The Home Bar – Getting Started

Assembling your own home bar is not as daunting as it may seem. In the next few days we will be going over the basic utensils, bitters, spirits and liqueurs that are best for getting your home bar started. Get excited! Fun fact: I could spend a ridiculous amount of time (not to mention money) in a liquor warehouse.
Bar Necessities: Utensils & Bitters
Now, before you have all that fun at your local liquor warehouse filling your cart with your first bottles to stock your bar, you will want to make a run to Target (Ordering from Amazon would also be a thrifty option) for bar utensils and bitters at a reasonable price. Some of the items pictured below you may not be able to get at your local superstore but they should have a thrifty option for most items. Remember, at this point we are trying to budget as much funding as possible for the bottles that will line your bar, not the utensils in your bar so I recommend budget shopping. You can always upgrade later on to the “Cadillac” models, as my Ol’ Pappy would say.
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A few examples of “Simple Bar Necessities”
Utensils & Bitters You will need: The “Top Ten”
1. Jigger – I have 2 shown, both are the OXO brand. I would recommend starting with one. The Black/Stainless (traditional style) jigger was my first & is a great value (Target, $8.99). It shows several measures within the 2 sides of the jigger and is well made. The Clear Measuring Cup (non-traditional) jigger is truly more of a measuring cup and is the thrifty option (Target, $4.99). I like it because it goes to 2oz and I do not have to worry about spillage.
2. Hawthorne Strainer – You can’t do much better on a beginner strainer value/dollar than OXO’s steel strainer (Amazon $6.99). The strainer shown is the Carter Strainer (Crate & Barrel, $9.95)
3. Cobbler or Boston Shaker –
We’ll start with the Cobbler: The OXO model shown is an excellent starter shaker. (Amazon/ Target $29.95) This is one piece of bar hardware I am ok with paying a bit more for as I’ve had a couple of budget shakers from liquor stores that tended to leak and even burst open mid-shake. You want something that will seal well; the goal is to drink your cocktail, not wear it. Bonus: This shaker’s cap also serves as a jigger with several measures on the inside up to 1.5oz. Cobbler bonus over the Boston: it has a built-in strainer (just don’t try to use said strainer when using muddled fruits, etc…they tend to clog easily. This is where we enlist our Hawthorne Strainer).
Now for the Cobbler’s big brother; The Boston Shaker: I would do some research on these (read reviews online, etc..) because not all are made well. If there is a pint glass on one side it will need to be thicker than a regular pint glass or it could shatter. I have heard great things about Cocktail Kingdom’s weighted-steel Boston shakers, however you will have to buy both pieces individually and shipping rates apply (Cocktail Kingdom or Amazon; Large side $7.95, Small side $8.95, Shipping rates vary..). This is the only Boston Shaker set I can safely recommend.
4. Mixing Glass – The Yarai mixing glass is a classic and a good buy (Amazon $14.99). The mixing glass pictured is from Crate & Barrel ($14.95) and I am a big fan. It may not have the cross-hatch pattern of the Yarai however it is well-weighted, and a bit larger than I have seen otherwise.
5. Bar Spoon – There are several different styles of bar spoons out there. For starters you can pickup a cheap model (Amazon <$5) to get the job done, or you can pickup a more comfy, attractive model for around twice that. I picked up this bar spoon a while back (Amazon $7.99) and I’m happy with it.
6. Citrus Squeezer – Fresh Citrus is a MUST for craft cocktails. In order to be efficient in juicing your citrus i recommend a combo Lemon/Lime juicer (Yes, I’m saying do not do what I did). It’s cheaper (Amazon 12.95 or Crate & Barrel $16.95) and you won’t go crazy when you run into limes the size of lemons. At some point you may want to get an orange squeezer, now is not the time…
7. Muddler – The age-old question: Wood or Steel/nylon muddler?? I say, “Up to you…” This wood model is stylish and comfortable (Crate & Barrel Wood $9.95 & Steel/Nylon $9.95). There are cheaper muddlers out there, but you’re not breaking the bank here and there’s something to be said for hand comfort. Some steel models can be especially hard on your hands, so be sure you inspect the product thoroughly & read reviews before taking the plunge on a muddler.
8. A Bar Knife – Now, theoretically you could steal a paring knife from your spouses knife block. However, when you can pick up this Zyliss shielded paring knife (Crate & Barrel, $9.95) at a reasonable price, why risk the argument?
9. Angostura Bitters – Target will have these cheaper than your liquor warehouse will (Target, $7.49 or thereabouts..). Pick these up while you’re stocking up on your bar hardware, laundry detergent, school supplies, etc…
10. Regan’s Orange Bitters – You may have to pick these up at your local liquor warehouse, these are by far the best orange bitters for the price on the market in my opinion (Based on market, Around $6-$7 or Amazon $9). However, if you cannot find Regan’s, there’s also Angostura Orange bitters (Amazon, $9.49).
*Note: Fee Bros Bitters I do not recommend as “bitters” because they do not contain alcohol and (if we’re being technical) are more of a “shrub” than bitters, which I don’t have a problem with, I just do not use them as “bitters”. But that is a conversation/debate for another date…(If you are asking “What do you mean by ‘shrub’?? Great question, we will get to that in a later post…)
*Not shown – Glassware – I’m not going to get too crazy here and neither should the beginner home bartender. I would head over to Target as they have excellent, classy-while-still-thrifty options for all of the following:
– Rocks (aka old-fashioned) glasses (Target, $7.99) 
– High-ball (aka Collins) glasses (Target, $9.99)
– Martini (Target,  $14.99) or “Coupe” glasses (Target, $10.99). *I prefer the Coupe. It’s the classic cocktail glass and it doubles as a Champagne glass. 
One set of 4 of each of the above will get you well on your way.
Feel free to budget your way through this list. If you see something you like that isn’t on this list feel free to pick it up. I’m a  “rules are more…guidelines” type of person. I simply try to keep in mind what my priorities are and how to make my dollar work the smartest. This mindset has carried me through my beginner’s bar tool set, all the way to prioritizing what new spirit to invest in next but we’ll get to all that soon enough.
Next we will discuss the basic spirits & liqueurs to stock your new home bar and we’ll tally up roughly how much to budget for this trip to your liquor warehouse. Cheers Friends!

 

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