Bar cart
First rule of stocking your home bar: Only use booze you'd actually drink.
Kali Motxo/Flickr Creative Commons
By Kirk Miller / August 1, 2019 5:01 am

Ten years ago, my home “bar” was a blue table repurposed from an ex-girlfriend’s apartment, stocked with whatever free bottles I had been gifted over the years, whatever cheap vodka I had purchased that week, an array of flat mixers and some bar tools I don’t remember buying and certainly didn’t know how to use.

Today, I have the opposite problem. I have almost everything, a lot more knowledge, one extremely handsome bar cabinet … and a desperate need to pare down my collection.

So I turned to bar professionals who know far more than I do about keeping a clean, organized and minimalist bar space. Stress on the minimalist part.

“My approach to minimizing a home bar has taken on some of the same approach as Marie Kondo and her KonMari method,” says Melissa Watson, a self-professed “home bartending nerd” and social media manager for the San Francisco cocktail supply shop Bitters & Bottles. “Minimalism teaches us that when we remove what is no longer serving us — or as Marie would say, ‘sparking joy’ — we amplify our enjoyment of what we keep.” 

With that in mind, we asked our bar pro friends to craft an ideal, minimalist home bar for the everyday drinker. The parameters: The contents of the home bar needed to fit into a small/average-sized bar cart or in/on one large open shelf of, say, an IKEA cabinet. For perishables, we allowed access to either a mini fridge or one shelf in a larger fridge.

Remember, your home bar is going to be different than someone else’s home bar — as it should be! So pick and choose amongst the following advice. Then toss whatever doesn’t spark joy.

Whiskey

What are the bare essentials I should have in my home bar?

Take note of the four or five drinks you enjoy making and drinking the most and stock the necessities for those. That still leaves room to play around with some variations and have room for a wildcard bottle or two. — Melissa Watson, Bitters & Bottles

To maximize space, only keep mixers that work for two or more cocktails you regularly indulge in. For glasses, a pair of good nosing glasses, martini glasses (if you like martinis), Highballs and Old Fashioned glasses will cover a wide spectrum of cocktails. — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

Have versatile spirits like gin, tequila, rye, bourbon and rum, as well as high quality vermouths both sweet and dry. For bitters, the classic trio of Angostura, Peychaud’s and orange bitters. Then, freshly juiced lemon and lime, and simple and demerara syrups. You’ll also need a good, heavy and balanced bar spoon, two jiggers — a 1 oz / 2 oz and a 1/2 oz/ 3/4 oz, two sets of shakers, two hawthorne strainers and one julep strainer. — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC) 

Bottles for mixing cocktails should be good spirits but don’t have to be the MOST expensive. My personal example: I would have a light rum (Bacardi Superior), Dark Rum (Ron del Barrilito 2 Star), American whiskey (Widow Jane 10-Year Bourbon), tequila (Altos Blanco), mezcal (Los Vecinos), gin (Fords Gin), vodka (Deep Eddy) and Scotch (Monkey Shoulder). Then I would have a different bottle of each spirit type that can be served neat for sipping, plus a nice Cognac like Hennessy VSOP. — Cari Hah, Big Bar (Los Angeles)

One of the hottest and most welcome trends in cocktails is the classic highball. Think: gin and tonic, paloma, whiskey and soda. You’ll need great mixers. I like Q Mixers from Brooklyn; all natural, high carbonation. — Tony Abou-Ganim, Libertine Social (Las Vegas)

Whiskey stones
If you have ice, you don’t definitely don’t need these

What’s the one thing every home bar probably has that can be tossed?

That bar tool kit that everyone receives as a wedding or housewarming gift. These sets contain multiple tools that are too small to use and often have only one use. Look for bar tools that have multiple functions, like a shaker with a built in strainer and cap is the ideal three-in-one tool. — Rhonda Cammon, Perfectly Cordial

Vermouth that wasn’t kept in the fridge and past its prime. Cheap, bad booze. And store-bought simple syrup. — Melissa Watson, Bitters & Bottles

Whiskey stones. Generally gifted and rarely used. Ice is king! — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

You can toss artificial lime and lemon juice. — Spencer Taliaferro, Cocktails by Spence Club

Premade sugary mixers. It is completely worth it to just do a little bit of extra work to use fresh juice or make your own simple syrup. — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC) 

Vermouth
Vermouth. Necessary and necessarily refrigerated. (Will Shenton/Wiki Creative Commons)

What’s the one thing every home bar needs but is probably missing?

