Be Your Own Bartender
Everyone dreams of having their own bar. An endless supply of great drinks and the best times -- who wouldn’t wistfully imagine the possibilities. Back in the real world, a home bar is still a thing, and if you do it right, you might satisfy that longing. A man’s bar is a beautiful thing, and if you take the right steps, you can have one. Before we get started, we need to address something. Everyone has a different home. Some of you have masterful built-in bars that you’re just itching to stock. For others, your liquor cabinet is the top of the fridge. No matter your accoutrements, you can still get started on your bar. I’ll leave it to you to adjust my advice according to the space you have available.
You’re going to find a recurring theme in this topic: you can start small and slowly build your bar. This is no more true than with bar tools and equipment. The bare essentials are a bottle opener, a wine opener, a few wine glasses, a few pint glasses and a few whisky glasses. I’m assuming you have a few shot glasses, but when you have a chance, maybe upgrade from novelty souvenirs and get a few crystal replacements. Once you have the basics, you can upgrade on a few important items. A decanter and stopper for wine, a proper cocktail mixer (should include a shaker and strainer) and a blender will push the quality of your home bar up a notch. Bar spoons, mudders, speed pourers and jiggers are nice, but you can make perfect drinks without them.
Ok. Now to the fun part. A bar is nothing without a stock of liquors and liqueurs. Your first instinct is to just stockpile a bit of everything so you can make any drink. This is a mistake. For starters, there’s little point to caching a bunch of liquor you won’t drink. More importantly, you should be centering your bar around your signature drink. So, get a bottle of your favorite liquor, and make sure it didn’t come from the bottom shelf. From there, you can slowly add things as you want to expand your tastes. As for the essentials, there are few good drinks that won’t be made from gin, whisky, vodka, tequila or rum. The most common liqueurs are going to include Kahlua, orange liqueur, sweet and sour and bitters. A bottle of each of the basics has you primed for almost every good drink out there and you can expand when a whim strikes. Also, keep in mind that your bar doesn’t need to be fully stocked unless you’re actually expecting people.
Mixers are the real difference between a bar and a liquor cabinet. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a straight whisky, but entertaining guests means supplying variety. If you’ve ever been to a college party, then you already know that Coke and orange juice mix with almost everything. We’re going to class things up a bit from there. Real fruit tempers any mixture and adds depth to the flavor of the drink. Craft sodas, ginger ale, cranberry juice and tomato juice will really spruce up your mixers. Most importantly, the real mixing expert understands the value of pineapples. Amateurs will tell you to get pineapple juice. While this works, a single chunk of pineapple is far superior. It takes all of the harshness out of liquor and is great for inexperienced drinkers. Finally, make sure you have some quality non-alcoholic drinks. There will always be good excuses not to drink, and you want to accommodate everyone.
Beer and Wine
Liquor is great for a party, but the real question comes down to beer and wine. Remember the admonition about starting small? It’s still important. Usually, people favor either beer or wine. It doesn’t matter which is your preference; steer into it. Keep a few of your favorite craft beers or wines stocked on the regular. If you aren’t a wine person, a good Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc is sufficient. If beer isn’t your thing, a six-pack of craft pale ale and an amber bock will placate most enthusiasts. And, for game day, never feel shame in busting open your 30 of Natty Ice (or whatever watered-down beer you learned to love in your youth).
Stick to the basics and your bar will be the envy of many. Let us leave you with a final bit of wisdom. Don’t build your bar according to expectations. Fill it with things you and your expected guests actually like, no matter what aficionados or supposed experts like us have to say about it. After all, it’s your bar.