Essential Booze and Mixes for your Home Bar

Words: Robyn Paterson

If you’ve read our Essential Tools for a Home Bar article, you should be well on your way to planning your little bar nook, but what is a bar without booze? Not a bar! So we’ve put together this essential guide to stocking your bar with the best spirits, liqueurs and mixes to be able to make pretty much any cocktail.

Stocking a bar is a long-term project, so when starting out, try and get the basics for your personal favourites and add on from there.

There are three categories to this guide — essential spirits, liqueurs and mixes. To make most cocktails, you’ll need at least one ingredient from each category, so when stocking your bar, don’t only go out and buy spirits, make sure you get liqueurs too.

Essential Spirits

You’ll be able to make any cocktail with these base spirits in your arsenal…

Whiskey

You have a couple of options, so based on your personal preference, we suggest starting with one of the following:

Rye Whisky: Rye whisky is a little bit ‘spicier’ than other whiskies, which makes it great for mixing with other alcohols, citrus and sugar as it holds up against other strong flavours.

We recommendSazerac Straight Rye

Bourbon: Bourbon is very versatile, as its a sweeter whisky and works well mixed with citrus or drinks with containing bitters, like an Old Fashioned.

We recommendBuffalo Trace

Blended Scotch: Blended scotch offers quite a different flavour profile to cocktails and is also very smooth. You can try a single malt if you prefer a smokier flavour.

We recommendMonkey Shoulder

Gin

Gin is essential, not only for a standard G&T, but also for a number of classic cocktails like the Martini or the Gin Fizz.

A good London Dry gin is the most versatile for using in cocktails, but if you’re a gin lover, you should definitely add one or two of South Africa’s great botanical gins to your selection.

We recommendHope on Hopkins London Dry

Vodka

Vodka is used for many cocktails because of its lack of flavour. Whether you are a vodka drinker or not, it’s always best to have a bottle behind your bar, as you are bound to know someone who doesn’t like the taste of alcohol.

We recommendPienaar & Sons Waskis Vodka

Rum

You’ll need both light and dark rum for your bar shelf. Luckily, rum is one of the more inexpensive spirits, so to buy both varieties won’t break the bank.

Light Rum: Light rum will be what you use for most of your rum-based cocktails like a Mojito or a Daiquiri.

Dark Rum: The more full-bodied of the two, dark rum is best in tropical or ‘tiki’ drinks. Try going for an aged or spiced variety, depending on your taste.

We recommendSugar Girl Rum and Suncamino Floral Rum

Tequila

Tequila is the main ingredient in margaritas, and unless you’re okay with some unhappy dinner party guests, we suggest you get yourself a bottle. Unlike vodka or rum, you don’t want to go for the cheapest option — it’s a recipe for a headache and a really bad hangover. Go for the more expensive options and try to get 100% agave blanco or reposado tequila.

We recommendLeonista Reposado

Brandy

Another staple ingredient in classic cocktails, like the Sidecar. Plus, let’s face it, if you live in South Africa, someone will ask you for a Brandy & Coke. Get one that’s good enough to drink neat as well.

We recommendBoplaas 8 Year Potstill


Essential Liqueurs

Liqueurs are used to flavour your cocktail and are an absolute essential behind the bar. There will always be a liqueur in a cocktail and there are many options to choose from. Here are some of our favourites:

Dry & Sweet Vermouth

Vermouth is fortified wine that is essential for many classic cocktails. Dry vermouth is used in Martinis, while sweet vermouth is used in Manhattans and Negronis. We recommend getting a good quality bottle and don’t go for the biggest option — once opened, it only lasts about a month in the fridge.

We recommendDolin Vermouth Dry and Dolin Vermouth Rouge

Orange Liqueur

Orange Liqueur is used in countless cocktails, including the Margarita and the Cosmo. Definitely a must!

We recommendCointreau

Aperitif and Digestif

An aperitif is a bitter spirit that you’ll drink before a meal. The idea is that the bitterness sparks your appetite. A digestif is for after a meal, to kick start digestion. You can enjoy them on their own, but they add a lovely bitterness to cocktails that goes well with citrus and sweeter flavours.

A good example of an aperitif cocktail would be a Negroni, equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. The bitterness of the Campari pairs well with the vermouth and is highlighted by an orange segment as garnish.

We recommendCampari

Bitters

Arguably one of the most important elements to a bar, bitters is like the salt and pepper to cocktails. It finishes off a drink like no other and in our opinion there’s only one kind worth having…

We recommendAngostura Bitters


Essential Mixes

There are some non-alcoholic components to cocktails that need attention too!

Simple Syrup

A simple mixture of equal parts water to sugar, simple syrup adds sweetness to cocktails. It’s easier to incorporate sugar into a cold drink if it’s already in a liquid form. We recommend making this yourself, it’s so easy to do and you can add fun flavourings. If you like, add vanilla, orange or cinnamon.

Fruit Juice 

A must for any fruity cocktails, fruit juice is very important to get right. When you adding citrus juice, like orange, lemon or lime — make sure it’s always freshly squeezed and never the store-bought stuff. The purpose of citrus in cocktails is to add acidity, and store bought versions are often way too sweet.

Other juices like pineapple, cranberry or litchi can be pre-made, but try get good quality options that have no added sugars.

Soda Water

Always handy to have a stash of good soda water, in case you’re a fan of Aperol Spritz, or Campari and Soda. It adds bulk, without adding any additional sweetness or flavour.

Curious about spirits? Learn more about the different types of alcohol spirits.

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