Bitters. Bitters is to a cocktail is like earrings to the perfect dress or a belt on a pair of slacks. They add depth to any cocktail. — Rhonda Cammon, Perfectly Cordial

A fine mesh strainer. A tool that stores easily and elevates the presentation of a drink. No one wants to see ice chips and lemon seeds in their shaken/up cocktail. — Melissa Watson, Bitters & Bottles

An infinity bottle. Starting your own infinity bottle is an exciting and creative way to declutter and get rid of those almost empty bottles from your home bar, but also keep the last few drops forever. That’s probably the only way to keep enjoying the sweetness of Redbreast, complexity of Glenfarclas, smokiness of Lagavulin, deliciousness of W.L. Weller, spiciness ofWhistlePig, and the perfection of Yamazaki. Plus, it’s the only way to have something that’s 100% unique and 100% your own. — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

Good ice. As the drink dilutes, the water becomes a more prominent ingredient in the drink, so pay attention to your ice. — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC) 

Always have one unique thing. For me, it’s a Pisco from Peru. I’ve never served someone a Pisco Sour that didn’t immediately fall in love with it. It’s Pisco, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. It’s a crowd pleaser that also shows off your mixology skills. — Tony Abou-Ganim, Libertine Social (Las Vegas)

High quality vermouth. Miro dry vermouth, Dolin dry vermouth and Cocchi Torino are my favorites. — Cari Hah, Big Bar (Los Angeles)

Punch

I have an unusual spirit I was gifted. In lieu of tossing it out, how can I use it but get rid of it quickly? 

When in doubt, make a sangria. Simply add fresh juice, a bottle of red or white wine, some simple syrup and your gifted bottled. Let the day drinking begin. — Rhonda Cammon, Perfectly Cordial

Regift, dump it or take it somewhere to share and don’t reclaim it. Then get back to enjoying your essentials. — Melissa Watson, Bitters & Bottles

Organize an afterwork mixing challenge where everything ends up in a bowl. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t, but I’m sure you’ll drink it anyway. — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

Turn to a great book that can teach you tricks for combining interesting flavor profiles, like The Flavor Matrix and The Flavor Bible. Or a punch is always a good idea because you can experiment and then have plenty on hand for a house party or home dinner. — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC) 

Do spirits expire? When should I get rid of them?

Distilled spirits cannot go bad, but because of the interaction with oxygen, their flavor changes and deteriorates because some of the alcohol evaporates … more so when there is less than a half bottle left. The exception are agave-based spirits, which start deteriorating the moment you open them and should therefore be drunk fast — in a couple of months. There’s no deadline when to get rid of them, you can put them in a smaller bottle and save them from oxygen. — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

Keep an eye on your vermouths: they are a wine product and need to be refrigerated after opening. To reduce waste, you can even cook with vermouths that may be too past their prime for cocktails. — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC) 

What’s the most versatile item you have in your home bar?

Maple syrup. It’s like butter in cooking; it solves many problems. If you have a bad whiskey, you can still mix a great Manhattan or Old Fashioned. It’s the perfect camouflage. — Grisa Soba, Flaviar

A heavy bar spoon. You can stir drinks, add or remove ice, crack ice, scoop out any items you need and take a quick taste. And the cheaper industrial style weighted spoons are heavy enough to crack ice. Note: Before you buy one, make sure it’s balanced! — Lauren Swan-Potras, Roof at Park South (NYC)

A three-piece shaker. It allows you to use different techniques with the same tool. — Spencer Taliaferro, Cocktails by Spence Club

Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice. Sounds crazy, but it makes the best Dirty Martini ever and is a kind of bartenders’ ‘secret weapon’ for Bloody Marys and Micheladas. — Eric Oley, Jones Hollywood (LA)

How should I organize all my home bar items on a bar cart? 

I set up my bar cart like I set up my station at work. Glasses and ice on the bottom shelf. Then from left to right: syrups, juices, spirits, garnish. — Rhonda Cammon, Perfectly Cordial

Tools on top next to your commonly-used spirits. Mixers, modifiers, bitters and anything else on the bottom shelf. — Spencer Taliaferro, Cocktails by Spence Club

Spirits together, bitters together, barware together, but in reality, people usually don’t keep everything on a bar cart, because they quickly run out of space. (Self-promotion here: The Flaviar Home Bar has two trays that can hold up to 14 bottles and essential glass and barware.) — Grisa Soba, Flaviar