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All the Bar Essentials You Need To Build a Well-Stocked Home Bar

Your one-stop shop for liquors, mixers, tools, and more. 
By Melanie Fincher and Allrecipes Editors
June 07, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Maintaining a well-stocked bar can be an expensive endeavor. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely, so you can build your collection gradually without any worry of spoilage. We'll show you how to stock your bar at home, including a variety of spirits, mixers, garnishes, tools, glassware, and even storage options.  

It's important to note that something is a "bar essential" only insofar as you use it. This list of essentials can be added to or subtracted from depending on how you plan to use your home bar. Consider some of your favorite, most-enjoyed cocktails, and write down the ingredients and tools they require, and go from there. 

Essential Spirits

It's easy to get overwhelmed with the variety of liquors on the market, but rest assured, if you have these key ones, you're set up to make most standard cocktails. 

And there's no need to splurge on top-shelf spirits for your collection (although you certainly can if that's your preference). In fact, most bartenders don't use top-shelf liquor when crafting cocktails anyways. 

1. Gin

For gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and of course, the original martini, gin is certainly an essential behind the bar. 

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2. Rum

Light, or white rum, is going to the base of all sorts of tropical drinks like daiquiris, mojitos, pina coladas, mai tais, and more. Dark rum has been aged in oak barrels, unlike white rum which is aged for a shorter amount of time in steel barrels. Dark rum can work in place of light rum, but note that it will bring a stronger, molasses-like flavor to these cocktails. Buy a smaller, secondary bottle of dark rum for use in bold cocktails like the Dark 'n' Stormy

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3. Tequila

Keep a large, inexpensive bottle of blanco, or silver tequila, on hand for use in margaritas and tequila sunrises. Tequila reposado, or gold tequila, is great for shots because of its smooth, sweeter tastes. And premium brands of aged tequila are good for sipping.

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4. Vodka

Buy the 1.75-liter bottle; this is a versatile spirit. Use in vodka martinis, vodka Collins, sea breeze, Cape Cod, vodka & tonic, white Russians, screwdrivers, etc.

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5. Whiskey

Whiskey is an entire classification of liquor; it can refer to Bourbon, Scotch, Tennessee, Rye, Irish, Japanese, and more. Each has its own flavor profile and uses, but we recommend starting with Bourbon and/or Tennessee whiskey, as well as Rye. This will set you up for most cocktails. 

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  1. Bourbon Whiskey: Used in Manhattans and old fashioned cocktails. 

2. Blended Scotch: For drinking on the rocks, or mixing in Rob Roys (Scotch Manhattans). 

  • Best Overall Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky, $32; saucey.com or drizly.com
  • Best Budget Blended Scotch: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whiskey, $23; drizly.com and saucey.com

3. Single Malt Scotch: For sipping neat (without ice). There are many to try, with smoky, peaty, and caramel overtones. Experiment as your budget will allow

4. Other types of whiskey: Enjoyed on the rocks or in whiskey sours and hot toddies

6. Liqueurs

With so many to choose from, this is an area where you can let your personal taste be your guide. You may want to buy liqueurs that you enjoy drinking and for cooking: orange liqueur, coffee liqueur, and Irish cream are delicious in chocolate desserts. And of course, vermouth is essential for martinis (dry), and Manhattans (sweet). 

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Essential Mixers 

Mixers are just as essential as spirits, as most standard cocktails are going to require at least one (more likely two). Having some of the more popular ones on hand will ensure that you always have what you need to make your favorite libations. 

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1. Carbonated Mixers

These include tonic water, club soda, and flavored sodas like ginger beer (for Moscow mules), ginger ale, cola, etc. Not only are these popular mixers for cocktails, but it's also nice to have some on hand for non drinking folks to enjoy. 

  • Best Tonic Water: Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water (Pack of 8), $22; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Tonic Water: Schweppes Tonic Water, 1 L, $1; walmart.com
  • Best Club Soda: Fever-Tree Premium Club Soda (Pack of 8), $28; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Club Soda: Schweppes Club Soda, 1 L bottle, $2; walmart.com
  • Best Ginger Beer: Q-Mixer Ginger Beer, (Pack of 24), $21; walmart.com

2. Bitters

Used in Manhattans and other cocktails, bitters are spirits infused with botanicals meant to balance out cocktails containing sweet and/or sour flavors. 

  • Best Bitters: Angostura Aromatic Bitters (Pack of 2), $24; amazon.com
  • Best Bitters Variety Set: Hella Cocktail Co. Cocktail Bitters Variety Pack, $35; amazon.com

3. Grenadine

This pomegranate-colored (and, traditionally, flavored) syrup is used in Shirley Temples, tequila sunrises, and layered drinks.

