How To Stock A Home Bar, No Matter The Budget

From bourbon to bitters, here's how to successfully build the home bar of your dreams.

My home bar began as many do: with a few modest bottles. Over time, the collection grew, drink by drink, addition by addition, all based on the latest cocktails I tasted or trends I read about.

No matter what budget you're working with, the first rule of stocking a home bar is investing in quality ingredients for a few key drinks—you and your partner's favorites, perhaps, and whatever you need for one or two classic cocktails.  

From there, home bars can assume all manner of shapes and sizes—and can range in breadth and depth from novice to intermediate to expert. Here's what you'll need for each level.

The Novice Home Bar ($)

The novice's booze cabinet includes affordable base, or well, spirits that can be used to make a variety of cocktails ranging from simple to complex. All the spirits on this list are mainstays in my own home bar—they're affordable, yet they taste great. With a range of quality base spirits, a bottle of vermouth, a bottle of bitters and a bowl of citrus, your home bar will be off to the races.

• Vodka: Reyka

• White Rum: Bacardi Silver

• Tequila: Altos Plata

• Gin: Plymouth

• Bourbon: Four Roses Yellow Label

• Blended Scotch: Isle of Skye

• Vermouth: Dolin Blanc

• Garnishes: Luxardo Cherries

• Bitters: Angostura

• Citrus/Juice: Fresh Lemons, Limes, Oranges

• Syrup: One-to-One Demerara Simple Syrup

• Mixers: Soda Water, Tonic, Clamato

Recommended Cocktails:
Martini, Margarita, Daiquiri, Old-Fashioned, Whiskey Soda, Mint Julep, Bloody Mary, Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins, Gin & Tonic, Vodka & Soda, Tequila & Tonic

The Intermediate Home Bar ($$)

One notch up, the intermediate bar is built around a short list of classic cocktails that are popular right now, like Negronis and Manhattans. If you're looking for an easy way to mix up your cocktail repertoire, swap the ingredients in a classic cocktail recipe to create a new drink. A Rum Re-Fashioned and a Hendrick's Martini are a great place to start—they're both prepared in the traditional way, but they take different base spirits.

Including Novice Bar List

• Aperitif: Campari

• Rye: Bulleit Rye

• Dark Rum: Appleton Estate Signature

• Black Strap Rum: Gosling's Rum

• Aged Tequila: Suerte Reposado

• Cognac: Martell VSOP

• Scotch: The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve

• Gin: Hendrick's Gin

• Vermouth: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

• Champagne: Mumm Napa Brut

• Mixer: Ginger Beer

• Bitters: Peychaud's Bitters

Recommended Cocktails:

Negroni, Sazerac, Manhattan, Boulevardier, Jungle Bird, Piña Colada, Moscow Mule, Dark and Stormy, Sidecar, French 75, Hendrick's Martini, Painkiller

The Expert Home Bar ($$$)

An expert-level home bar should be stocked with a range of spirits and liqueurs used in a wide variety of cocktails, from stirred and boozy to shaken and tropical. Bitter spirits, fruit liqueurs, herbal spirits and syrups, otherwise known as modifiers, help achieve more complicated drinks and look handsome on a bar cart.  Additionally, a well-stocked home bar must have a few top-notch spirits best served neat or on ice, including rum, tequila, bourbon and Scotch. 

Including Novice & Intermediate Bar Lists

• Irish Whiskey: Jameson Black Barrel

• Japanese Whisky: Hibiki Harmony

• Blended Scotch: Monkey Shoulder

• Bourbon: Russell's Reserve Single Barrel

• Blended Rum: Plantation Pineapple Rum

• Mescal: Del Maguey Vida

• Pisco: Pisco Portón

• Aperitif: Aperol

• Amaro: Ancho Reyes Original

• Coffee Liqueur: Kahlúa

• Triple Sec: Cointreau

• Herbal Liqueur: Green Chartreuse

• Elderflower Liqueur: St-Germain

• Maraschino: Luxardo Maraschino

• Bitters: Celery Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters

Recommended Cocktails:

Aviation, Last Word, Mai Tai, Pisco Sour, Aperol Spritz, Irish Coffee, Cadillac Margarita, Ancho Chile Margarita, White Russian, St-Germain Cocktail, White Lady

Emily Arden Wells is the cofounder of Gastronomista, a website dedicated to the Culture of Drink. Follow her at @gastronomista.