An old-fashioned cocktail. Photo: Lauren King / Alamy Stock Photo
We all have been sipping Old Fashioneds, Boulevardiers and our own gin cocktails made at home for months now. The art of making cocktails and enjoying straight drinks with clear ice cubes and fancy garnishes have created a new breed of drink lovers at home. Building a home bar could sound very stressful and challenging, but all it needs is planning and a budget. I certainly don’t recommend buying everything at one go. It’s nice to get your hands dirty around the tools and equipment before you splurge. Before you go shopping, here’s what you need to know.
How to build a home bar
Bar set up
Enough space is always a challenge at home. So, if you have a tight apartment, you can repurpose furniture like a side table as your designated bar. Or just set up a stylish tray stocked with your favourite spirits and tools on your kitchen counter or a tray packed with essentials. The important thing is to have your drinking paraphernalia in one easily accessible area.
To customise your bar at home, Speed X is a great one-stop-shop to customise it based on the space available and one can even personalise the drip tray or the bar equipment with your initials.
When it comes to bar tools, you can start with the basics and add more later on. Get the essentials: a shaker for mixing the drinks (most mixologists prefer the two-piece Boston shaker, but a three-piece cobbler shaker will work just fine. The Parisian shaker may look pretty, but it is such a pain to use. A jigger for measuring ingredients (the thing about using jiggers is that to get truly precise and consistent measurements, you need to be able to fill all the way to the top); a Hawthorne strainer for straining ice, pulps and other titbits from cocktails; a muddler for mashing fruits, herbs and spices and also a fine coffee filter—trust me, it’s very helpful to strain concoctions.
You’ll also need a mixing glass for mixing stirred cocktails; a long-handled bar spoon for mixing and layering the drinks (it’s a skill that takes a lot of practice, and you should be very proud of yourself if you can master it. Don’t forget the citrus press for juicing lemons and various citrus; a bottle opener (which you probably already have); a corkscrew for opening wines; and a sharp paring knife to cut garnishes and other fresh ingredients. You’ll need a paring knife for lime wedges and the like, remember a perfect wedge is crucial as a garnish for your cocktail.
Functional garnishes, like twists, contribute immensely towards the finished product of your drink, and thus use a y-peeler to carve yourself a skinny swath of citrus skin, and squeeze it, skin side towards your beverage, to release those fragrant oils. The staple garnishes are citrus, so lemon, lime, and orange. Some recipes require just the peel and others use a slice or a wheel. To up the game, get a dehydrator and make your own garnishes using seasonal fruits and herbs in the most unique way.
You can choose to elevate your flavours by using fresh herbs on your bar counter or kitchen slab with an aerogarden. Herbs like basil, thyme, mint, peppermint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, etc are so easy to grow and use instantly.
For fans of frozen drinks like piña coladas or strawberry daiquiris, a good blender goes a long way. Vitamixes are incredible tools worth the investment. Reusable straws made of steel or bamboo are a must-have. It is pointless to use paper or plastic straws at home. Check out Glass Forest’s glass straws.
Ice, ice baby
Nice but not necessary are the big silicon moulds to make large ice cubes for your Old Fashioned. Build the cocktail in your glass, plunk one in, and give it a few stirs or freeze the avocado seed and use them as frozen seeds to chill your drink (it works, don’t be astonished). The other chicest way to chill your drinks without dilution of ice is to use “Drink Rocks” which are platonically shaped stones designed to be chilled in your freezer before being admired in your evening cocktail. These come in many geometrical shapes like a cone, cuboid or a round ball. Don’t forget to gear up and welcome your guests in a smart leather or denim apron with forceps on the edge to pick your garnishes with style at home.
An ice bucket with a good pair of ice picks is essential. Nicobar and Freedom Tree have a range of ice buckets to choose from.
Raise your glass
Glassware is not all about the aesthetics, it is essential for the overall experience while enjoying a drink. If you prefer to drink your spirits neat or on the rocks, get a set of rock glasses. Also called Old Fashioned glasses, these are perfect for Negroni’s, sours or just enjoying your favourite whisky. Make sure you have a bunch of stem glasses not just for sipping wine but enjoying your G&T in style with lots of garnishes and fresh herbs. Coupe or coupette glasses are used for shaken, and stirred drinks served chilled with no ice. A great range of chic glassware and decanters made locally is by the brand Glass Forest. In case you wish to get vintage glassware, Moon River Design based out of Delhi has a gorgeous collection.
Spirits – A bar is only as good as the liquor it’s stocked with. Get a variety of spirit staples that are easy to mix in cocktails and good to drink on their own: gin, vodka, rum, whisky, bourbon, and tequila. Keep in mind that some aromatized fortified wine like vermouth and liqueurs like cream liqueur need refrigeration once opened as it easily oxidizes or gets stale.
Here’s a handy list:
- Cognac for sidecars, brandy milk punches, daisies, and smashes.
- White rum for daiquiris and mojitos.
- Gin for martinis, gin and tonics, tom collins’s, etc.
- Bourbon for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Whisky Sours.
- Vodka is the workhorse of the liquor cabinet, used in basic drinks such as vodka-tonics, Screwdrivers, and the vodka martini.
- Tequila and mezcals for margaritas, and Palomas. Mezcals should just be enjoyed with ice.
- Cointreau is a bar essential—clean, full of natural orange flavour, and not too sweet.
- Red vermouth for Manhattans and Negronis.
- White vermouth is essential for truly sublime martinis.
You will want to consider stocking club sodas and tonic waters. With a wide variety of flavours and Indian brands available, one is spoilt with choice.
For bitters, Angostura, Peychaud’s, and Regan’s orange are bartender staples and should be at any home bar too. To start, you’ll find that aromatic and orange bitters are used most often and a bottle of each can last years.
Buy cocktail books and learn newer recipes with techniques! There is plenty of great cocktail literature out there but start with these three books for your home bar library. The Joy of Mixology is perfect for history buffs, Cocktail Codex is a treasure for those learning cocktail fundamentals, and for discovering new recipes, Be Your Own Bartender is brilliant!
Order yourself oak barrels and try ageing your favourite cocktail at home for a limited batch to wow your friends. These are easily available and shipped in India from the US now. You can even use clay pots or bottles to preserve cocktails. The clay adds a unique minerality and earthiness to the cocktail.