Home Bar Essentials

Home Bar Essentials – How To Stock A Bar

It can often be overwhelming to have guests over when you don’t have much alcohol on hand. Especially, if you know, you’re going to be having a drink. Perhaps most of your friends have built up a home bar over the years, but for you, it consists of a cupboard in the kitchen with one or two bottles of liquor that may not even be that popular which is why they’ve sat there for the last five years.

Perhaps you’re a last minute man, picking up a case of craft beer or a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Maybe you find that when you do have alcohol in the house, you run through it too quickly, or it could be that while your friends have been spending $80 on a bottle of Scotch, you’ve been putting that money into developing your wardrobe. We all have different pastimes and passions. If building a bar isn’t one of them, it can sit on the back burner for years.

Every home bar starts with just one bottle of alcohol

Every home bar starts with just one bottle of alcohol

The fact is that developing a home bar doesn’t mean having to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars. There are tricks to making you look like a veteran host with just a handful of spirits on hand, and if you follow my advice, you’ll develop a reasonably sized bar without much effort or investment.

The Essentials

The basics of a good gentleman’s home bar can be found in four basic spirits:

  1. Whisk(e)y
  2. Vodka
  3. Gin
  4. Brandy

The trick to making those four spirits standout is all in the presentation.

Rather than buying 20 or 30 inexpensive bottles of booze, begin by spending a higher amount on those mentioned above. Pick quality branded or craft spirits which will prevent you from guzzling them since you now see more value in them, and you can trust they’ll taste good in basic cocktails or sipped on their own. For specific recommendations, please refer to the specific guides above.

A well stocked home bar

A well-stocked home bar

If you take a look at our various spirit guides, you’ll learn a ton about the drinks and even see some of our top picks. However, here are a few tips:

  • A good bottle of bourbon is just as wonderful and yet far less expensive than a bottle of Scotch. Consider a bottle of Blanton’s to start off your bar.
  • Stick with a VSOP or an XO brandy. Armagnac is often less expensive than Cognac but just as incredible. That or opt for something more unique like a Spanish brandy and use it as a discussion point. Anytime you can have a discussion about a spirit; you’ve put value into your bar.

Design of the Bar

If you only have a handful or a small selection of liquor in your bar, it’s going to look rather silly in a large liquor cabinet. Instead, pick up a bar cart and organize them neatly on it with a set of bar tools and some crystal glassware. All of a sudden, it doesn’t look like a small bar but looks like a fine selection of spirits.

If a bar cart is out of your price range, you can always put a simple shelf or two up and use some track lighting to showcase the spirits. For a rustic and DIY look, consider refinishing old wooden pallets or check websites like Pinterest for inspiration.

A bar cart is an elegant way to make a small selection look like it belongs

A bar cart is an elegant way to make a small selection look like it belongs

Equipment and Mix

If you only have a handful of bottles on hand, it’s important to be able to do as much as possible with them. Keep a stock of mixes such as club soda, tonic water, cola, ginger ale and fresh juice is an excellent way to offer base cocktails. Keeping a few lemons, limes and oranges in the fridge add a garnish.

In addition to alcohol, one thing worth getting at the start of the bar is a bottle of Angostura bitters since they’re called for so much in cocktails. As you build the bar, you can begin to add things like grenadine, various flavored bitters and other bar mix to the collection.

As far as bar tools go, take a look at this guide.

An expertly stocked home bar is easier than you think

An expertly stocked home bar is easier than you think

For cocktail recipes, it pays to invest in a cocktail / mixology book. We prefer an actual book because it works at all times and is easier to read than a phone screen when you are mixing a cocktail.

Mixing everyone’s favorite cocktail at a party not only requires you to have all the ingredients but you also need the time to mix all of them and if you have one shaker, you have to clean it in between etc. To prevent that, say: “tonight we’re doing old fashioned and the classic gin & tonic. What can I make for you?” By offering set options, you’re not only ensuring ease of serving, but you can also prepare some drinks ahead of time, or, at least, the garnishes. And it is much easier and quicker to prepare 4 drinks of the same kind than it is to do 4 different ones

For cocktail or dinner parties, consider choosing cocktails based on a theme.

A perfect sized home bar for the average gentleman

A perfect sized home bar for the average gentleman

Increasing the Bar

When I started to build my home bar, I made a point to budget a bottle of alcohol at every grocery shop. Once you manage to acquire base spirits (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, etc.), you can start adding the other bottles to the mix which will quickly increase the size of your collection. Depending on how much you drink, your collection might quickly die off. That’s why it’s important to keep budgeting a bottle of alcohol the same as you would buy steaks.

