Essential ingredients for your home cocktail bar [with Free Checklist!]

Updated: November 2023

We’ve had a look at essential equipment for your home bar, so it’s time to take a look at the essential ingredients that will go into your cocktails.

You can grab your free cocktail ingredients pdf checklist at the end of this post.

Essential ingredients for your bar

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…



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 Absolut, Titos and Ketel One.


Preferably a dry style like Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire. We want to keep it simple (for now), so I’d avoid many 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 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, anything with a novelty sombrero = avoid.

Bourbon / American whiskey

It’s easier to start with a Bourbon over a rye. Brand-wise,  Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve are 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.


Look for a VS Cognac. You may be lucky and find a deal for one of the big brands (Hennessy, Remy Martin etc)


Triple Sec/Orange liqueur

The orange flavour is very versatile and is used to flavour many famous 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.

With the 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, apéritifs and bitters

Dry Vermouth

Martini dry, Noilly Prat dry are both good products.

Sweet (red) Vermouth

Again, Martini, Cinzano, and Noilly Prat are good brands to start with.


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. A ‘dash’ or so is added for flavour and balance in many drinks.

Orange Bitters

Similar to Angostura bitters (they make their own version), these are aromatic bitters with a strong orange flavour. Angostura, Reagans no. 6 or Fee Brothers are a good start.

Non Alcoholic Syrups

Sugar syrup

You can buy simple syrup or make syrup at home.


Traditionally flavoured from Pomegranates, these 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.

The rest

These items tend to be perishable. Instead of buying everything straight away, pick them them up as needed.


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

Needed for garnishes, and even more importantly, for fresh juice. Hint: a decent half lemon gets around 25ml juice, and half a lime squeezed can get around 15ml.


For garnishes, twists.


Orange, apple, cranberry pineapple, grapefruit etc 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).

Roses Lime Cordial

Salt and pepper

Sugar and sugar cubes

And that’s it.

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.

/ David

Free cocktail ingredients checklist


  1. It’s Hennessy, not Hennessey 😉
    Great site BTW, thanks

  2. […] you’re only just starting to compile your cocktail collection, this post on essential cocktail ingredients may help you build up your library of spirits and equipment. And while it’s easy to get a general […]

  3. Thank you for this post! Though I’m sure I’m not your average audience (I don’t drink a ton of cocktails), I want to buy an at home cocktail bar for my bfs birthday and this is the best information I could find anywhere on the web!

  4. Such a useful site! Thanks a lot!

  5. thank you for your valuable guidelines

  6. What are some example cocktails one could make with just these ingredients?

  7. Your site really inspired me to build a strong home bar. Thanks a lot?

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