Having your own bar at home allows you to whip up delicious drinks on the spot, either for yourself or for the pleasure of your guests. Contrary to what you may think, you don't need much to get started, and it doesn't even need to involve any alcoholic beverages!
Starting a home bar can seem like an intimidating endeavour: Too expensive, too many specialist tools required, not enough space at home…etc.
However, by thinking practically, you can take a minimalistic approach and build up an efficient home bar that neither breaks the bank, nor requires you to smash through a wall to make space for hundreds of bottles.
This leads us to the first tip: DON'T go crazy on bottles. Many people falsely assume that having a home bar means that they basically have to recreate an entire commercial bar at home. However, the two serve very different purposes: A commercial bar needs to have a large inventory because it has to make sure to cater to the tastes of various different customers. Your home bar, on the other hand, only needs to appeal to you and maybe some other members of your household or friends.
Thus, when thinking about which bottles to buy, DO consider YOUR preferences! If you like Gin cocktails, no need to buy Tequila or Whisky. Just go with your favourite or, if you want to go with a more neutral approach, a solid London Dry. Instead of immediately branching out to another base spirit, DO focus on modifiers (Vermouth, Absinth, Chartreuse…). That way, not only will you be able to mix more cocktails that you are likely to enjoy, but once you do go for another base spirit, you will immediately have the modifiers to make several new cocktails.
Speaking of bottles, DON'T assume that a home bar has to involve any alcohol at all! Even local shops and supermarkets in Luxembourg have started to sell non-alcoholic spirits and it becomes increasingly easy to find dupes of some of the most popular brands out there. The only thing to watch out for is that quality can vary widely, but with a little bit of research you can find great alternatives to build up your delicious non-boozy bar.
DO add syrups to your arsenal as an easy way to up your mixology game. Basic syrups are stupidly easy to make yourself. For simple syrup, all you need to do is add two parts plain white sugar to one part water in a saucepan, bring it to the boil, and bottle it after letting it cool. This is also a great way to reuse some of your empty bottles – simple syrup made with that 2:1 ratio is shelf stable and will last you a long time. If you use empty bottles, DO remember to rinse them with boiling water first to help sterilise them. Once you know how to make simple syrup, you can easily make syrups based on any fruit or herb you might fancy: pineapple syrup, apple syrup, rosemary syrup – the choice is yours!
Grenadine, orgeat, and ginger syrup are slightly trickier to make, but at their cores still basically just infused simple syrups. As with your spirits though, DON'T think you need to have all of them on hand all the time. If you like Tiki drinks, go for orgeat, if you like prohibition drinks maybe stock up on grenadine…etc.
Regarding tools, DO focus on the essentials, but you may be surprised to learn how many of them you already have lying around. Cocktails are either shaken or stirred: The basic rule of thumb is to stir if your drink only has "clear" spirits in it (e.g. in the case of a Negroni), and to shake if you're mixing spirits with "cloudy" liquids, such as juices. To shake, you need to have a shaker. Boston shakers with two stainless steel parts are easiest to handle for most people. To stir, all you need is spoon – if you want, you can invest in a bar spoon, but any spoon with a longer handle will do just fine. No need to invest in a special mixing glass either, just use the short end of your shaker.
If you have a measuring cup lying around, you can of course just use that, but jiggers are usually very cheap, last forever, and will honestly just make you feel a lot cooler while mixing up your drinks. As for strainers, it is worth investing in a good Hawthorne strainer, which you can use to strain all sorts of drinks, whether they were shaken or stirred.
Keep it practical, and DON'T get lost in technicalities. Yes, in theory you are supposed to use a Julep strainer to strain stirred drinks, and yes, clear ice does look a lot better in drinks. But the truth is, a Hawthorne strainer works just the same and clear ice is nothing but an aesthetic touch. If you want to, you can of course buy a Julep strainer or learn how to use directional freezing at home but remember that all of this is optional.
Finally, DO have fun with your home bar. A good cocktail, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Making them yourself at home can be a great outlet for your creativity, so feel free to experiment with drinks, syrups, and garnishes to quench your thirst with some gloriously tasty liquids.