my home bar

8 Essential Bottles Every Home Bar Must Have

When it comes to stocking up your home bar for the first time it’s really easy to get lost in the countless brands and types of bottles in the market.
but fear not – that’s why I created this guide.

Here I will lay down all types of basic liqueurs and some more, so you can start building up your bar in no time and start shaking those delicious drinks to impress your guests.

Just from the combinations below, you can create countless drinks both classics and signature cocktails you can find around the web and in books.
so without further ado let’s jump right in and create the ultimate home bar.

1. Vodka

Vodka is the most neutral in flavor between all base spirits
mixologists have at their disposal.
a lot of people don’t really like the taste of vodka, but in the hands of a good bartender, a lot of magic can be made.

vodka is used as a base spirit for homemade bitters and infusions(high-proof vodka 100 proof and above).
due to its neutral flavor, you can essentially add any flavor that’s come to mind, and create your own liqueurs. 

furthermore, if you do like vodka you have thousands of wonderful cocktails that can be crafted from it.

what it tastes like: 
vodka as a neutral flavor but the smoothness and quality is what’s most important make sure you choose a multiple distilled vodka with a well-known name.

pairs with: 
actually, anything that comes to mind from fresh herbs and fruits to dried tea infusions. use your imagination to create something great!

cocktails you can make: Moscow mule, vodka martini.

stocked home bar

2. Tequila

Tequila is produced in Mexico from the Agave plant.
it’s a well-known spirit thanks to the Margarita, one of the world’s most famous cocktails.

a lot of people confuse between tequila and mezcal so it’s important to know that although they are both made from Agave they aren’t exactly the same thing.
mezcal has a much more smokey flavor due to the distilleries smoking process of the agave with peat (similar to what scotch distilleries are doing in Islay).

what it tastes like: 
Blanco tequila has an earthy flavor and its the purest of all tequila types.
there are other types like gold that contrary to what people think wasn’t aged in barrels, they get the golden amber color from caramel or other extracts.

Reposado, on the other hand, was lightly aged in used bourbon barrels and they taste more mellow and have notes of wood.

the last type is Anejo the difference from reposado is the aging time that needs to be more than a year.

pairs with: 
Fresh limes, jalapenos, and salty ingredients.

cocktails you can make: El sol rojo, Tropical tea.

3. Rum

Rum is made from sugarcane and was first produced in the Caribbean and South America.
it’s the base spirit of a huge cocktail category known as Tiki.

the majority of rums today are made of sugar molasses with the exception of Cachaca (Brazilian rum) being made of the sugar cane pure juices.

As a huge fan of tiki cocktails rum is one of my favorites spirits, I possess in my home bar a good selection of different rums from aged Jamaican to dark Carribien.

what it tastes like: 
In general, rum has a bit of a sweet taste.
the additional tastes differ according to the type.
the most common one is white rum, this rum is crystal clear due to the fact that the aging process takes place in steel tanks rather than oak barrels.
he is the most “flat” in terms of taste so you can mix it with almost anything that comes to mind.

the second type is spiced rum like the name suggests it’s a rum that has been spiced with dried spices or fresh ingredients.
this type contains an additional layer of flavor that can give a nice kick if you learn how to use it.

the third one is dark rum, they are dark in color, made from molasses and aged in oak barrels they have a very rich and mellow taste.

the fourth is gold rum, this is a rum that was slightly aged in oak barrels or contains caramel.
the good ones are very smooth and have a more subtle taste.

the last one is aged rum, he has the same color has the gold rum but this one has been aged for long periods of time they do not contain any additives.
the result of that aging is a final product that has some wood notes and a very mellow taste – I really recommend you to get a nice bottle of aged rum for your home bar (you’ll thank me later).  

pairs with: fresh fruits especially pineapple and coconut and spices like star anise and cloves.

cocktails you can make: Mojito, the planters swizzle, Cabana-mama.

plantation rum by: Malte Wingen
One of my favorites rums – Plantation. you have to try the pineapple version.

4. Gin

Contrary to what most people think, gin is distilled from grain as a neutral spirit and only then infused with different botanicals mainly juniper.
those botanicals are what give the gin his famous taste. 

gin was first produced in the 17th century for medical purposes but quickly became England’s favorite spirit after the restrictions on French brandy.

what it tastes like:
imagine pine trees, strong botanicals, and herbs.

there is a variety of gins with the most common one being “London Dry”. dry simply stands for ‘no sugar’ similar to dry wine.

the second kind is “Navy strength” those gins have a higher ABV starting from 58%.

the third one is “Plymouth” like the name suggests he have to be made in Plymouth, England to be classified as such.
they tend to contain more roots in the infusions that result in a more earthy taste.

the last kind and the most unknown is “Old Tom” he is sweeter than the others.
in recent years craft gin distilleries are popping like mushrooms after the rain.
I advise you to keep an eye for special bottles, you’ll be surprised about the quality and flavor of some of them.

pairs with: everything from your garden 🙂
especially herbs and green vegetables like lime, cucumber, and rosemary. 

cocktails you can make: Gin & Tonic, Killer queen, and Fall-coupe.

