Home Bar Essentials with Queen Bee Mixology
You know, bartending at home has never been easier, whether you’re entertaining guests or treating yourself. All you need to know are the basics!
Fortunately, Queen Bee Mixology’s got you covered. This article breaks down the essentials you’ll need to create a well-stocked home bar, along with pointers on how to use them all.
Let’s start with liquors. A well-rounded bar should include at least one bottle of each of the six base liquors. You’ll be using these to make just about any cocktail you can dream up.
- Vodka – It’s used for more cocktails than any other distilled spirit and has a clean, transparent flavor. A budget-friendly bottle is an ideal choice for tall drinks (like the Screwdriver, for example), but if you’re in the mood for a vodka martini, this is one liquor you might want to spend a little extra on.
- Gin – Start with a good bottle. We love Tanqueray Gin, which can be found on backbars around the world. For drinks that have more citrus-driven flavor profiles, such as a gin and tonic or Negroni, we suggest Tanqueray 10. It acts as a nice base for cocktails with just a few ingredients, pairs well with lighter mixers and fruits, and naturally works well with herbs.
- Whiskey – Rye whiskey, bourbon, Canadian whiskey, Irish: when it comes to stocking whiskey, you’ve got a lot of options, and each style has its own characteristics and uses. This is a category to adapt to your personal style. Two bottles are a really good start. And when you’re navigating the world of whiskeys, remember: bourbon is always whiskey, but whiskey is not always bourbon.
- Tequila – Kelly, the Queen Bee herself, loves a good margarita. For that, you’ll need a good tequila. But tequila is used in tons of other cocktails as well! The most versatile is blanco (or silver) tequila, but if you’re feeling like a little upgrade, add in an aged reposado for mixing or an añejo for sipping.
- Rum – Even if you’re not crazy about piña coladas, you need rum on hand to pull off a mojito. We recommend stocking one light and one dark rum. This way, you can serve up a delicious hot buttered rum or Jungle Bird. Yum!
- Brandy – A basic bottle of brandy rounds off a well-stocked bar. If you want to prepare the classics, you’ll find brandy very useful.
Liqueurs are vital for a home bar. As you explore cocktail recipes, you’ll probably start to notice that some liqueurs make an appearance more often than others.
These are among the most often used:
- Orange liqueur – Used for a variety of classic cocktails, such as the margarita. Options include curaçao, triple sec, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier, and many bars have two or more bottles in stock.
- Dry Vermouth – If the martini is your drink of choice, then dry vermouth is a must-have for your bar!
- Sweet Vermouth – Also known as red or Italian vermouth, sweet vermouth is vital for Manhattans, Negronis, and other classic cocktails.
- Chambord – A classic black raspberry liqueur with a cognac base – fruity, rich, and sweet.
- Crème de Cacao – A liqueur made from cocoa beans that can be either white (clear) or dark. The dark variety typically has a more intense flavor.
- Ginger Liqueur – Ginger liqueurs add a touch of sweetness and spice to cocktails and can be used in many different recipes.
- St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur – This fragrant, sweetly floral liqueur is a must-have for the modern bar and makes fascinating cocktails.
- Coffee Liqueur – This liqueur combines two favorites: coffee and alcohol. White Russians and countless other cocktails rely on a bottle (like Kahlúa, for example).
- Aperol – An aperitif (or an aperitivo), Aperol serves as a palate cleanser to be consumed before a meal or can be used in a spritz! Its flavors are reminiscent of rhubarb, bitter herbs, and burnt orange.
- Campari – Like Aperol, Campari is an aperitif. Famous for its bittersweet taste, it’s absolutely essential for preparing a Negroni or Americano.
- Bitters – Like salt for food, it’s honestly amazing what a dash or two of bitters can do to the flavor of almost any cocktail. They help to accentuate the flavor of a cocktail without changing its recipe. There are several types on the market.
- Agave Syrup – Great for adding a touch of sweetness to any classic scratch margarita.
- Simple Syrup – Sugar and water…that’s it! This is the best way to sweeten cocktails, and it’s effortless to make. But you can always buy a fantastic bottle from Sonoma Syrup Co. if you don’t want to make your own.
Essential Non Alcoholic Mixers
Some cocktails call for fresh ingredients, so let’s cover some things you’ll want to pick up (or prepare) the same day:
- Lemon and lime juice – When possible, Kelly uses fresh-squeezed juice, but as a good backup, Santa Cruz makes excellent organic version of both!
- Orange juice – A good bottle of OJ will instantly diversify your cocktail game, trust us.
- Cranberry juice – Whether it’s for the cosmopolitan or a vodka cranberry, cranberry juice is required for many drinks.
- Pineapple juice – Tropical drinks use a lot of pineapple juice. Like cranberry and orange juice, it’s a commonly-used ingredient in fruit-forward cocktails.
- Half & Half/Cream – Buy as needed because of the limited shelf life (or raid the kitchen). Both add a richness to drinks that milk cannot.
