Guide: How to Stock a Bar

The tools and ingredients you need to mix your favorite drinks

Liquors and Spirits Every Home Bar Needs

No home bar would be complete without the following liquors and spirits (including beer and wine), plus some great drink recipes:

  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Rum (light and dark)
  • Tequila
  • Whiskey (Scotch and bourbon)
  • Beer
  • Wine (white, red, champagne)
  • Brandy/Cognac

Gin 
This classic favorite is considered a staple of any home bar, but when stocking be sure to include a bottle of vermouth in order to make all those magnificent martinis.

Popular brands of gin include Bombay, Tanqueray, Beefeater and Tower of London.

Vodka 
Vodka is considered the ultimate form of alcohol because it can be mixed with anything from juice and liqueurs to most other forms of alcohol.

Popular brands of vodka include Absolut, Skyy, Finlandia and Stolichnaya.

Rum 
Rum is known best for mixing beautifully with cola (the famous Cuba Libre), fruit juices and other alcohols such as gin and tequila.

Tequila 
Jimmy Buffet would agree that the claim to fame for tequila is the fact that it's the main ingredient in margaritas. Like tequila, mezcal is made from the heart of the agave plant, but you'll find a worm at the bottom of the bottle, which is more of a gimmick than a real effect on the taste.

Popular brands of tequila include Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Pepe Lopez and Montezuma.

Scotch
Two types of whisky are distilled in Scotland: grain and malt. Grain whisky (Scotch whisky is always spelled without the "e") is made from malted barley, unmalted barley and other grains, while malt whisky is made from malted barley alone.

Blended whiskey is not strongly flavored or as challenging to the palate (and less expensive) as single malt whiskies, which aren't blended, are expensive and have a strong smoky flavor.

Popular scotch whisky blends include J&B (Justerini & Brooks), Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker and Cutty Sark. Single malts include Deanston, Highland Park, Macallan and Ardberg.

Bourbon
The whiskey of choice in America is bourbon, which is preferred on the rocks. Though milder than Scotch, bourbon is still regarded highly by whiskey connoisseurs. To be called bourbon (and it's not bourbon unless the label says so — strict laws demand this), whiskey must be produced in Kentucky and made mostly with corn.

Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years in new white-oak barrels that have been charred, and nothing can be added at the bottling stage to enhance the flavor, alter the color or add sweetness.

Popular bourbon brands include Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark and Old Kentucky.

Brandy and Cognac 

Brandy is a spirit made by distilling grapes to a higher proof than they achieve with wine. Though some brandy may be made from the pulpy mixture of stems and seeds left after grapes are pressed, most is made from actual grape wine. In fact, the word "brandy" means fire (or burnt) wine.

There are three main types of brandy: 1) Grape, produced by the distillation of fermented grape juice 2) Pomace, produced from fermented grape pulp, seeds and stems that remain after the grapes are pressed for their juice and 3) Fruit, distilled from fruits other than grapes.

Cognac is the best-known type of brandy in the world — the benchmark of brandy. The primary grapes used in making cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard, and the wines made from these grapes are thin, tart and low in alcohol — not so great for making wine but perfect for cognac.

The unofficial grades used to market cognac include:

  • VS (Very Special) or ***(three stars), where the youngest brandy is stored at least two years.
  • VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), or Réserve, where the youngest brandy is stored at least four years.
  • XO (Extra Old), Napoléon, Hors d'Age, where the youngest brandy is stored at least six years.

Both brandy and cognac are primarily consumed as after-dinner drinks, and remember that all cognac is brandy — but not all brandy is cognac.

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