Updated: 2 July 2022
We’ve had a look at essential equipment for your home bar, time to take a look at the essential ingredients that will go into your cocktails.
Working as a cocktail bartender gives you the luxury of entire back bars full of wonderful, exotic ingredients to taste and play around with. Home bars tend to be a bit less well-stocked, as most of us have little things like money/space/time/partners to get in the way, however if you try and stock a few main ingredients you should find that you can make a pretty good selection of good, classic cocktails.
Below I’m going to give you a list of the main ingredients for a well stocked home bar, and also the main ingredients that we’ll be using in the training lessons. I’m going to start off as basic as possible to help keep your costs down, but we’ll go into some more extended lists in later posts as we progress and get a bit more creative. If you’ve already got some old stuff lying around at home feel free to make use of that to start.
So, without further ado,
- Vodka – any reasonable brand will do, but it’s worth paying a couple of dollars to avoid the bottom shelf and its associated industrial cleaner taste. I’m a fan of of the Absolut from Sweden, it has a clean taste and is good value.
- Gin – preferably a dry style such as a ‘London Dry’ Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire. We want to keep it simple (for now) so I’d avoid some of the newer brands with ‘exotic’ botanicals as those flavours will influence the cocktails too much.
- Rum – white or light – A good light rum, something like Havana 3 Años (- if you’re from the USA and can’t buy anything Cuban, Mount Gay, El Dorado, and Santa Teresa all make good products)
- Tequila – white (blanco) – look for ‘100% Agave’ on the bottle; we want to avoid the nasty ‘mixtos’ brands and their associated taste of gasoline. El Jimador is good, standard Jose Cuervo or anything with a novelty sombrero, not so much.
- Bourbon / American whiskey – Easiest to start with a Bourbon over a rye. Brand wise, Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve are both good and easy to find.
- Blended Scotch whisky – you may choose to sip on Single Malt (and who could blame you!) but a blend will be more cost effective for mixed drinks. Try Johnny Walker Black or Chivas Regal.
- Brandy – try for a VS Cognac, look for a deal on any of the big brands (Hennessy, Remy Martin etc)
- Triple Sec/Orange liqueur. The orange flavour is very versatile and is used to flavour many popular cocktails. Cointreau is a nice premium brand but we’ll be using this liqueur quite a lot so don’t be scared to go for something cheaper, like Bol’s or Giffard Triple Sec.
- Maraschino liqueur – an Italian cherry liqueur, you might recognise the Luxardo bottle.
- Coffee liqueur – Kahlua or Tia Maria are popular brands that should be easy enough to find.
- Crème de Cassis – Blackcurrent liqueur, a cocktail brand like Bols or Marie Blizard will do.
- Crème de Cacao – a light, cacao (chocolate) bean liqueur, less sweet than a straight chocolate liqueur such as Godiva or Mozart. Especially useful for late night ‘desert’ style cocktails. Bol’s is fine to start.
Sweet stuff out of the way, it’s time for vermouths and bitters (hint: once opened keep your vermouths in the fridge like you would with wine – they’ll last longer and taste much better).
Vermouths and bitters
- Dry Vermouth – Martini dry, Noilly Prat dry are both good products.
- Sweet (red) Vermouth – again, Martini, Cinzano, Noilly are good brands to start with.
- Campari – an Italian brand of bitter aparatif. It may seem incredibly bitter by itself but will come in handy with some classic drinks like the Americano and the Negroni.
- Angostura Bitters – Aromatic bitters in the well known bottle, we will use a ‘dash’ or so to add flavour and balance to many drinks.
- Orange Bitters – similar to Angostura bitters (in fact they make their own version), aromatic bitters but with a strong orange flavour. Angostura, Reagans no. 6 or Fee Brothers are a good start.
Non Alcoholic Syrups
- Sugar syrup or gomme – you can either buy gomme or make syrup at home.
- Grenadine – traditionally flavoured from Pomegrantes, now days its basically ‘Mixed berry syrup + a whole bunch of E numbers’. The Monin brand is cheap and easy to find, or you can make a decent Grenadine syrup at home.
These items tend to be perishable so rather than buying everything straight away, buy them as needed.
- Ice – good cubed ice (and quite a lot of it too as we need fresh ice in each glass and each shaker). Make yourself or buy bags.
- Limes and lemons – we need for garnishes and even more importantly for juice. Hint: a decent half lemon gets around 25ml juice, a good half lime squeezed can get around 15ml.
- Oranges – for garnishes, twists.
- Juice – Orange, apple, cranberry pineapple, grapefruit, depending on what you plan on making. You don’t have to buy Tropicana but get the best you can afford, avoid the cheap blends (eg: “Tropical” with 85% Apple and 15% Mango).
- Salt and pepper
- Sugar and sugar cubes
- Roses Lime Cordial
Hopefully you’ll already have some some of these in your cabinet (otherwise you’re about to become your liquor stores new favourite customer). The list may seem long but it’ll let you make a lot of good drinks and give you room for a bit of creativity.
If you have any questions about specific brands or anything else, feel free to leave a comment below.