In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about stocking your home bar on any budget.
A well-stocked home bar is the surest way to make guests to your home feel welcome, comfortable, and at ease.
The best part? There’s a way to stock your home bar no matter your tastes, budget, or experience with mixology.
In this guide, we’ll present three different levels of home bar setups, from the most basic and low-maintenance to a selection that’s sure to impress every guest you might have.
Stocking a home bar doesn’t have to be a pain, and yes — you can learn how to stock a home bar on a budget.
By the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll have the inside scoop on how to match your home bar desires and tastes to your budget and your guests’ preferences, so let’s get started.
Level 1: The Everyday Tippler
For the first-time home bar owner, choosing too many obscure ingredients and perishable goods is a surefire way not to enjoy making your own drinks and entertaining guests. Keep it simple by becoming well acquainted with the basic categories of spirits, beer, and wine, as well as how to garnish a simple cocktail, and you’ll always have room to upgrade later.
Distilled spirits will form the backbone of any home bar, since they both keep indefinitely and come in bottles large enough to accommodate many imbibers at the same time. For a basically well-stocked home bar, you’ll need a bottle of each of the following; our recommendations follow each category of spirits.
- Vodka: Wodka, Tito’s, Sobieski
- Gin: Gordon’s, Beefeater, Ford’s
- Rum: Plantation 3 Stars, Appleton White
- Tequila: Pueblo Viejo Blanco, Cimarron Blanco
- American Whiskey: Evan Williams Black Label, Buffalo Trace, Rittenhouse Rye
- Scotch or Irish Whiskey: Dewar’s White Label, Jameson
To make the best of that list, you’ll then pair each spirit with a soda topper to make what’s called a highball. Use a tall glass, fill it with ice, and aim for about twice as much mixer as spirit. For that, grab a few small cans or bottles of seltzer water, tonic water, and Coca-Cola to open up a wide range of “spirit + soda” combos.
Lastly, pick up a few lemons and limes to keep in your fridge, and make sure you have a cutting board and knife to prepare them with. For Gin and Tonics, Vodka Sodas, and Rum and Cokes, the few cents spent on a fresh garnish will turn it from a “meh” drink into a delicious cocktail in its own right.
Wine and Beer
Not everybody is going to be keen on drinking distilled spirits, particularly with a meal. This means that having both beer and wine options to complement your spirit selection will open up more flexibility in what you and your guests can drink with food.
For the basically stocked home bar, you don’t need to go overboard on either beer or wine. A single local lager or seasonal beer is middle-of-the-road enough to please most anyone. For wine, a medium-bodied red wine like merlot will be perfect for the fall and winter, while a light-bodied and aromatic white wine like sauvignon blanc will work all through the spring and summer months.
At this point, you’ll only need three types of glasses: A tall, cylindrical one of about 14 oz for highballs, pint glasses for beer, and wine glasses for wine. Don’t worry too much about getting “the right” glass of any style, so much as the one that you enjoy the look of the most.
Since you won’t be shaking or stirring any cocktails, the best bar tool you can learn to use is a waiter’s corkscrew.
Models like this one are affordable and durable, and great for opening wine bottles and pull-top bottled beer.
Level 2: The Aspiring Mixologist
If you’ve been bitten by the craft cocktail bug, chances are you’ll be ready to get your hands on making Old Fashioneds, Daiquiris, and Negronis for yourself and guests. Starting from the home bar basics listed above, you’ll want to add a few more obscure bottles and acquire some pro-quality mixing tools.
Add Liqueurs and Vermouth to Your Spirits Selection
While the six basic categories of spirits listed above will always provide a great base for mixing drinks, you’ll need a few niche ingredients to make a full selection of the most popular classic cocktails. Add these bottles to your collection:
- Vermouth, one sweet and one dry. Dolin is a great brand for both.
- Triple Sec, but not the cheap kind. Cointreau or Combier will make a much finer Margarita.
- Campari, a bitter Italian liqueur known as an amaro, will let you make Negronis and Americanos.
- Bitters, both Angostura and Regan’s Orange. You’ll need these for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.
Get Even More Fresh Fruit, and Make Your Own Simple Syrup
A large portion of classic cocktails will require fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on these and buy bottled stuff; it will always taste old and gross. Instead, buy plenty of lemons and limes, and maybe a few oranges for fresh-squeezed Screwdrivers.
Additionally, you’ll need to learn to make the cornerstone of many classic cocktails: Simple syrup.
At its most basic, this is just equal parts of sugar and water, stirred until combined. Veteran bartenders know, however, that you’ll achieve better cocktail results by using raw sugar, and making a syrup of two parts sugar to one part water, heated over a low flame to dissolve it.
Once prepared, simple syrup will keep in the fridge for 2 to 4 weeks.
