Having a home bar is an absolute must this day and age. The idea of having a killer home bar is appealing for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, we are still in the throes of a global pandemic. Going out into public to enjoy what many consider a luxury might be a bridge too far for most during these trying times.
Even if you do feel comfortable going out, the money you will save having a home bar is HUGE. Racking up a $50+ bar tab is all too easy. There have been many nights, when I am feeling extra generous, where I begrudgingly sign a $200+ bar tab at the end of the night. Those larger tabs alone could pay for your entire home bar.
Next, the home bar is your domain and you have complete creative control. You get to stock the bar with booze that you prefer. You chose the music. The only patrons that visit your bar are those whom you invite into your home. Maybe is 3 AM, the bars are closed, and you fancy a cocktail. Boom. You can turn to your home bar. It’s an absolute must for any alcohol lover. Plus, let’s be honest, every slick character in ever cool movie has a home bar. Looking at you any Humphry Bogart character ever.
BUT… building your own bar can be intimidating. Isn’t it expensive? Where do you start? What type alcohol do you need? What brands are the best bang for your buck? What type of cocktails can I even make with all the alcohol once I get it? I will answer all of those questions below and get you on the path to having a premier home bar.
Build Your Own Home Bar: Vodka
First things first. Vodka. Whether you love it or hate it, vodka is an essential bottle to have behind the bar. Vodka is the most widely consumed spirit in the country, so if you are serious about hosting at your personal bar, you need to have a bottle on hand.
Vodka is a neutral grain spirit. Vodka’s job is to taste neutral. I.e. a blank canvas for your mixers. It pairs well with anything because it doesn’t impart any particularly unique flavor. Also, the difference between a $20 bottle and a $50 bottle is minimal. With that in mind, you don’t want to break the bank on vodka.
- Best bang for your buck brand: Ketel 1 Vodka – $22 – Netherlands
- Best craft vodka you need to try – Barr Hill Vodka – $39 – Vermont
Must try cocktail: Vodka Buck (Moscow Mule)
- 1.5 oz Ketel 1 Vodka
- .5 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
- 4 oz Q or Fever Tree Ginger Beer
Procedure: Add ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka, in that order, into a glass. Add ice and gently stir to incorporate. Garnish with a lime wheel or wedge.
Build Your Own Home Bar: Bourbon
Bourbon. The second most consumed spirit in the US. Bourbon is woven into our country’s history, more so than any other spirit. In the last 30 years, bourbon has seen a meteoric rise in popularity, making it an absolute must have for any home bar.
There are two types of bourbon you need for your home bar. One for mixing and one for sipping. When mixing bourbon into a cocktail, you are going to lose a lot of those beautiful nuances that you find in high end bourbons, so it’s best to find a bottle that is good quality for a lower end price. There is a wealth of options in this category.
On the flip side there is also a wealth of high-end bourbon for enjoying neat or with ice. We are living in the gilded age of bourbon and finding a high-quality sipping bourbon is not difficult, even in the slightest.
- Best bang for your buck bourbon – Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon – $19 – Kentucky
- Best craft bourbon you need to try – Henry McKenna 10-year Single Barrel Bottled in Bond – $69 – Kentucky
Must try bourbon cocktail: Gold Rush
- 2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
- .75 oz Honey Syrup*
- .75 oz Fresh squeezed lemon juice
Procedure: Combine all the ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice. Shake for 6 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass and add ice. *Honey Syrup: Add one cup of water to a sauce pan on medium heat. Add 2 cups of honey. Stir until fully incorporated. Let cool and refrigerate.
Build Your Own Home Bar: Gin
Like bourbon, gin has enjoyed a massive resurgence in the US. It wasn’t too long ago that most people would cringe at the idea of drinking gin, citing Christmas trees and alpine imagery to express their disdain for juniper forward spirit. Oh, how times have change.
With over thousands of new gins on the market, you just have to find a gin that works for you! There are fruity, citrusy, floral, herbal, and even honey gins. There are aged gins and sweeter, less botanical Old Tom gins. For my money, a quality London dry gin will be the perfect cocktail gin, but don’t shy away from some of the other eclectic gins out there. It’s a whole new world and you don’t want to deny yourself that exploration!
