We have bar at home

I started casually bartending nearly half a year ago now, and found it a fun and approachable way to enjoy drinking without busting the bank at bars or attending college ragers. I wanted to write something to help others bootstrap their own home bar, including advice on picking equipment, which bottles I've enjoyed, and techniques that I learned either through reading or experimenting.


We'll get through the boring stuff first: what equipment you need to start making drinks. This guide assumes that you have clean water, a refrigerator, a freezer, and the ability to obtain liquor legally. If you lack one or more of these things, then this guide may be difficult to follow. Where I have explicit recommendations, I'll link them. If you buy only the essentials, expect to spend around 50 USD. If you buy more, expect to spend around 75-100 USD. I've prepended the must-buys with ⭐ emojis.


  • ⭐ Ice Cube Molds - Ice is the most important part of mixing a good drink. I'd recommend getting a few regular ice trays and a large cube ice tray. There are special trays that make clearer ice using directional freezing, but they are bulkier and pricier.
  • ⭐ Cocktail Shaker Tin - To shake cocktails, you'll need a shaker tin. There are two main kinds of shakers: Boston shakers (which consist of two tins that lock together) and Cobbler shakers (which consist of a tin and a two-piece lid). I personally use a Cobbler shaker since I find it easier to use with small hands, but either is fine.
  • ⭐ Bar Spoon - Bar spoons are essential for making stirred cocktails or adding garnishes like cherries. They typically have a weight on the back end which makes it easier to stir quickly with one hand.
  • ⭐ Jiggers - A precise drink is a better drink. Jiggers are used to measure ingredients that go into cocktails. I prefer a graduated jigger since it makes cleanup easier than needing to clean many jiggers.
  • Mixing Glass - If you want to make stirred cocktails, you can often build them in the glass, or use a separate glass if you prefer. A mixing glass is useful if you want to batch stirred cocktails.
  • ⭐ Fine Mesh Strainer - A fine mesh strainer helps keep small ice shards out of a shaken cocktail and should be used every time you shake with ice.
  • ⭐ Hawthorne Strainer - This isn't absolutely necessary if you are using a Cobbler shaker, but a Hawthorne strainer sits at the top of your tin and filters out shards of glass and other large particulates in your cocktail.
  • Julep Strainer - If you use a mixing glass, a Julep strainer is the de facto way to keep the ice used in the mixing glass from falling into your cocktail.
  • ⭐ Citrus Juicer - If you're going to use fresh juice (which you should), you'll need a juicer.
  • ⭐ Muddler - A muddler helps you smash fruits or herbs to incorporate them into a drink. A wooden muddler is best, but a small rolling pin will also do.
  • Bottle Spouts - Spouts make pouring much easier and predictable; I only use them on bottles that I use incredibly frequently (e.g. vodka and gin) but professional bars will have them on all bottles.
  • Glass Bottles - A set of glass bottles to hold syrups or other homemade concoctions is very useful.
  • Funnel - For pouring homemade concoctions into bottles.
  • Drug Scale - For absolute precision, especially when making your own syrups, use a drug scale. A regular food scale isn't precise enough for all tasks.
  • Tweezers - Adding garnishes using your dirty hands can be a turn-off for some - use tweezers.
  • Cheese Cloth - For straining out very fine particulates, such as pulp, a cheese cloth will be useful. If you intend on making your own syrups or a clarified milk punch, get this.
  • Eye Droppers and Atomizers - Some drinks call for a drop of saline or a spray of absinthe; best be prepared.


  • ⭐ Rocks Glass - This low glass is used often for drinks served on the rocks like Whiskey Sours or Old Fashioneds.
  • ⭐ Highball Glass - This taller glass is used for longer drinks like gin and tonics or a sex on the beach.
  • Coupe Glass - This stemmed glass is used for cocktails without ice in them, like an aviation or a clover club.
  • Nick and Nora Glass - Similar to a coupe, but with a taller shape.
  • ⭐ Shot Glass - For ragers, but also for small drinks or samplers.
  • Wine Glass - Useful for wine or an Aperol spritz, but not much else.


Now that you have the equipment, it's time to talk about the ingredients! We'll eschew a detailed discussion of what each ingredient does in pursuit of brevity. We'll instead give a shopping list with a short description of each ingredient so you know whether or not you need it. Since you'll be using these ingredients in mixing and likely not sipping them neat (read: by itself), don't bust the bank on any particular bottle. A 20 USD bottle can go a long way in a drink, and anything over 40 USD is likely going overboard. I recommend a 750ml bottle when you can, since it'll last a decent amount of time. You'll mostly be buying liquors (read: spirits) and liqueurs (read: sweetened or diluted liquors). Check the shelf life of anything you buy, and be aware of when you need to refrigerate a bottle (for example, all vermouths last longer in the fridge, and any milk-based liqueurs like Bailey's should live in the fridge after opening). I'll try to give recommendations on which bottles to buy when I can, but I highly recommend checking out this article by PUNCH on which bottles are great. I've prepended the must-buys with ⭐ emojis.