Reclaimed wood from pallets makes a rustic home bar shelf for wine and spirits

Reclaimed wood from pallets makes a rustic home bar shelf for wine and spirits

Wine is a Staple in any Home Bar

If you enjoy wine, now is the time to buy it. Many wine stores offer boxes called cottage cases throughout the year. Usually, it’s a selection of 12 bottles, and you can pick red, white or a mix. Some of the bottles will be terrible which makes it perfect for bringing to your Aunt Bertha’s house for the holidays, and usually, there will be one or two bottles worth the purchase. Overall, the concept is simply to develop stock and build a wine bar.

Now that you have a dozen bottles, you need to keep adding to it. Keep track of wine you’ve tried and enjoyed or wine you want to try. If your spirits collection is already fairly sturdy, you can start picking up a bottle of wine with the groceries. At first, try to pick a wide variety of wine, even if it’s not your taste. This way, when you do have guests, you can offer them a selection to choose from.

One tip is to keep a couple of bottles of port and sherry on hand as well as a bottle of prosecco and a bottle of champagne for a sudden celebration.

A well stocked beer fridge is the hit of summer parties

A well stocked beer fridge is the hit of summer parties

Bring on the Beer

The next thing you’ll want to start collecting is beer. If you enjoy beer, focus on buying bottles that aren’t your favorite so that you won’t run the risk of plowing through them by yourself on a hot summer day. Try to stock a variety if you can, and it’s always a good idea to invest in a bar fridge for it. Rather than buying new, check sites like eBay or Craigslist for great deals. Try to build a collection of popular varieties with some local craft beers and specialty beers thrown in the mix. Since a 24 pack of domestic beer is so inexpensive, it’s an excellent way to really build the bar, and most men will opt for a cold beer when given the choice.

Building your home mini bar

Building your home mini bar


Everyone has their own definition of what a fully stocked bar consists of. Most bartenders will argue it just means being able to make a wide variety of cocktails and have a selection of each type of liquor. However, some argue you need to have a range of each product. One whiskey isn’t enough. You need all the different styles from every region. That can get expensive.

My home bar currently consists of about 300 bottles of alcohol. However, I remember the day not so long ago when I had a bottle of Dalmore 12 Scotch and a bottle of Courvoisier VSOP. I have a clear recollection of wondering how the hell I was going to build a bar. It seemed the alcohol vanished faster than it appeared. However, with time, patience, consistency and self-control, you will quickly be able to build up a bar that soon will only need an occasional bottle of alcohol to keep it stocked. However, if I’m honest, I can tell you that my bar which is larger than most home bars will never be fully stocked in my opinion. I am always working to build it. My wife on the other hand thinks I’m nuts.

Home Bar Essentials - How To Stock A Bar
Article Name
Home Bar Essentials - How To Stock A Bar
Tips and tricks for building a home bar when you have a small budget.
Gentleman's Gazette
Publisher Logo
6 replies
  1. Anthar says:

    Interesting read here. I disagree with it on so many levels, that it only makes it more interesting. I do not claim to have a better way to stock a bar, but a preferred way. For example, you mention stocking a bar with 4 basic spirits: Whiskey, Vodka, Gin, Brandy. If I had to chose 4 basic spirits I could never leave Rum out of the list, and of course it would include Tequila, so those 4 main spirits would be Whiskey, Tequila, Gin, Rum. This is of course personal preference, and much of it has to do with my home country, Mexico, not only in the selection of Tequila but in the inclusion of Rum as well. Now in the graphic that shows How to Build a mini bar part 1: the basics. I think (hope) those bottles might be informative, but I would definitely include much more Whiskey than Bourbon (countless brands come to mind) and we totally agree that Tequila is best enjoyable when it is blanco, It also mixes better. Thanks for this interesting article, this is again only my take on it, not better or worse.

