Having a home bar can mean a lot of things. It ranges from everything from a few bottles of relatively cheap spirit – vodka, rum etc – with some mixers to a full-blown miniature bar complete with jiggers, muddlers and obscure grass vodka (This really does exist).
My normal stance is to have what you enjoy in your bar and anyone who would make you feel bad about it gets blacklisted, but I do feel like there are a few essentials that would really step your cocktail game up to a whole other level. So, if you’ll indulge me, here are some ingredients, equipment and other general bits and bobs which I think make up the basic home bar:
♦ White Rum
♦ Triple Sec or Cointreau
‘Gin’ is a broad term. You might want to experiment with different types to find out what works best for you. London Dry gins are pretty common but – unsurprisingly given the name – can be VERY dry and overpowering depending on the brand. I personally enjoy Rock Rose from Dunnet Bay Distillers as it’s sweeter than most gins and has a lovely floral note. It’s a little bit pricey though, so if you’re just starting out try something like Gordons or Bombay Sapphire.
♦ Sugar Syrup
Although Grenadine and Sugar Syrup are very similar, in that they are sugary sweet and non-alcoholic, I would recommend having both as they are not exactly interchangeable like I originally assumed. Although not super distinctive, grenadine definitely has a slight fruitiness to it which leans well to fruit-based cocktails, whereas sugar syrup is generally used more for just general sweetness.
♦ Lime Juice
♦ Lemon Juice
Fresh is usually recommended, but i’ve personally found that recipes work with the concentrated stuff you get in the baking aisle of the supermarket.
♦ Other fruit juices (orange, pineapple, cranberry)
♦ Cocktail shaker
There are 3 types of cocktail shakers: Boston, Cobbler and French. Boston and Cobbler (aka Manhattan) shakers are the most common and the 2 that I use. Boston is a two part shaker with a metal bottom tumbler and glass top half that fits snug inside the former. It’s stylish and easy to store, but definitely can be more difficult to control as liquid leaks out surprisingly easy. The Cobbler shaker is made of 3 parts; tumbler, strainer and lid. I would recommend this one for a beginner as it’s easy to use and has a built in strainer which you need to buy separately with the Boston shaker. Ikea does a cheap and cheerful one for £4.
♦ Jigger/Double Ended Jigger
Ideally, if you can try and get a 1 ounce/½ ounce one. It’ll make cocktail making easier and faster.
If you want to start layering drinks or doing fancy mixing work, a pourer is a must. You can get a pack of 3 for £3.99 on Amazon at the moment.
♦ Cocktail glasses
Whilst there dozens of different types of glasses out there for different drinks, I personally enjoy a straight martini glass. Stylish, distinctive and works with everything.
♦ Wine Stoppers
Make no mistake: This can be an expensive hobby. The good thing is that it is also very rewarding – you’ll find yourselves entertaining your friends a lot more, it’s a real talking piece in your house and you’ll have a better understanding of what’s actually good value for money when you’re out and about. I’ve realised that too many places put some single measures of spirits in a glass, top it up with fruit juice and boldly declare that it’s a cocktail.
Whilst the initial outlay is expensive, if you were someone that liked to have a couple of drinks to unwind at the end of the week you would be surprised how much money you could save doing it yourself at home instead. Spending £15 on a bottle on name-brand spirit like Smirnoff or Captain Morgans is pretty much equivalent to 2 drinks at a decent bar, and you can make far more than 2 drinks with a bottle.
Also, if you drink at home, you don’t even have to put pants on. Really, it’s a win-win.