In my life before kids, my husband and I lived for Friday happy hour, when we would meet our friends at the hottest new lounge for a night of cocktails and conversation. Fast-forward a few years later, and our Fridays are typically spent at someone’s home: at dinner parties or just parental commiserating sessions—a.k.a. “adult playdates.”
These new events, of course, are still made better with a little spirituous drink—but I found that all my friends ever had in stock was a random spirit and a can of soda. Coming from a former life of “high society tippling,” this just wouldn’t do!
So, I decided it was time to educate my friends on the merits of drinking better at home, and ended up founding Julibox— a subscription that helps people discover new cocktails and learn how to make utterly fantastic drinks at home.
And whether you have kids or not, I think anyone can benefit from having a well-stocked home bar. I’ve teamed up with Julibox’s master curator, Paul Sevigny, to give you a few tips on getting started. By learning a few techniques and surrounding yourself with the right tools and spirits, you’ll find happy hour at home can be just as fun and rewarding as any watering hole in town.
The Ground Rules
Rule #1: Buy a Good Cocktail Book
Behind any good bar is a good book on how to mix cocktails. I would highly advise buying a how-to guide to help you get a solid understanding of spirits, mixers, and general cocktail foundations, like The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks by Dale Degroff. Dale is one of the most respected barmen in the business, and his book is a perfect guide on how to mix both classic and new age cocktails.
Rule #2: Buy What You Like to Drink
I always tell people to stock their bar with the spirits they love. If you like drinking rum or gin, for example, have several different types on hand. Ultimately, it’s your bar—and there’s no need to have vodka in there if you’re never going to drink it. As long as you’re using the right techniques and ingredients, you will be able to make great cocktails for you and your guests.
(Of course, if you entertain a lot, or you’d like to have a more versatile bar, you’ll want to have a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs, which we’ll get to in a minute.)
Rule #3: You Don’t Have to Go Top Shelf
As far as brands, select within the spectrum of well to premium brands based on the cocktails you’d like to make. For example, if you’re into vodka martinis, definitely buy premium vodka, since it's the star of the show. On the other hand, you can opt for a mid-priced rum if you know you’ll be mixing it in a Mai Tai.
And keep in mind price doesn’t always mean quality! There are some really fantastic mid-priced spirits that are just as tasty as some of the high-priced ones—I love Tito’s Vodka, Chairman’s Reserve Gold Rum, El Dorado 3-Year White Rum, Boodles Gin, Rittenhouse Whiskey, and Milagro Silver Tequila.
Now, let’s talk what, exactly, you need. If your plan is to have a fully stocked bar, here’s a list of the basic spirits, liqueurs, and mixers to buy:
In addition to the right spirits, you’ll need the right tools to whip up great cocktails. The most important one to have is a Boston Shaker, which consists of a metal tin accompanied with a mixing glass. I prefer it to those fancier shakers with the flat top and strainer, because you can get a better seal when shaking and the glass can be used for other techniques, like muddling or stirring.
Other important tools to have include:
Having these items behind your bar will allow you to make a variety of cocktails, including the classics and the recipes we'll share below. And once you’re able to mix a few, you’ll have an excellent base to discover more and more recipes.
Whiskey + Orange Bitters + Simple Syrup
Gin + Cognac + Cava + Sugar
Gin (or Jenever) + Rasberry Syrup or Grenadine + Lemon Juice + Egg Whites
Rum + Tamarind Syrup + Lemon Juice + Sugar + Aromatic Bitters + Sparkling Water
Creating a home bar for yourself is a great way to entertain your guests and create a more intimate and memorable experience. It's also a great way to learn the craft of bartending and learn how to drink better at home. Now, invite some friends over, and start tippling.