- Coffee – The best tasting coffee cocktails don’t use standard drip coffee, so try brewing methods that create a stronger brew (like a French press).
- Sodas – Consider stocking a variety, such as club soda, tonic water, ginger ale, cola, etc. When buying soda for the bar, try to buy small bottles. You’ll waste less!
We eat with our eyes first, and drink with them, too, which is why cocktail garnishes are just as important as the liquid inside the glass. A sprig of fresh mint, lime twist, or even a piece of fruit are so much more than pretty add-ons. Garnishes are the finishing touch that adds visual appeal and a splash of flavor to cocktails.
There are four categories of garnish:
Twisting zest over a fruity drink imparts its oils onto the surface for a pleasant aroma.
- Lemons, limes, and oranges – These are the most common garnishes, whether as wedges, twists, or wheels. It’s a good idea to keep a few of each around the bar. You’ll be able to use them as both a garnish and a source of freshly-squeezed juice!
- Maraschino cherries – Make your own or try to find maraschinos that are more natural than those bright red, syrupy ones that are so common.
- Cinnamon – A single cinnamon stick adds a touch of spice to a hot cocktail and adds to its visual appeal.
- Granulated sugar – Use it to add a sweet rim to your glass for drinks – like the Sidecar, for instance.
- Olives – Required for a traditional dry martini garnish.
- Coarse Salt – Used to add a salty rim to your glass (think margaritas).
- Mint – If you’re mixing mint juleps or mojitos, fresh mint is essential and it’s an easy herb to grow in a kitchen garden.
- Basil – A beautiful complement to strawberry cocktail or a gin and basil smash.
- Rosemary – Try it in a rosemary gin fizz or as a perfect garnish in a Greyhound.
At a minimum, have a jar of olives and maraschino cherries on hand (Kelly recommends Luxardo).
Every bar needs two things: liquor, and the proper bar accessories to make it into an enjoyable drink. So let’s cover the tools that are going to make your at-home bartending game a total breeze:
- Boston Shaker Tins – This pair of tin shakers slot together, creating a perfect seal for vigorous mixing.
- Cobbler/Three-Piece Shaker – This three-piece shaker, with a built-in strainer, is usually slightly smaller in volume and size compared to the Boston shaker. Elevated Craft makes an excellent, durable shaker that perfect for any home bar (or even camping trips).
- Mixing Glass/Tin – Essential for stirred drinks, a mixing glass or tin allows a bartender to combine a cocktail gently without diluting it. Glass versions can be beautiful and are less expensive than their stainless-steel counterparts. However, the latter are less breakable and chill drinks faster.
- Strainer – A circular metal utensil with tightly-wound coils designed to hold back any ice in your shaker.
- Fine Strainer – This is a small, steel mesh basket, such as you might use to steep loose-leaf tea. It’s especially useful when crafting a cocktail using egg whites and keeps the consistency of your drink smooth and silky.
- Jiggers – Your cocktail measuring cups! Jiggers have different capacities on each end, so you can buy half as many as you’d otherwise need. They help you cut down on over-pouring and keeps your cocktails consistent.
- Bar Spoon – A long, slender spoon for stirring that reaches to the bottom of the tallest mixing glass.
- Muddler – The bartender’s answer to a pestle and mortar, a muddler lightly crushes fruits, peels and herbs together. The goal is to extra the oil from herbs, juice from fruit, and to help their flavors blend nicely with any alcohol used.
- Ice Tongs – Use them to add or remove ice cubes from glasses and shakers. They are also useful for adjusting garnishes!
- Citrus Juicer – Being able to use fresh ingredient will allow you to make a better tasting cocktail. Here at Queen Bee Mixology, we highly recommend getting a juicer for fresh lime and lemon juice, which go into many cocktail recipes.
Glasses have a function. They play a major role in the way a drink tastes. Each type is designed to bring out a cocktail’s aroma, temperature, color, and flavor.
You can make 90% of drinks in a rocks, collins, or all-purpose cocktail glass like the coupe.
- Rocks glasses – Also known as a lowball glass, the rocks glass is used when you want to muddle ingredients directly in the serving glass and for drinks served over ice balls or cubes.
- Collins glasses – Closely related to the highball glass. Drinks fit for either a Collins or highball glass are served with lots of ice.
- Coupes or martini glasses – Used for drinks served without ice. After straining the cocktail into the glass, the liquid should settle just below the rim. The stem prevents your hand from warming the drink up too quickly.
And Don’t Forget: Ice!
- Yes, ice – the most important ingredient for cocktails, used either while mixing or in the glass itself. But it’s okay (and even recommended!) to be picky with ice. Just as clean, fresh ice makes for a great cocktail, low-quality ice can alter the flavor profile of a drink. Kelly loves having an ice maker on hand to keep things easy.
So there you have it! A straightforward guide to taking your at-home bartending game to the next level. It’s really as simple as stocking the basics and knowing how to use them. To kickoff your at-home bartending adventures, we recommend taking a look at our recipe for a fiery, delicious Limelight and giving it a shot.
Kelly + Queen Bee Mixology