  • ⭐ Vodka - A clean, flavorless spirit made from potatos or grain, vodka is a must-have. I recommend Ketel One or Tito's for mixing.
  • ⭐ Gin - Often very botanical, floral, and sometimes fruity, gin is also widely used in cocktails. For brighter flavours, I recommend Tanqueray, and for more dry, bitter flavours, I recommend Beefeater. If you like the color purple, try out Empress Gin.
  • ⭐ Whiskey - There are many subvarieties of whiskey, including bourbon and rye. Bourbon will get you a warmer, more approachable flavour than rye, so I recommend getting a bottle of bourbon to start. Four Roses is a great pick, as well as Wild Turkey 101. Monkey Shoulder is a great bottle of scotch whiskey, and Suntory Toki is a great Japanese whiskey.
  • ⭐ Rum - Rum comes in two main varieties - white and dark - but the diversity is immense (and honestly intimidating). Some rums, especially Jamaican rums, will have a "funky" element, which might taste like nuts or bananas. I don't know rum particularly well, so I recommend going to your liquor store and asking for their recommendation (I use Plantation Three Stars for my white rum and Plantation Original for my dark rum).
  • ⭐ Tequila - Tequila is an agave-distilled spirit from Mexico. Used often with lime in a margarita, tequila is necessary for a home bar. There are many great bottles, including Cazadores.
  • Mezcal - While technically mezcal refers to any agave-distilled spirit, it typically refers to one that's been made with roasted agave hearts, giving it a distinct smoky flavor. I recommend Yuu Baal as a more neutral, easy to work with mezcal.
  • Absinthe - Controversial for its star anise and wormwood flavors, absinthe is used in many classics as a spicer.
  • Shochu - Often overlooked, this Japanese spirit is a unique addition that I highly recommend. There are many bottles; I recommend getting any that you can find (availability in the US is sparse).
  • ⭐ Bitters - While not technically a spirit, bitters are essentially bartender's seasoning, used in small amounts in many cocktails. Angostura bitters are the only way to go. You may also want to get orange bitters or peach bitters, but these aren't as necessary.

Liqueurs and more

  • ⭐ Orange Liqueur - There are many kinds of orange liqueur, but the main kinds you'll need to worry about are Triple Sec, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier. Get the name brand version of one of them, depending on your preference.
  • Vermouth - Used in martinis and negronis, vermouth is fortified aromatic wine, which is wine that has had other liquor and botanicals added for flavour. It comes in a few main varieties, including dry, sweet, and red. Small bottles are best as you may not use them often, and they don't last long once opened. Martini and Rossi is a safe bet, as well as Dolin.
  • Blue Curacao - This is useful for adding a fun, blue hue to your drink. Any bottle will do.
  • Amaretto - This almond-based liqueur is used in more dessert-like cocktails. Disaronno is the classic bottle, but I find that any works fine.
  • Coffee Liqueur - Mr. Black is the only option here. Don't buy Kahlua.
  • Irish Cream - This creamy liqueur is great in dessert cocktails. Get Bailey's.
  • Elderflower Liqueur - For a subtle, sweet, and floral addition, St. Germain's is a must-have.
  • Aperol - Used in the titular Aperol spritz and in many other refreshing drinks, you absolutely should get a bottle of Aperol.
  • Campari - Used in negronis and a huge host of modern cocktails, Campari is a bitter italian liqueur that many hate on first taste, but learn to love over time.
  • Midori - This Japanese melon-flavoured liqueur is great for fun, green cocktails.
  • Maraschino - I don't use it often, but this cherry liqueur is useful in many classics.