  • Best Grenadine: Liber & Co. Real Grenadine, $17; amazon.com
  • Best Budget Grenadine: Barsmith Grenadine $12; amazon.com

4. Juice

Orange juice, cranberry juice, tomato juice, and all forms of citrus juice are common ingredients in mixed drinks. Sweetened lime juice is available in the mixer aisle with grenadine. 

  • Best Sweetened Lime Juice: Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice, $3; walmart.com

5. Sweet and Sour Mix 

Sweet and sour mix is a staple behind any bar. It's usually made with a mixture of lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and water. Use it to make classic cocktails like whiskey sours, amaretto sours, and, of course, margaritas. 

  • Best Sweet and Sour Mix: Collins Sweet and Sour Mix, $13; amazon.com

6. Simple Syrup 

Simple syrup, as the name might suggest, is simple enough to make yourself with only two ingredients: sugar and water. Learn how to make your own here. You can even go as far as to infuse it with berries or herbs. But if you prefer the convenience of premade simple syrup, you can find it in most grocery stores. 

  • Best Store-Bought Simple Syrup: Stirrings Pure Cane Simple Syrup Cocktail Mixer, $9; amazon.com

Essential Garnishes 

Though you may be tempted to skimp on garnishes, don't. Part of the fun of preparing and investing time and money into a great cocktail is the presentation. Plus, depending on the type of garnish they can add flavor to the mix as well. Keep a collection of olives (for martinis), citrus fruits and/or peels, and maraschino or cocktail cherries on hand for all your favorite drinks. You can find these ingredients at any grocery store, but specialty retailers also make them with cocktail drinkers in mind. 

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  • Best Cocktail Olives: Divina Castelvetrano Pitted Olives, $12; amazon.com
  • Best Cocktail Cherries: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, $25; amazon.com

Bar Toolkit

The number of bar tools and gadgets on the market are endless, but with just a handful of tools you can handle 99 percent of home bartending tasks. And we're willing to bet you already have quite a few of these in your kitchen right now. 

1. Bottle Openers and Corkscrews

Chances are you've already got one, but a bottle opener is necessary for opening glass bottles like those of beer and various mixers. And in terms of corkscrews: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but you need a wine opener. Today's run the gamut from your simple corkscrew to do-it-all, electric wine opener. 

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2. Jiggers

A jigger is basically a mini measuring cup that helps you achieve exact measures for your cocktails. A standard jigger is double sided, with one side holding 1.5 ounces on its large side (the equivalent of one shot), and ¾ to 1 ounces on its small side (or what's known as the pony shot).

But you'll also find Japanese-style jiggers, which are longer and skinnier, with one side typically measuring 2 ounces and the other measuring one. You can even find literal mini measuring cups that some argue are much easier to read than traditional, double-sided jiggers. But at the end of the day, you just need one. 

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3. Shakers and Strainers

A stainless steel cocktail shaker is the key to refreshingly chilled, shaken drinks. It can come in two forms: Boston-style and cobbler. The former is basically a metal tin that fits tightly over a pint glass so that it doesn't spill on you while you shake. Most professional bartenders use Boston-style because they're faster to use and easy to clean quickly for reuse. But for at home use, you may prefer to go with a cobbler, which is a one-piece shaker with a built-in strainer, eliminating the need for extra parts.

If you're using a Boston-style shaker, you'll need to use a Hawthorne strainer to prevent ice or any other solid ingredients from dropping into your glass. When you strain from a mixing glass, you'll need to use what's known as a Julep strainer. Some folks might choose to purchase a fine mesh strainer (sieve), to strain out ultra fine ingredients like pulp. 

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  • Best Boston-Style Cocktail Shaker: Cresimo Professional Cocktail Shaker Set, $17; amazon.com
  • Best Cobbler Cocktail Shaker: Etens Cocktail Shaker, $13; amazon.com
  • Best Hawthorne Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer, $16; amazon.com
  • Best Julep Strainer: HIC Kitchen Julep Bar Strainer, $10; amazon.com
  • Best Fine Mesh Strainer/Sieve: OXO SteeL Fine Mesh Cocktail Strainer, $10; amazon.com or bedbathandbeyond.com
  • Best Cocktail Strainer Set: Koviti 3 Piece Stainless Steel Cocktail Strainer Set, $14; amazon.com

4. Mixing Glasses and Spoons

A mixing glass is a designated glass for stirring cocktail ingredients. You can use another glass (like a pint glass) for this purpose, but a mixing glass can be an elegant and functional addition to any home bar. 

Bar spoons are made with long handles specifically for stirring a mixed drink from the bottom of the glass to the top without splashing. You'll find some have smooth handles, which add extra weight, while others have textured, spiraled handles for easy grip. 

