Build Your Bar

So a lot of people ask me, “Nate, how do you do it?” To which I reply, “How do I do what?” Most of the time they are asking about how I started my home bar or became good at mixing. The truth is that both developed together.

If you are looking to start a home bar, give some thought to how you want to use it. Like most people I started with ingredients to the drinks I liked to make for myself—but this wasn’t as much a bar as it was a collection of liquors that made a handful of drinks. As my tastes evolved, my collection grew. Still, I had as many as 40 bottles with the ability to make only about a dozen drinks. It wasn’t versatile. When I hosted parties, I had a pretty limited drink menu and it was mostly of things I like to drink. There was no attention to my guests’ tastes.

I got some good tips for starting a small bar from the New York Bartender’s Guide and about three years ago, I rounded out my collection into what was a functional bar with a range of base liquors. I now can make a possible 100 drinks at any time depending on what mix-ins I have fresh on hand. I find that I can add about 25 possibilities with each liqueur I get. Currently I have these liqueurs:

Luxardo cherry liqueur
Green Chartreuse
Triple Sec
Creme de Cassis
Creme de Cacao
Meletti Amaro
Picon Biere
Dubonnet Rouge
Skynos mastia spirit
Absente absinthe refined

I also keep about three of each of these category of spirits:

Brandy or Cognac (now including apple brandy, applejack and kirschwasser)
Canadian Whisky
Bourbon Whiskey
Irish Whiskey

My recommendation is to start a bar by getting one of each of these base spirits. Get a moderately priced brandy, whiskey, scotch, rum, tequila, gin and vodka. If you have a preference for a premium spirit in any of these categories, get it. Get any high quality sipping whiskey, scotch, cognac, rum and gin that you enjoy more than the bargain brands. This will give your bar a top shelf. Then look in a cocktail book for the recipes that you like best and get the liqueurs that you need to make drinks you enjoy. Add to that the liqueurs that make the most commonly ordered drinks.

Margarita—triple sec
Martini and Manhattan—dry and sweet vermouth, and bitters
White Russian—coffee liqueur
Aviation—cherry brandy
Bahama Mama—coconut liqueur
Fuzzy Navel—peach brandy/schnaps

You will notice that I don’t emphasize flavored vodkas. Most classic cocktails require fresh flavor ingredients like lime juice, mint, orange peel, etc. Flavored vodkas are shortcuts; the drinks that can be made with them are marketing efforts to sell more vodka. If there is a flavored vodka you like, by all means, get it. They make things easier, but you don’t need them if you have fresh ingredients. Probably the most practical flavor of vodka or rum is lemon. It gives you the ability to add lemon flavor without adding volume to the drink (i.e. a Bacardi Limon Mojito that has a lemon/lime flavor). Coconut rum also helps to make any drink instantly tropical and it is not as easy to get that flavor out of a fresh coconut without changing the texture, color, or size of the drink. You can also get the same results with flavored sodas like lemon, grapefruit and pomegranate. These are cheaper than adding a vodka devoted to making one drink. Only add a liqueur or flavored spirit if it dramatically increases the number of drinks you can make. If you can only make one drink with the addition of a flavored vodka, don’t bother unless it is one of your favorite drinks or your guests request it regularly.

I hope that this guide is helpful for starting a bar from nothing. If you are selective in what you buy, and a little price conscious, you should be able to build a bar of 10-15 bottles for under $200 dollars. From this you can make more than 50 drinks! If you have the luxury of deciding to methodically begin a bar from scratch, you will do best to avoid fads and rely on recipes you want to make. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot on a bottle that you can’t use on more than one cocktail.

If you are a whiskey collector, use to keep a digital bar and see what other members have to say about your favorites. You can shop within the member group and even locate brands at nearby stores with their cool widget. Here's what I have on my bar currently:
 You can see it in detail here: Jolly Bartender's Whiskey


  1. Excellent post, too much informative. I highly appreciate your efforts, we provide best EVENT BARTENDERS in Dallas, TX.

  2. Thank you so much for your suggestion. I will keep it in my mind.


Thanks for your interest in my Jolly Bartender project. I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible to your request or comment. If you would like to contact me about bartending for your event or setting up a home bar, write to me at