The Rest

  • ⭐ Sodas - I recommend stocking a lemon-lime soda like Sprite, a cola like Coca Cola, and any neutral club soda or sparkling water.
  • ⭐ Tonic Water - Used in gin and tonics, I recommend Fever Tree. It's pricy, but worth every penny.
  • ⭐ Fruits - Stock up lemons and limes for juicing, and if you like, oranges and grapefruits for their peels to use as garnishes. You can get by using bottled juices, but it's hard to beat using fresh juice.
  • ⭐ Juices - Some juices are too hard to make consistently. Apple juice oxidizes really quickly, so I use Trader Joe's apple cider. Other juices I stock for various reasons are pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and grapefruit juice.
  • ⭐ Syrups - You can either buy or make your own syrups, which are how bartenders add sweetness to a cocktail. The kinds to watch out for are simple syrup, grenadine, honey syrup, maple syrup, demarara syrup, ginger syrup, and raspberry syrup. Each of these is easy to make, essentially combining around one part base or sugar with one part water over heat until combined. Syrups warrant their own blog post, however.
  • Cherries - If you can buy Luxardo maraschino cherries, those are the classic. If not, get what you can find.
  • Milk - Milk and heavy cream are used more than you might think in classic cocktails.
  • Eggs - Many cocktails call for egg whites, that add a silky texture and foam. You can use egg whites, or aquafaba, or a special foaming agent.


At this point, we should have everything we need to get started! We'll go over the basic techniques for making a cocktail.


Ice helps cool down a drink during shaking and stirring, and helps keep it cool after it's been served. Make your ice with distilled, boiled, or filtered water and use more ice than you think you need in every drink. While some bartenders obsess over getting the clearest ice possible (clear ice melts slower and thus dilutes your drink less) it isn't absolutely necessary to have clear ice, especially if you're shaking or stirring your cocktails. If you're serving over the rocks, though, having a large rock of somewhat clear ice does go a long way for presentation. I recommend stockpiling rock ice as it'll be very useful in a wide variety of drinks. To ensure that your drink is as cold as possible, many bartenders also put glasses or shakers in the freezer around the time they begin preparing the drink. I recommend doing this for the frosted glass effect.


To shake a cocktail, simply add all of the ingredients to a tin, then add a liberal amount of ice, and shake hard for around 15 seconds. By the end of the shake, the tin should be very cold to the touch; you can use a towel to make this less painful. Be very wary of undershaking; some beginner bartenders are worried about diluting the drink too much and don't shake the drink for long enough. The result is not enough liquid in the glass, and an unbalanced, overly boozy cocktail. Shake for the whole 15 seconds and remember that you'd usually rather over-dilute than under-dilute. After shaking, strain the cocktail into a chilled glass through a fine mesh strainer to catch shards of ice, add your garnishes, and serve immediately.

There are some things that are good to note when shaking. After the tin cools down, a seal forms that makes the tin harder to open; this locks your drink in and keeps it safe. Don't take this as an opportunity to shake haphazardly, though - a tin can still bust open and spray its contents all over you if you aren't careful. Be sure to never shake anything carbonated or that might not be stable. Using regular ice is fine when shaking, but if you add a large rock of ice to the tin as well, you'll get a much larger foam in your drink. Lastly, some drinks call for a "regal shake", which is a shake with an orange peel in the tin.


To stir a cocktail, simply add all of the ingredients to a glass or beaker, then add a liberal amount of ice, and stir using your bar spoon for around 30 seconds or until the glass starts to frost. Stirring using a bar spoon can be tricky; you want the ice in the glass to spin as one unit to chill and dilute quickly while avoiding splashing or spilling the cocktail. To do so, maintain a loose grip on the spoon, keep the back of the spoon on the wall of the glass, and spin the spoon around the wall of the glass. Some drinks are built in the glass and don't require a lot of stirring as they are already low-proof. Don't overly stir these drinks, and don't overly stir any drink with carbonation involved as it will ruin the bubbles.

Miscellaneous Hacks

Here are a few random hacks that I've collected over time that may elevate your cocktails:

  • Making ice with warm water can create clearer ice; I boil or filter my water before using it in ice.
  • You can use your muddler to crack ice for drinks that call for crushed ice. Alternatively, beg your local McDonalds for their crushed ice.
  • Adding a few drops of 20% saline solution seems to make many cocktails better.
  • I use butterfly pea tea for a cool gradient effect in non-alcoholic cocktails.
  • You can make syrups out of almost anything for a unique experience; try combining anything with sugar or water and see what happens. Ideas: purple yams, cucumber, old champagne, candy.

Further Reading

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the following resources are great if you want to learn more.


  • Cocktail Codex - This book deconstructs the cocktail and helps you think of every drink as a variation on a classic.
  • Liquid Intelligence - This is the classic book on cocktail techniques. Highly recommend if you're interested in more advanced cocktails.
  • The Aviary - The prettiest cocktail book.


  • PUNCH - The main website for cocktails, great spot for recipes, opinions, and techniques.
  • Imbibe - Similarly great website magazine.


Thank you!

Good luck starting your home bar! If you'd like to see what I've been experimenting with lately, check out my bar menu at bar.n-young.me. In the future I'd like to write more about making custom syrups, infusing spirits, and other advanced techniques, as well as tips on crafting your own recipes; hopefully we'll get there.