It’s easy to go overboard with your first home bar. The guy at the store is probably going to tell you about a hundred and fifty things you “need” to get started making cocktails at home, one for every dollar in your budget. Don’t buy it. The point is to pick just the essentials. What you need are a few basic tools — not all of them.
Fancy bartending kits usually cost more than $150. Doesn’t leave much room for booze, nor does it address the fact that you’ll hate at least one tool in the bucket. So start small. You don’t even need a shaker. Yet. (For more options, see our $300 list.)
This is what you need to start mixing up the classics.
Most certainly a matter of personal preference, but rye is strongly recommended as opposed to bourbon or anything European. It’s what the classics originally called for. Browse our whiskey cocktail recipes.
If you’re a gin drinker, buy what you like. Otherwise, start with a London Dry. Browse our gin cocktail recipes.
You’ll need both sweet and dry, but not a ton of either. A smaller bottle of dry should do just fine, as there isn’t a lot of it in a Martini. But a full size bottle of sweet is recommended for anyone who enjoys Manhattans. It’s a primary ingredient.
Bitters are crucial. Recently, about a billion bitters flooded the market, and this can seem a little overwhelming. They’re fun to play with, but getting started, you only need two: Angostura and Peychaud’s. And yes, you need them. Browse cocktail recipes with bitters.
Superfine and Demerara cubes. Never hurts to have both.
Grand Marnier or equivalent. Again, a smaller bottle should be fine.
Basic Bartending Tools
It is important to mix your cocktails consistently, and so the container in which you do so is crucial. And don’t worry, at first you’ll be cheating, making it a hell of a lot harder to screw up. Speaking of which . . .
Don’t be fooled; jiggers are a crutch. They are absolutely vital to the beginning stages, but lose their purpose altogether once you know what specific measurements look like in a mixing glass. No one wins the Tour de France with training wheels; they abuse performance enhancing drugs. Free pouring wins trophies. Use jiggers, lose jiggers, start juicing.
At the outset, lemons and their cousins will serve only as garnishes. But eventually you’ll be shaking drinks, too, so it’s not a bad idea to start thinking about what makes a lemon a good lemon. You don’t want a lemon.
A Julep strainer is a simple straining device for stirred cocktails, and all you’ll need at first. They cost about a dollar.
Not absolutely necessary as the back end of an ice cream scoop works about as well, but you’ll need something to muddle up mint in a Mojito or fruit in a Whiskey Smash. Just make sure it doesn’t have a textured head.