Expand Your Wine and Beer Selections
Even with a much wider selection of cocktails at your disposal, it’s wise to include a greater variety of beers and wines because of their easy pairings with meals.
For beer, stock a six pack each of a dark beer like a porter or stout, and a light beer like a lager or blonde ale. As before, it’s usually best to stick with local microbreweries for both styles.
Three types of wine will suffice: A medium-bodied red, such as an Oregon pinot noir; an interesting but approachable white, like a chenin blanc; and a medium-dry sparkling, such as prosecco or cava.
Invest In High Quality Bar Tools
To make the full complement of classic cocktails, you’ll need three pieces of additional equipment:
- Cocktail shaker tins
- A long-handled bar spoon
- A Hawthorne strainer
A durable set of stainless steel shaker tins should be your first equipment investment, as you can use them together for shaking, or the large side on its own for stirred cocktails. Since a single set of tins will last you for a lifetime, we recommend reading up on the different styles of shakers available for your home bar.
Though they are a significant investment, Cocktail Kingdom’s bar spoons are the industry standard for a reason: Their smooth action and even weighting make it so easy to effortlessly stir cocktails to the perfect temperature.
Last but not least, a Hawthorne strainer is designed to fit snugly over the opening of a large mixing tin, allowing you to efficiently pour your freshly shaken cocktails without making a mess or littering your drink with ice chips.
Expand Your Glassware Selection
To the basic highball glasses, wine glasses, and pint glasses listed above, you’ll also want to add these cocktail basics:
- Coupe glasses
- Rocks glasses
- Champagne flutes
With these glasses as well as the added tools and bottles listed above, you’ll be well on your way to being able to make the majority of classic cocktails.
Level 3: The Masterful Entertainer
For those home bartenders aspiring to be the best host they can possibly be, a modest addition of higher-shelf liquors and a wider selection of wines and beers will round out your offerings. If you’ve been following along with the previous two sections, these final items will be the icing on the cake that lets you effortlessly indulge every guest’s unique tastes.
Choose A Few Top Shelf Spirits
On top of the suggested spirits for mixing cocktails, adding a small selection of spirits intended for sipping and savoring will ensure that your home bar is stocked for every occasion. And while individual tastes for high-end spirits are strongly a matter of opinion, we’re especially fond of the following bottles for each category:
- Vodka: Chopin
- Gin: Oxley, Beefeater 24
- Rum: El Dorado 12 year, Cana Brava
- Tequila and Mezcal: Arte Nom Anejo tequila, Alipus Mezcal
- American Whiskey: Woodford Reserve bourbon, Templeton Rye
- Scotch Whiskey: Macallan 12 year, Ardbeg 10 year
- Cognac: Remy Martin VSOP, Courvoisier XO
Explore Aperitifs and Digestifs
Designed respectively to either stimulate the appetite before a meal or help digest said meal afterwards, aperitifs and digestifs make for excellent pre- and post-dinner drinks. They’re some of the most unique of all spirit, liqueur, and vermouth offerings, and can be quite an acquired taste — but once you’ve enjoyed them at the proper time, you’ll be hooked.
Some of our favorite aperitifs include Cocchi Americano, a slightly bitter, white vermouth; fino or amontillado sherry, a fortified wine with a saline bite; and Aperol, a lightly bitter Italian liqueur that is mixed with soda water and prosecco as a spritz.
Digestifs are usually sweeter and/or more bitter, as well as higher in alcohol than aperitifs — all the better to settle the stomach after a heavy meal. Fernet Branca is the classic bitter digestif option, while Green Chartreuse is legendary both for its complex flavor and powerful alcoholic payload. Alternatively, Benedictine is a honey-sweet liqueur that’s like a liquid dessert.
Expand Your Wine Selection
To consider your home bar truly well-stocked at this point, you’ll want to have at least two red and two white wines, as well as a sparkling for cocktails and celebratory toasts.
For red wines, consider keeping a bottle or two on hand of both a full-bodied wine like a cabernet sauvignon as well as a lighter, higher acid wine such as a cotes du rhone.
White wines should be equally varied, with a full-bodied Chardonnay alongside a bright and zesty vinho verde or pinot grigio.
Sparkling wine may be the most difficult category to pin down, but a semi-dry cava or prosecco works just as well for mixing cocktails as it does alongside a meal.
We sincerely hope that this step-by-step guide has given you more confidence in your ability to create the right home bar setup for your budget and tastes — and possibly even opened your eyes to the amazing joys that a home bar can bring!
If you’re intrigued by the idea of mixing cocktails but don’t know where to start, take a look at Punch Magazine’s online guide to cocktail recipes, divided by style. They’re a leading name in the industry, and a fantastic resource for all things cocktail related.