Home Bartending 101: 7 Essential Spirits You Need to Have

A cheat sheet for building and navigating a proper home bar

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Home bartending is an essential personal life skill sure to enhance your general reputation as a gracious host, because let's face it: There's nothing sexier than casually shaking a pineapple rum daiquiri in one hand while tasting your puttanesca with a wooden spoon in the other. Behold: our cheat sheet for building up and mastering your reserves.

① Vodka

The beauty of vodka is its versatility: The clear spirit (most often distilled from potato or wheat) tends to morph pretty seamlessly into other elements of a cocktail. Take the easy route and make a Moscow Mule or vodka martini, or step things up a bit and infuse it with pineapple à la Julie Reiner to serve simply shaken and garnished with a pineapple wedge. Do as the Russians do: Keep your bottle chilled at all times and opt for crowd-pleasing brands like Absolut Elyx, Grey Goose and Stoli Elit.

② Gin

Gin is a spirit made from juniper berries. It's an integral component in cocktails ranging from the classics (the martini and the Negroni) to the more obscure. Gin tends to be an approachable and home bar-friendly liquor, particularly in the form of gin and tonics. Serve yours in fancy, functional Copa de Balón glasses and stock the bar with brands like Aviation, Brooklyn Gin and Four Pillars.

③ Whiskey (Bourbon, Rye and Scotch)

The whiskey category is made up of many subcategories, but the three essentials are bourbon, rye and Scotch. Old-fashioneds and Manhattans are the way to go for bourbon and rye lovers; when it comes to Scotch, the Blood and Sand (equal parts Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering and orange juice; shaken) is a real crowd-pleaser. If ever you're serving or sipping a whiskey neat, try adding a bar spoon of water to open up the spirit. Excellent bottles to buy include Four Roses bourbon, WhistlePig rye and Glenmorangie Scotch.

④ Rum

A great rum will transport you somewhere warm and beachy, and not just when you've had too much of it—the spirit is distilled from sugarcane by-product (aka molasses) and generally hails from sunny islands. A classic daiquiri—made using white, aged or spiced rums—is a super-simple three-ingredient cocktail perfect for entertaining. Try Don Q, Diplomático and Plantation

⑤ Tequila and Mescal

Tequila and its smoky cousin, mescal, are both agave-based spirits. A classic margarita (made with fresh lime and a salted rim, of course) is definitely the way to go, though if you're feeling adventurous, there are plenty of other good options. Despite the spirit's spring break rap, there are plenty of sophisticated brands to stock in your very grown-up bar, including mescals like Ilegal and Mezcales de Leyenda, and tequilas like Casa Dragones and Herradura.

⑥ Cognac and Other Brandies

Cognac, a brandy from the eponymous region of France, is the star of the sidecar, another incredibly easy three-ingredient shaken cocktail. If you're going the stirred route, opt for a Sazerac, a classic New Orleans drink with either an all-cognac base or one that combines cognac with rye. Cognac also makes a sexy digestif when served neat; brands like Hine, Hennessy and Château de Montifaud all make for wonderful sippers on their own.

⑦ Bitters

No bar is complete without a bottle of bitters, a seemingly small yet critical element of Manhattans, old-fashioneds, Sazeracs and other booze-forward drinks. Stock your bar with a variety of options, from the classic Angostura to Peychaud's, DRAM Apothecary, Fee Brothers and Bittermens.


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Céline Bossart is a freelance spirits and travel writer with an affinity for 50/50 gin martinis and Kate Moss anecdotes. Follow her on Instagram at @celineb0ss.