So, when you walk into a bar, most of the time there is a wall of liquor staring at you. There is also a rack of well liquor that runs along behind the bar. Reach-ins on either side for mixers, bowls bins, and bowls of fruit. There’s usually a countertop box with mini-bins of prepped garnishes. More is better.
For the aspiring home bartender, recreating that aspect of the contemporary cocktail bar can be anxiety inducing and expensive. Sticking to the basics can really help you create a solid minimalist home bar. Your base liquors (the well of your bar) should reflect your personal tastes. You still want a small sample of hard liquor, but you want to favor your own taste. Start with your signature cocktail and build from there. Pick your favorite liquor and keep that stocked. Same goes for the accoutrements.
As an example, let’s say your signature cocktail is an old fashioned. You like your old fashioneds to be balanced – not too boozy and not too fruity – so you use a high-end rye whiskey to give it a little spice. A bonus: using a rye also allows you to make a lot of other dry-leaning whisky cocktails like Manhattans and Sazeracs.
To round out your shelf, I like to have two clears (vodka, gin, tequila, rum, etc.) and two browns (bourbon, scotch, Irish Whisky, or barrel-aged versions). Pick the two that will make your favorite cocktails and offer the most possibilities for your guests. I recommend vodka and bourbon to start, mostly because they make a lot of recipes and are easy to mix.
Keeping fruit, mixers, and other stuff is always hard, but a small bowl of citrus, along with a jar or two of your prefered garnish, will usually keep for a while. Stash a couple cans of plain soda in your cupboard and you’re set. You don’t need an entire produce section to make a few good cocktails.
Bar napkins are a super nice touch, as is the appropriate ice selection for your cocktails. Reusable skewers and straws are also nice. (I’m pretty anti-disposable-plastic serviceware. I mean, have you seen that video of a straw being pulled from a sea turtle’s nose?)
Don’t forget about the essentials. If you want to serve martinis up, you’ll need neat martini glasses. If you want to serve old fashioneds on the rocks, you’ll need big ice cubes and rocks glasses. And really, just be yourself.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.