5. Whiskey

Whiskey is my favorite, I possess quite a good collection of this amazing spirit.
the level of craftsmanship and patience that needed to make whiskey fascinates me.
but for the sake of keeping this short, I will save it for another post.

The whiskey industry is the most regulatory spirit industry in the world.
this spirit is mainly produced in 5 countries: the US, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and Canada.
each country with its own laws and regulations to classify the spirit as whisky, whiskey, bourbon or scotch.

however, they all have one thing in common – the spirit has to be aged in barrels (some in new Oak barrels, others with used barrels and sometimes not Oak at all).
whiskey can be distilled from a variety of grains such as barley, rye, wheat, corn, and even rice.

In addition to that, whiskey can be classified into sub-categories depending on the country he was made in.
we have single-malt (100% malted barley single distillery), blended (different single-malts blended together), grain, bourbon, Tennessee and many more.

what it tastes like: a huge variety of flavors, depending on the country, classification and other factors. but usually has oaky flavor and spiciness.

pairs with: dark chocolate, cinnamon, maple syrup, apples, and honey.

cocktails you can make: Old fashioned, Saucy Jack.

campari cocktail

6. Campari

This is the only specific liqueur in this list and that’s because Campari is the ultimate aperitif.
he has a very bitter taste and a strong red color what makes him one of the sexiest cocktail ingredients out there.
Campari was invented in 1860 in Novara, Italy.

This aperitif contains a mix of herbs, roots and wood barks that give him his distinctive flavor.
because of its strong bitter taste Campari is an acquired taste, but trust me it’s a one you want to acquire.

what it tastes like: very bitter with a sweet citrusy finish.

pairs with: Oranges, prosecco, and other sweet fruit juices (try pineapple).

cocktails you can make: Fall-coupe, Negroni.

7. Angostura Bitters

Angostura is classified as bitter but unlike Campari isn’t an aperitif.
it’s classified as a concentrated bitter and comes in small bottles.
Angostura is made from wood barks like gentian and herbs.
it was invented has a medicinal tonic to treat digestive problems by a German doctor around 1830. 

bitters like Angostura are the salt and pepper of mixologists, they are used to spice up the drink, just 2-3 dashes will do the trick.

what it tastes like: very bitter with notes of clove and other spices.

pairs with: whiskey and gin, but also go really well in herbal cocktails.

cocktails you can make: Old fashioned. 

8. Vermouth

Vermouth if basically a fortified and aromatized wine.
and has two variations sweet vermouth(reddish color) and dry vermouth (clear or yellowish).

Vermouth has a special place in cocktail history, it is an essential ingredient in Martini and Manhattan.
an important piece of advice, due to the fact that vermouth is essentially wine it does oxidize.
so don’t just use the one that it’s been laying around in your liquor cabinet for 20 years, on the other hand, the low shelf-life will make you drink more martinis 🙂

what it tastes like: the dry version is floral and fruity and the red version is sweet and has a toffee flavor.
there’s so much you can do with a bottle of vermouth – no home bar is really complete without one.

pairs with: spirit-forward cocktails, whiskey, and bitters.

cocktails you can make: Martini, Manhattan.

How to use this guide

With these combinations of base spirits and liqueurs, you can craft hundreds of different cocktails at your home bar.

Now, you don’t need to get your hands on every sub-type of spirit in this list.
if you just starting out just buy the white/Blanco variation of the base spirits they are the most versatile because of their flat taste.
this way you can start to familiarize yourself with the different flavors.
once you get familiar with the flavors you can advance to the more complex ones like aged rum or Anejo tequila.

Of course, you can start with what you are already familiar with or have a personal preference like if you really dig Tiki cocktails – invest in a wide variety of rums.
if you despise bitter flavors – skip the Campari and bitters.

You can make your own home bar based on your unique taste.
booze can be really expensive in some countries especially top-shelf brands.

start small and expand as you go, try different things at your own pace, that’s how you will develop a palate and learn what works with what.

you can start by getting a decent rum, angostura, lime, and some fresh fruits and you just got enough ingredients for a month full of cocktails.

The most important thing is to learn the brands and types you like and what works best for you.

Enjoy your journey and discovery of flavors, Cheers!