How to Build a Basic Home Bar

Whether you are designing the perfect wet bar or simply putting together a serviceable bar cart, figuring out how to stock the home bar for the first time may seem overwhelming. There are a lot of choices available, which can be daunting to the neophyte. The following guide can help you put everything together successfully.

The Backbone

The backbone of the home bar consists of five essential liquors -- whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. These provide the main ingredients for most classic drink recipes. There is no need to go top shelf on these items unless the expense is well worth it to you. In this case, spend where you will appreciate it most, perhaps by opting for a fine whiskey but a perfectly serviceable mid-range vodka.

For a fully stocked bar, consider the following as your backbone choices:

  • Two whiskeys – both a smooth bourbon and a spicy rye

  • One vodka – the smoother the better

  • One gin – a dry gin is most versatile

  • One rum – A white rum is most versatile, although a dark rum can also work

  • Tequila – higher quality is a must for serving neat

Once the main selection is in place, you can add to it as desired, perhaps by adding in a Scotch whiskey or a flavored vodka.

Mixers and Garnishes

Mixers and garnishes are basically flavor agents, there to complement your backbone selection. The basic mixers for any bar include:

  • Simple syrup

  • Club soda

  • Tonic water

  • Vermouth

  • Cola

  • Ginger ale

  • Fruit juices – cranberry, apple, and pineapple

  • Triple sec

  • Cointreau

  • Hot sauce

  • Bitters

As for garnishes, these can include salt, pepper, sugar, cocktail fruits (onions, olives, oranges, limes, cherries, etc.), and even jalapenos. The types of drinks you make most often will determine your garnishes.


The bar is finished by the tools it includes. At a bare minimum you will need:

  • A shaker
  • Drink strainer
  • Measuring jigger
  • cocktail stirrer
  • Muddler
  • Citrus juicer

Fortunately, most tools can be purchased as complete kits so there is no need to shop around to find what you need. You can upgrade to higher quality tools as you become more accustomed to mixing your own drinks at home.

The above will give you a good working bar. To complete it and make it more personal, you can then add in some of your favorite beverages, such as coffee liqueur or flavored schnapps. Visit a liquor store to get started.