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  • Best Mixing Glass: Hiware Professional 24 oz Cocktail Mixing Glass, $17; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Spoon: A Bar Above Heavyweight Bar Spoons, Set of 2, $13; amazon.com

5. Ice Makers, Molds, and Buckets   

Ice plays a crucial role in every cocktail you make. Skip the cloudy, odor-holding freezer ice, and instead invest in a few different ice molds and makers for making craft cocktails. Spirit-forward drinks (like Manhattans or old fashioneds) are best served with large cubes and spheres, because these take longer to melt, preventing the drink from diluting too quickly.

For your tiki drinks, juleps, or most drinks meant to be served in warmer climates, go with crushed or pebbled ice. This will not only keep the drink cool, but the sheer quantity of ice can help dilute heavy syrups used in these drinks.

And finally, standard, one-inch-by-one-inch cubes are what you'll use for everything else. Even for drinks that aren't typically served with ice, standard ice cubes are excellent for shaking. And having a designated ice bucket and scoop is always handy for easy access when making cocktails or chilling wine.  

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  • Best Large Cube Ice Mold: Kitch Large Cube Silicone Ice Tray, $8; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Spherical Ice Mold: Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds, $7; amazon.com
  • Best Ice Mold Set: Ticent Ice Cube Trays (Set of 2), $13; amazon.com
  • Best Pebble Ice Maker: GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker, $549; amazon.com
  • Best Standard Ice Mold: Ozera 2 Pack Silicone Ice Cube Tray, $8; amazon.com 
  • Best Ice Bucket and Scoop: Oggi Double-Wall Insulated Lid & Ice Scoop Ice Bucket, $30; amazon.com or target.com

6. Juicers, Cutting Boards, and Peelers

For fresh ingredients like juice, zest, or slices of fruit, there are a handful of tools you can purchase to help with prep work. Freshly squeezed citrus fruits are always going to be superior to their bottled counterparts, so we'd recommend having a handheld juicer on hand for easy juicing that gets the most juice from your fruit. 

You'll also need to have a couple of small cutting boards on hand for prepping ingredients like herbs for muddling or citrus fruits for garnishes. 

For peeling citrus fruits and other ingredients for garnishes, a simple paring knife or vegetable peeler will do the trick. 

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  • Best Handheld Citrus Juicer: Chef'n (Lemon) FreshForce Citrus Juicer, $13; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Mini Plastic Cutting Board: Cooking Concepts Cutting Board-Double Sided, $5; amazon.com
  • Best Mini Bamboo Cutting Board: Brite Concepts Bamboo Cutting Board, $7; amazon.com 
  • Best Paring Knife: Victorinox 4-Inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife, $10; amazon.com or bedbathandbeyond.com
  • Best Vegetable Peeler: Kuhn Rikon, Original 4-Inch Swiss Peeler, $7; amazon.com or walmart.com

Glassware 

It's tempting to buy a different type of glass to go with each accompanying cocktail (like margarita glasses or martini glasses), but having two to three different sized glasses on hand will work for nearly any cocktail you could ever want to make. Plus, elegant cocktail glasses look stunning in a bar cart or cabinet.

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1. Coupe Glasses 

This multi-tasking cocktail glass will replace your champagne flutes, martini glasses, and margarita glasses. Their curved rim makes them less prone to spills than your typical martini glass. 

2. Collins Glasses

These tall, skinny, straight glasses hold a lot of liquid, making them excellent for drinks with a lot of ice and mixer, like gin and tonics and, of course, Tom Collins.

  • Best Collins Glasses: LEMONSODA Premium Highball Glass Set, $30; amazon.com

3. Old-Fashioned or Rocks Glasses

Named for its signature drink, the old-fashioned, also called a rocks glass, is a short tumbler that's best for serving spirits neat ("on the rocks"), in addition to some mixed drinks. We'd suggest buying a double rocks glass, which is slightly larger than a single, making it more versatile. 

  • Best Rocks Glasses: LUXU Whiskey Glasses, $25; amazon.com
  • Most Stylish Rocks Glasses: Venero Crystal Whiskey Glasses, $30; amazon.com

Bar Carts and Cabinets

Without a built-in home bar, you'll need somewhere to proudly store and display your growing liquor and bar collection. You don't have to drop thousands of dollars on a fancy bar cabinet - you can find stylish, minimalistic bar carts and cabinets for less than $100.

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  • Best Overall Bar Cart: Laurel Foundry Modern Farmhouse Ermont Bar Cart, $114; wayfair.com 
  • Best Bar Cart for Small Spaces: Novogratz Helix Bar Cart, $56; amazon.com, walmart.com, or wayfair.com
  • Best Bar Cart on Amazon: VASAGLE 3-Tier Kitchen Serving Bar Cart, $77; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Cabinet: Walker Edison Margot Margot Mid Century Modern Double Glass Door Bar Cabinet, $175; amazon.com
  • Best Bar Cabinet for Small Spaces: Boahaus Modern Mini Bar, $139; amazon.com or walmart.com
  • Best Corner Bar Cabinet: Home Source Corner Bar Unit, $396; amazon.com

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