Raising The Bar

10 ways to upgrade your home bar set-up


Let's not look down our nose at the basics. A solid five-bottle bar -- gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and bourbon -- with a few mixers and tools (a cocktail shaker, a jigger or two) can anchor one hell of a cocktail party, and is perfectly serviceable for at-home happy hour. But once you've mastered Mixology 101, it's only reasonable to long for the next level: Classic cocktails with bitters and liqueurs, great garnishes, and exotic ingredients.

When you're looking to upgrade your home bar, consider these 10 additional tools and spirits, each of which will help your cocktails reach new heights in quality and creativity.
1.) Juice squeezer

By now you know the mantra: All fresh juice, all the time. It just makes drinks taste better. One $10, hand-held juice squeezer will last you forever and do more for your cocktails than bottled lemon or lime juice could ever do (and will get more juice out of your fruit than you will squeezing by hand alone).

2.) Fruit peeler

A great way to add simple garnishes. Use the fruit peeler to trim a lemon twist -- it doesn't have to be in a fancy curl to make the drink look polished. When adding a twist to a drink, make sure to squeeze the piece over the drink with the peel facing the surface of the cocktail; this ensures that you get a hit of the aromatic essential oil hiding in the skin.

3.) Better ice

Stop using the trays that came with the freezer, and start thinking about what the drink itself might call for when it comes to ice. Check out our ice primer for ideas on how to keep bad ice from ruining a good drink.

4.) Pourers

While you're upgrading your spirit selection, you can also upgrade the bottles themselves. Spouts help keep the stream nice and even, and keep you from uncapping and re-capping bottles during a party. They also just help the bar look tidier and more professional.

5.) Cognac

Good Cognac can be served on its own, after a meal, and it allows you to venture into the French 75.

6.) Fruit-based liqueurs

Start with Cointreau, which is crucial for margaritas, and then upgrade further with a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino.

7.) Herb and botanical-based liqueurs

Three classic bottles will get your bar to the next level: Campari -- the legendary red Italian bitter you'll need for Negronis; Chartreuse, a hypnotically green, sweet-and-spicy cordial favored by Gatsby (so who are we to disagree?); and St-Germain, a deeply lovely, elderflower-based liqueur. The St-Germain, in particular, will give your bar a facelift, as the bottle is just gorgeous. Plus, you need it for this:

St-Germain Cocktail

2 parts Brut Champagne
1.5 parts St-Germain
2 parts Club soda

Add everything to a Collins glass and give it a stir. Garnish with a lemon twist.

8.) Sweet liqueurs

Start with the cremes -- creme de cacao, creme de menthe, and creme e cassis -- and you'll be forever equipped for Grasshoppers and Stingers.

9.) Absinthe

You've always wanted to have a bottle of Absinthe on hand, so now's the time to join the brotherhood of the Green Muse. Once you procure a bottle, host a Death in the Afternoon sort of brunch: Just add 1 1/2 oz of Absinthe to 4 oz of Brut Champagne.

10.) Bitters

First things first: Angostura. Then venture out into orange bitters -- which go well with anybody's favorite martini recipe -- and a bottle of Peychaud's.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: barbb
    120809 1

    A solid five-bottle bar -- gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and bourbon

    Sep 01, 2010 at 4:00 PM

  • Snooth User: angldst
    323291 13

    I'm with barbb on not forgetting the whisky. Seriously. Our bar cabinet is fairly nicely fitted out, the Scotch, bourbons, absinthes (four kinds, yes, really), and madeira/marsala/sherry/port are on one side, the liqueurs, rums, gins, tequila (token bottle, we're not fans) on the other. Vodka lives in the freezer. Bitters? I have Angostura, Peychauds, and two or three different kinds of orange bitters, as they're my fave. We keep a LOT of bourbons & Scotches in the house, because, well, we're whiskey/whisky ppl in this household. ;) I come from a family history of bartending (father,(military) uncle(mixologies, me (at parties). It's good to be prepared. :)


    Sep 01, 2010 at 6:51 PM

  • I agree with barbb and angldst - except for the fact that my whiskey of choice (i.e., my first choice in whiskeys) is rye. Good rye straight (no ice, let the aroma develop) and for mixed drinks, especially manhattan, saranac, and many others. We use Pernod in lieu of absinthe, and we'd not be without peychaud's bitters.

    Sep 01, 2010 at 9:57 PM

  • Ditto...have to have the Scotch on hand for those real parties!

    Sep 02, 2010 at 1:24 PM

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