How To Stock A Home Bar On A Budget

Experts share their tips for impressing your guests without breaking the bank

With your college days behind you—when having a home bar meant one bottle of cheap vodka and a meal-plan mixer to get you through the night—it's time to embark on the art of making compelling cocktails at home. Home bartending is a must when it comes to entertaining, but it can break the bank if you don't know what you're doing.

To get the best advice, we tap reliable sources like GreenRiver's managing partner, Jack McGarry, in Chicago and Slowly Shirley's bartender, Garret Richard, in New York to share a little wisdom. Here are their tips.

Start with your favorite drink.

Richard and McGarry both agree that the most cost-effective way to build a home bar is to purchase the essentials for one go-to cocktail. "The single most important piece of advice I have is to start small and grow," McGarry says. "When consumers—and bartenders—get the cocktail bug, they go nuts buying liquor, cocktail equipment, literature and general utensils. I'd say if you love a particular drink, or spirit, start from there."

If you don't have a particular cocktail in mind and want a broad range of budget-friendly liquors and liqueurs, Richard says a good place to start is your favorite bar. "Often, bar managers have to find products that provide consistency in quality and fairness in price, so let your favorite bars do the work for you," he says.

Buy ingredients that can be used in a variety of cocktails.

Skip sugary sour mixes and stock up on good-quality, multipurpose ingredients, such as bitters, cocktail spices and in-season citrus, like grapefruit and lemons. Richard recommends home bartenders "start building their bar on one cocktail at a time. If you are a fan of the old-fashioned, the bitters you purchased in the winter can then be later used in the summer to spice a rum punch."

Purchase only the essential gadgets and tools.

The tools you need can vary based on your preferred cocktail, but it's important to acquire high-quality bar tools that last a long time. To get you started, McGarry suggests "a solid shaker and tin, good-quality mixing glass, Hawthorne strainer, fine strainer, julep strainer, mixing spoon and jiggers."

During In Good Spirits month, we're going behind the bar to find out what separates aperitifs from digestifs, which It cocktails the world's top bartenders crave and how to turn your home into the hottest speakeasy in town.