Build a Home Mini-Bar, Part 1: The Basics

How to Build a Home Mini-Bar: Part 1, BasicsWhether you enjoy the occasional cocktail or you frequently partake in a nice, stiff sipper, nothing says welcome home (or welcome TO my home) like a well-stocked bar. In the first of this three-part series, I’ll go over how I got my own personal mini-bar started, so that you too can indulge your Mad Men fantasy (drinks, not the crazy affairs or chain smoking).

In the spirit of transparency, I have to admit that this idea (as well as the initial components) were the brainchild of my fabulous girlfriend Winnie. While I’ve always enjoyed a well-crafted cocktail, taking the time to prepare and build an elaborate drink always seemed too complicated, considering a nice beer would satiate the same need. However, for this past Christmas, W decided I should get a bit more classy and gifted me the beginnings of a minibar, including a serving/storing tray, a cocktail set, and some quality liquors.

So onto Part 1: The Basics. What you need to get started:

A cocktail shaker and jigger. The shaker can just be a shaker and glass, but the built in strainer saves you some effort. The real key is the jigger though – its perfect for those times where eye-balling doesn’t cut it. W got me this set, which cost a steep 16 bucks. This Oggi set seems pretty versatile as well.

Mixers. Expanding your mixers vastly ups the amount of drink choices you have, but let’s start with the essentials for now:

  • ginger beer (which tastes great mixed or by itself)
  • tonic water (get small cans/bottles, or else you’ll waste a ton of it for a solo drink)
  • club soda (same as the tonic water)
  • simple syrup, saving yourself some time muddling and mushing
  • dry vermouth (for when you are in the mood for a manly martini)

Liquor. I’ve highlighted some popular brands above, but feel free to experiment. The key is to grow your collection slowly (unless you are a baller, in which please proceed full steam ahead). Instead of buying a bunch of cheap alcohol, focus on acquiring one mid to high range bottle from each of the categories below. Note that an $80 bottle of alcohol isn’t necessarily better than its $20 counterpart. If you’re not sure whether you like a particular brand, most liquor stores have smaller bottles that you can buy to try out. Some liquor stores even allow you to return liquor if you really don’t like it- obviously they won’t take a half-empty bottle, and you’ll want to check and see what the return policy is. As your collection grows, you’ll refine your tastes and preferences and branch out to try other liquors, which I’ll cover in another post. Just the necessities for now:

  • vodka– Winnie and I don’t drink vodka much at home, but it’s good to have a bottle around for guests.
  • gin– this has been the alcohol disappearing fastest from my minibar since it goes with just about anything. You can’t go wrong with Bombay Sapphire (and the bottle looks cool), but there are a host of large and small distilleries that make excellent gins
  • whiskey or bourbon– for mixing or sipping on the rocks
  • dark and light rum– there’s a whole range of options for rum – from dark, spiced, gold, light- but one light and one dark will suffice
  • tequila (blanco)– ‘Blanco’ refers to the unaged tequila, sometimes referred to as ‘silver’ or ‘platinum’. Other options include reposados and añejos, which are aged anywhere from 2 months to one year or more, respectively.

A serving tray, tray table, or bar cart. If you live the apartment/condo life, space is limited, so get yourself a tray that can serve a dual purpose as a storage tray, making your bar “mobile” (despite the lack of a bar cart). The one W got me has wood handles, and comes with a glass bottom that you can fill with wine corks to add some personal flavor (of course, that means you have to drink more wine – you could always buy the prepackaged random corks, but where is the fun in that?). This CB2 tray table is pretty sleek, and if you’ve got some extra room to spare, you can check out this chrome number or this splurge worthy piece.

A cocktail app (and a sense of adventure). I personally use Mixology, but whichever one you go with, throw in your bar ingredients, and get ready to experiment.

So now you’ve seen what the base of my bar is…what’s in yours? What bar essential or ingredient can’t you live without?

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