- Best bang for your buck gin – Hayman’s London Dry Gin – $16 – England
- Best craft gin you need to try – Nikka Coffey Gin – $50 – Japan
Must try gin cocktail: Bee’s Knees
- 2 oz Hayman’s London Dry Gin
- .75 oz Honey syrup
- .75 oz Fresh squeezed Lemon juice
Procedure: Combine all the ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a stemmed glass and enjoy this simple but beautiful cocktail.
Build Your Own Home Bar: Agave
Everyone has a bad tequila story. As a bartender, I’ve heard thousands of these them as a response to whether or not they would like a delicious tequila or mezcal cocktail. Thankfully, it seems that many people are moving beyond their Jose Cuervo induced nightmare and explore the beautiful world of agave spirits.
People in the US have known about tequila since WW2, but it wasn’t until last decade that mezcal started to make its entrance into the US market. Tequila is made from Blue Agave, a domesticated and cultivated agave. Mezcal on the other hand, can be made from the hundreds of varieties of agave plants that exist in Mexico. It is easily one of the most interesting and diverse spirits on the market.
One of the uniform flavors you will get among most mezcal is the smokiness. Your best bet is to start tasting different mezcals and find out which agave families you like. I would start with the most accessible category: Espadin. Most mezcal, like scotch or a fine bourbon or rum, is meant to be sipped, but there are some affordable mezcals on the market that go wonderfully in cocktails.
- Best bang for your buck tequila: Espolon Blanco Tequila – $18 – Mexico
- Best band for your buck mezcal: Banhez Joven Espadin – $27 – Mexico
- Best craft tequila you need to try: artNOM Seleccion 1549 Blanco – $54 – Mexico
- Best craft mezcal you need to try: Mezcal Vago Elote – $55 – Mexico
Must try agave cocktail: Oaxaca Old Fashioned
- 1.5 oz. Tequila
- .5 oz. mezcal
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Procedure: Combine all the ingredients into a rocks glass and add one large ice cube. Stir until chilled. Carefully hold a piece of orange peel about the size of a silver dollar, skin side down, over the drink. Squeeze from the top and bottom. This will add a beautiful orange zest the cocktail. Place orange peel in cocktail and enjoy this modern classic!
Build Your Own Home Bar: Rum
Rum gets a bad rap. When people think of rum, they’re usually reminiscing of younger years that involved some overly sweet spiced rum or coconut rum that more calories per ounce than a spoon full of Nutella (actually true. Yikes!). Just like many of the other spirits mentioned already, rum is having its day in the sun!
There are more high-quality rums on the market now more than ever. If you don’t want to break the bank on a high-quality white rum perfect for mixing cocktails, then you have wonderful options! If you are a bourbon or scotch drinker that enjoys sipping your spirit while diving into all of its beautiful complexities, then you have access to some rums that I consider to be some of the most well-crafted spirits in the world. Like mezcal, there are hundreds of different types of rums that come from all around the world. If you like alcohol, then there is a rum for you. You just have to find!
- Best bang for your buck white rum: Don Q Cristal Silver Rum – $17 – Puerto Rico
- Best bang for your buck aged rum: The Real McCoy 5-year Aged Rum – $22 – Barbados
- Best craft white rum you need to try: Foursquare Probitas Silver Rum – $36 – Barbados
- Best craft aged rum you need to try: Foursquare Sagacity 12-year – $59 – Barbados
Must try rum cocktail: Daiquiri (a proper one)
- 2oz White rum
- .75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
- .75 oz simple syrup
Procedure: Combine all the ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a stemmed glass and enjoy this Cuban classic done right!
Alright Nomsters, we hope you enjoyed our latest drink post written by cocktail extroadinaire Deke Dunne. For more from him, make sure to also check out The Best To-Go Cocktails in the DMV area, How-to Make a Classic Daiquiri from Scratch, and Easy At-Home Cocktail Recipes: The Airmail. We update Nomtastic Foods daily so make sure you check back soon for more. Happy imbibing, friends!