  2. T. says:

    In my opinion, you can prepare readily at home a few impeccable drinks if you put together a small, exquisite bar. However, one thing you should consider: Do not mix cocktails at home.
    First then you have too little time for your guests, secondly, you have to have large inventories, and thirdly you will run out of ice at latest after the second round. If you like cocktails, go this evening in a cocktail bar, which will be the best for all participants. But with a carefully compiled bar you can offer so many drinks that you and your guests will not miss the cocktails, at least for an evening.
    Among the millions of cocktails you only have to prepare one cocktail at home: the martini cocktail.
    For basic equipment you need the basic spirits (as always: not the cheapest): Vodka (eg Stolichnaya or Posolskaya), Gin (eg Beefeater or Tanqueray), Bourbon (eg Wild Turkey or Maker’s Mark), Scotch (eg Dimple or Johnnie Walker Black Label), rum (eg Havana Club) and Brandy (eg Carlos I. or, better Cardenal Mendoza). Then a bottle of Campari and the Vermouth: a Carpano Bianco, a Carpano Classico (Rosso) and as dry vermouth a Noilly Prat. Of course, other brands are also usable, they should be only of equal or better quality. So you can prepare many drinks.
    In addition, you should equip your refrigerator. Of course you need ice, more than that bowl that came with the refrigerator, means at least five or six of these bowls (preferably silicone). Always you should have a bottle of champagne in the fridge, just in case. In addition, white wine and dry sherry. Then orange juice, coke, bitter lemon, tonic, ginger ale, ginger beer and soda and two lemons, two limes, two oranges and green olives (with stone).
    Then you are ready and able to offer your guests eg a vermouth on ice as an aperitif, of course a few long drinks like Gin and Tonic, Vodka Lemon, Campari Orange and Cuba Libre, but also a Bourbon Highball or a Moscow Mule, a Whisky Soda , a scotch on ice, a brandy for after-dinner coffee and on and on.

    • BKE says:

      You dont have to have a fully stocked bar. I mean a drink selection could be as simple as I have beer, wine, and whiskey/rum and coke. Pretty simple to have those 4-5 items on hand at all times, and usually someone will want one of the above or a straight liquor. I love making cocktails for my guests, and it actually gives me a minute to talk with them and say oh you have never had this drink? Do you wish to try? If you dont like it dont worry about it, lets have fun and see if I can introduce you to something new. It gives me a way to talk to people I might not necessarily know. Most people take care of themselves at gatherings but I think making a Manhattan, Mojito, Old Fashioned, martini actually adds a nice element to the entertaining experience. If there are too many people, hire a bartender, or one of the friends that is a good bartender might enjoy assisting you.

  3. K. Gray says:

    I have built my bar over several years and I agree, that it is easy to maintain at this point. I usually run out of ice first, as a previous reader had mentioned, or I run out of cocktail glasses.

    I have found it interesting to offer a basic bar, such as club soda, Collins, vermouth, bitters, ice, bourbon, gin, vodka, rum, brandy, scotch, some pre-prepared garnish options (olive, cherry, lime, lemon, orange, onion etc.), but also offer one or two featured craft cocktails that I have already tried, and believe that my guests might find interesting.

    My wife and I once received a formal invitation to a “cocktail party” and upon arrival, we were asked if we would like a cocktail. I requested a bourbon on the rocks and was told by the host that all she had was wine, red or white. No matter what you decide to do with your bar, if you mention the word “cocktails” in an invitation, please make sure that you have cocktails.



    I have acquired mine over time, and the trick i have learned is a wide variety of canned / bottled mixers of a wide variety and of high quality. Fever Tree tonic and club are a must. Small mixer cans of orange, grapefruit, tomato etc last forever, and with ice and a shaker you cant miss. Changing your produce habits by making grapefruits, oranges, and cucumbers part of your diet makes fun cocktails easy as you are stocked with something else. For the ladies, go to the liquor store and ask the cashier for what their smaller bottle stock looks like. Having a variety of small, not airplane size, but just larger of flavored vodkas, baileys, irish whiskey, bourbons and more gives you variety and space on the cheap. As for beer, I pair with the cuisines I tend to serve ie steaks, mexican and bbq, so a six pack of mexican beer (dos equis) american lager (coors banquet), import (stella) and something inspired by my travels (Carling currently) always have a part of my bar. As for wine, I stock two types…high end varietals and cellar defenders. A great cab like Silver Oak or Jordan are always ready for a steak, as is a good sancere for poultry, and a good Provence rose…but i also stock easy to drink chardonnary, chianti, pinot noir, and sauv blanc at a lower price point to guard against the casual non discriminating tongue. Lastly, have something you pair with cigars. My go to is The Dalmore scotch, a highland, which has a cigar malt reserve. Great conversation and great pairing. In short, have wide basics on mixers, use small bottles to extend variety on liquor, have 4 varietals as cellar defenders, and a few bottles that tell a story.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] your pitcher or punch bowl mix the brandy, lemon juice, lemonade, orange juice, wine, triple sec and sugar. Refrigerate for one hour. Add the fruit and cover. Refrigerate […]

Comments are closed.