Ordinary advice on how to stock a home bar is flawed.
The big issue with commonplace advice is they'll tell you to dive in head-first with a huge purchase of bottles. A bottle of vodka, gin, whiskey, a couple of bottles of aperitifs, a bottle of fernet ("cuz you gotta sling some fernet bro") a handful of bitters, amari, some vermouth, etc.
This is terrible advice if you're just starting. Purchasing all these bottles and ingredients all at the same time is not only very expensive but also lacks any clear direction as to how to get you to be comfortable making tasty and good looking drinks at home.
Lack of direction creates confusion and frustration.
I propose a more focused, action-oriented, and budget-friendly approach.
A more practical approach
What I propose is a more focused, budget-friendly, and action-oriented approach to your home bartending journey. The key is to practice making cocktails—one or two at a time—until you get to a point where you've mastered their preparation. Buying only the ingredients (and glassware) as needed for those two recipes.
Sure, if you have the budget to easily drop $500 on bottles and gear, go ahead. This still doesn't make you a good drink maker. You'll spend money on stuff you'll hardly use.
There's a wealth of amazing cocktails out there, many permutations, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start.
Step 1. The right tools for the job
Buy the home bar essential tools. These tools you absolutely must have, so just follow this directive blindly. These are professional-grade tools that are decently priced and will last you a while.
Step 2. Start with what you like
Think about this for a second...
What are the two cocktails you order the most at the bar? Do you have a significant other? An awesome neighbor? What's his/her favorite cocktail?
Pick two cocktails. Find the recipes.
One for you, one for them.
To serve as an example, I'll pick two cocktail recipes: Mezcal Margarita and a Garibaldi (of Dante, NYC fame).
Step 3. Buy the Ingredients
Now that you've chosen two recipes, lets see what ingredients we need to buy. For our example:
For the first cocktail: Mezcal Margarita.
The recipe is the following:
• 2 oz of mezcal • 1 oz lime juice • 1 oz agave nectar • spicy salt rim • served on a rocks glass
So on my shopping list, I'll add
- 1 bottle of mezcal
- limes (wholesale store memberships come in handy in these occasions)
- agave syrup
- spicy salt blend
- buy rocks glass (if you don't have them already)
For the second cocktail: Garibaldi
• 4 oz fresh orange juice • 1.5 oz Campari • served on a collins glass
So let's add these ingredients to the shopping list:
- 1 bottle of Campari
- Oranges (Go, Florida!)
- Collins glasses.
Now that you have the shopping list, go purchase everything!
Step 4. Master the two recipes
Now that you have your essential bar tools and cocktail ingredients, it's time to start making them.
Start with making one cocktail.
Most likely, it won't be pretty. You'll know what you did wrong, you'll know what to improve next time.
Wait a day or two.
Make it again.
Wait a day or two.
Trust the process. It will taste and look better as you practice making it. Make tweaks and improvements as you go. With time, you will get comfortable.
Do the same for the second cocktail recipe.
Make it once, then again, and again. Practice your technique, rinse and repeat.
You will know it in your gut when you've reached a point where you're proud of the way you make these two drinks.
You should be able to make them beautiful and with your eyes closed.
Once you feel you've mastered these two cocktails—only then—proceed with two more recipes.
Repeat the process. You get the drill.
Only after you've mastered at least 4 cocktails, you can have your own cocktail menu. This will be a curated repertoire of your favorite drinks—I'm sure you'll have a good story behind each drink.
Write your menu down on paper for your guest to use—or if you are handy with design, make it look nice!
A craft cocktail for your guests.
Homemade and fresh ingredients.
A story behind it.
These are the components that make for a great time. Your guests will be appreciative of the effort and care you take to welcome them.
Keep this in mind
Don't stress. You will mess up at first; drinks will not be pretty. You'll have to wait until you've made several rounds before you can show off on the gram. Have fun, enjoy the learning process!
Here are some bottle recommendations in case the recipe you're following doesn't tell you what brand to use. The following are budget-friendly, all-purpose, and (most importantly) easy-to-find bottles.
• Bourbon: Elijah Craig
• Gin: Beefeater
• Rye: Rittenhouse or Bulleit Rye
• Vodka: Wheatly
• Rum: Appleton Estate Signature Blend or Plantation 3 Star
• Tequila: Espolón or Fortaleza / El Tesoro Blanco
• Mezcal: Vida Del Maguey
• Triple Sec: Cointreau
• Sweet Vermouth: Dolin Sweet Vermouth
• Dry: Dolin Dry