We are often asked about what spirits folks should stock in their home bar when they’re just getting started making their own cocktails. Our usual answer is to begin by purchasing what you’ve enjoyed in the past, what fits your budget, and the components of your favorite cocktails that you will make frequently. Flavors that you enjoy are deeply personal and are cultivated over time, so start from what you’re drawn to.
But! Most folks still want recommendations for specific items, and we don’t blame them! If you’re looking for a well-rounded bottle collection that will serve you across a variety of cocktail genres, we can help with that.
(Remember -- these are still recommendations. Buying what you enjoy reigns supreme over a list of suggested bottles!)
A nice mixing bourbon is essential to many popular cocktails. Don’t purchase a high-end or expensive bottle for cocktails -- those nuanced flavors are best left for sipping by themselves.
Bourbon cocktail examples:
Manhattan, Mint Julep, Old Fashioned
Buffalo Trace Old Forester
Old Granddad Bonded
As we discussed before, gins vary widely in flavor profiles. Many classic cocktails call for London dry, so that’s a great place to start. Once you’re ready to experiment more, start branching out into the other styles and new, funky bottles being produced by craft distilleries.
Gin cocktail examples:
Gimlet, Gin & Tonic, Martini
Rum is another spirit category that is wide-ranging with many different styles. (You’ll be seeing a #WhatTheHeckWithHenry discussion about rum soon!) Start with an aged or white rum for cocktails.
Rum cocktail examples:
Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, Mojito
Appleton Estate Signature Blend
Mount Gay Eclipse
Plantation Original Dark
Tequilas are categorized by the amount of time that they’ve been aged. Usually, the longer they’ve been in a barrel, the more expensive they are, and these are typically reserved for sipping on their own. For cocktails, a blanco (unaged) or reposado (lightly aged) tequila is a good bet. Make sure whatever bottle you get says “100% blue agave” on the label — or else you’ll end up repeating some bad experiences from college!
Tequila cocktail examples:
Margarita, Paloma, Tequila Sunrise
Corazon de Agave Blanco Correlejo Reposado Espolòn Blanco
Tres Agaves Blanco
Vodka is still the most popular spirit in America. Essentially, it is a “blank slate” that allows the other flavors in your cocktail to take center stage. There are many good quality, affordable vodkas on the market, and most local craft distillers will have one in their lineup.
Vodka cocktail examples:
Bloody Mary, Martini, Moscow Mule
Many cocktails also contain nonalcoholic ingredients that are easily stored in your fridge or pantry. Consider having some of these on hand to grab when the urge for a cocktail strikes!
Soda water Sugar
Other fun things!
Once you dive further down the rabbit hole of spirits and cocktail fun, you’ll want to keep adding new flavors to your home bar.
Some other items to consider:
Additional styles of whiskies, such as rye, Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Japanese, and local craft varieties
Bitters - Angostura, Peychaud’s, orange, and other flavors
Campari and other amari
Champagne - consider smaller, two-serving bottles for cocktails
Liqueurs, such as St. Germaine, curaçao, Chartreuse, Chambord...there are many delightful flavors of liqueurs that will please your palate!
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get excited and/or overwhelmed by building your home bar! Here are a few last tips:
Start small and add bottles as your budget and taste allows.
Try some spirits before you commit to purchasing a whole bottle. Attend tastings at your local spirit store or craft distillery. Or, many of the large brands sell small or airplane-sized bottles for a couple dollars that contain enough for you to sip and make a trial cocktail.
Arrange a spirit swap with friends where you exchange a couple ounces of different bottles to share and discuss what you like!
Tell me, tell me, tell me! What are your favorite, go-to bottles on your home bar? Why do you love them? Let’s talk booze!