. is decent). If you want to experiment a bit get some miniature bottles of higher priced stuff like Chartreuse or Calvados and mix a drink or two before you buy a whole bottle.

83 Greg December 4, 2013 at 4:56 pm

One more thing. Box of fine cigars.

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85 The Pencilneck March 14, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Plymouth Gin is the only gin worth having – just sayin’. Even non-gin drinkers rocket their eyebrows up into their hairdos at the first sip of this wonder fluid! :)

86 terryecita April 7, 2014 at 11:45 pm

For glassware, I recommend Cost Plus World Market. They carry all types of bars are. You can pick up wine, champagne, beer, brandy, and other glasses for less than a buck apiece.

I bought gradually in crates of a dozen. Now I know I have enough glassware to offer guests their preferred beverage in the proper glass, even if it’s a fairly large gathering. I might have spent $100 altogether.

By scouring the interwebs, I recently found an all-wood wine cabinet with stemware storage, a capacious drawer, and slots for about 16 bottles, more than enough for my modest needs. A crystal sherry decanter sits on top.

Elegance is more about attitude than expense.

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