22 Quintessential Items Every Home Bar Should Have

It is that time of the year again folks, the time when overindulging is overlooked and the good times keep on rolling.

As I enter my late twenties, I have realized that I am more likely to have friends over for drinks at home, than go out trolling the streets of Cape Town asking for my phone to be stolen [AGAIN] or listen to the same DJ’s at the same venues while being trampled by Gen Z out on a school night.

I enjoy making drinks for friends. We often get together and dedicate the celebration to a classic cocktail, with stories of our last Margarita extravaganza still echoing in De Waal Park. So, I thought, why not invest some time and effort to get myself set up at home?

I’ve compiled a list of the bare neccesities for a home bar, starting with the equipment.

Have a beer in the meantime, we will get to the hardtack shortly.

If you are as “efficient” as I am, you can avoid a trip to the V&A Waterfront altogether. Who am I kidding, like you have not already told yourself you are ADD TO CART-ing every item on the list below? Truth be told, you could take on this project and have all your items carted and awaiting payday to be shipped to your humble abode, all in time for some self-love new years presents.

So, finally, the list.

1. Jigger

An hourglass shaped measuring device, usually made of metal. The device measures a single part on the one side and a double on the other. You get various shapes, some measure a single part as 25ml and others as 30ml. A standard shot glass can easily substitute a Jigger.

2. Knife

Most bartenders prefer a short, serrated paring knife. I prefer a medium-sized chef knife. Point is, have a knife and a chopping board of sorts available at your home bar.

3. Shaker

Either a two or three piece sets. The hourglass shaker is either two metal cups or a metal and a glass cup, which fit together tightly when knocked lightly on the counter. The three piece has a built in strainer which eliminates the need for a hawthorne strainer.

4. Muddler

A chunky wooden or plastic stick with a rounded or flat end used to mash citrus fruits and crush herbs. A wooden spoon works just as well if you do not have one of these.

5. Bar Spoon

A spoon with a small bowl [about 5ml] used to stir, mix and muddle. I am struggling to imagine the perfect kitchen replacement, but as ‘push-comes-to-shove’ any spoon will do.

6. Vegetable Peeler

Mostly for garnishes, like zesting a dry martini or a Negroni

7. Mixing Glass

A glass vessel which holds about 500ml. Having a dedicated mixing glass is not essential, any similar sized vessel with a spout can substitute the  fancy cut-glass style found in cocktail lounges.

8. Juicer

Whether you prefer squeezing citrus with one of those devices your mother bought at a Tupperware party or if you know how to operate Mexican Elbow juicer; lemon and/or lime juice is often required in cocktails.

9. Bottle Opener

When it comes to crown-cap bottles most of your household items could act as an opener, whether it a bar blade, ice scoop, ring or even a belt buckle. There has been a surge of online how-to videos teaching ways of removing the cork from a wine bottle without the use of a corkscrew. Regardless of your party-trick, keep a waiter’s friend handy for all those bottle opening needs.

10. Blender

Not at all a necessity, but what is better than relaxing to a pitcher of frozen Margaritas on a summer’s day?

11. Bottle Stoppers

Designed to rapidly slow down the oxidation of ‘leftover’ wine. Now I have never come across leftover wine in my time, but I would suggest you freeze leftover wine in an ice tray and use that to chill future wine endeavours.

12. Glasses

The most common used glassed are martini, coupe and rocks glasses, with the martini and coupe glasses differing in the bowl of the glass. At home, either would do the trick if you are serving Martinis, Margaritas, Cosmos or Manhattans. I use upcycled console jars as glassware. As long as your glass can fit ice if required and the quantity of liquid rendered from your efforts, you have a serving vessel.

If you are a first timer here, do not put too much pressure on yourself or be brand conscious. Bartenders often have a preferred brand within a spirit category or use certain brands for specific cocktails as they are looking to heighten certain aromas or tastes. Start with the basics, build a palate and preference and build your liquor stockpile accordingly. I am not saying go out and buy all of the cheapest brands but stick to a brand you have heard off and something that is affordable.

13. Gin

Originated in Holland in the 17th century, distilled from any grain, potato or beet and flavoured with herbs, spices and botanicals.

Brand Preference: Tanqueray Gin
Cocktail: Negroni

14. Vodka

The exact origin is disputed between the Russians, central and Eastern Europeans. Distilled from any plant matter with a high sugar content which can be fermented, most commonly Wheat, Rye or Corn.

Brand Preference: Absolut Vodka
Cocktail: Citrus or Fruit Martini

15. Brandy

In addition to South Africa’s world-renowned contribution to the brandy world, the spirit is also distilled in many parts of Europe and America. Distilled from grapes, simply put, brandy is the result of distilling wine and aging in wooden barrels or casks.

Brand Preference: Klipdrift Gold
Cocktail: Sidecar

16. Rum

Made by fermenting and then distilling molasses, the light blanco rum is then aged similar to brandy, to achieve darker, spicier and sweeter rums.

Brand Preference: Havana Club 3 & 7YO
Cocktail: Classic Daiquiri  

17. Tequila

Made from the roasted heart of one of the 136 species of blue agave indigenous to Mexico, these roasted hearts are pressed to obtain agave syrup – which is distilled twice normally.

Brand Preference:  El Jimador Tequila
Cocktail: Salted Margarita Straight Up

18. Whiskey

An extremely broad term, my suggestion is to have available Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky and Woodford Reserve Bourbon, or similar products if you are familiar.

Brand Preference: As per above
Cocktail: Whisky Sour / Bourbon Manhattan

19. Dry and Sweet Vermouth

A fortified wine available in different variants of Sweet, Bianco and Dry. A Staple in many classic cocktails, flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices including woodworm.

Brand Preference: Cinzano range

20. Triple Sec

A clear Orange liqueur made from a combination of dried bitter orange peel and fresh sweet orange peels. Most commonly used in cocktails.

Brand Preference: Cointreau

21. Mixers

Most cocktails will call for either soda or tonic water. There is a cart full of craft soda and tonic water producers. My advice would be to stick to a simple variant to start.

22. Bitters

Made from a blend of herbs and spices commonly described as a concentrated flavouring, and is basically used as a ‘Seasoning Agent’ in cocktails. Most commonly known is Angostura Bitters, although local and international craft producer’s products are easier to come by since our drink-consciousness awakening at the turn of the century.

Some other bar essentials include:

  • Brown Sugar,
  • Maraschino Cherries (rarely, but you will feel fancy sipping away at that Manhattan if you do)
  • Green Olives (how could you enjoy a dirty Martini without a trio of olives drowned in a Bond-esque cocktail, shaken not stirred – or whatever)
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Mint

Happy New Year and enjoy your home bar to its fullest potential, you are at home already after all.