The Essentials for Building Your First Home Bar

Cold weather just got a lot more fun

10.27.16

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Don’t you dare think I forgot about Grown-Ass Woman Month. Is there anything more Grown-Ass Woman than having your own home bar? NO! Not even flossing. I had dreams of my own home bar but no idea how to go about it. My refrigerator consists of two Red Stripes that I did not buy, a few ketchup packets and the apple cider vinegar I forgot about. My freezer has a handle of vodka in it that I meant to bring to a party then forgot, and in general, I am overwhelmed by stores.

Because I am learning about how to grow up just as much as you are, I asked Ivy Mix, head bartender and co-owner of Brooklyn cocktail bar Leyenda, how to get this started.

What are the most crucial ingredients to buy now and keep on hand?

– Fresh lemons and limes to make fresh juice. No fresh juice = bad, bad cocktails.
Angostura bitters.
– Sugar to make simple syrup. (Anyone can make it: It’s one part sugar to water. Bingo!)
– One of each of the basic booze bottles, good quality only!

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My suggestions:
Tequila Ocho tequila
Banks Rum
Plymouth Gin
Knob Creek Rye
Elijah Craig bourbon
Spring 44 Vodka
Balvenie Caribbean Cask Scotch
Del Maguey Mezcal
Cointreau
Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth
Campari
Dolin Dry vermouth
And also St-Germain because a splash of this and just about anything tastes delicious.

What are you better off buying last minute, right before drinking guests are scheduled to come over?

The thing about making great cocktails is that things have to be kinda fresh. Not only fresh, but probably homemade. Do NOT go out and buy lime juice in the store — it’s going to be horrible. Simple syrup tends to keep, so as long as you refrigerate it, you should be okay. If you’re hankering for martinis, remember that vermouth is wine and can go bad, so keep it refrigerated!

What are the most important glassware and tool-type things you need?

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Shaking tins
– A stirring spoon
Julep
Jiggers
Hawthorne strainers (You can buy at CocktailKingdom.com)
Mixing Glass (I happened to design some with my dad! You can get them on Etsy.)
Wine key (a wine opener, a must!)
– A good knife. I like Japanese ones.
– A hand juicer

You can also ALWAYS shake things up in a ball jar, but the nice tools are better.

Where should you invest?

Always get better booze and ingredients. Cheap vodka not only tastes bad, it’s probably a bad distillate and more than likely give you a wicked hangover. Buy better ingredients. Always! You won’t be upset about it. How do you know what’s good? Well, first, just because it is expensive or local does not mean it is a good spirit. Go out to a few bars and see what the pros are using. There are really good and totally affordable boozes out there.

Where should you save?

Save on tools. While the fancy stuff is great and I love making drinks out of my father’s mixing glasses, you can just as easily use a jar. (Also, that pre-bottled lime juice that is oxidized and gross is more expensive than going to the bodega and buying the limes and juicing them yourself.)

Does wine count as part of your home bar or is that different?

Totally!

How can I make sure my home bar pleases everyone who comes over?

Have enough and have a variety. Not everyone wants to drink Scotch on the rocks. Sometimes a nice tall and refreshing Collins is in order. Make sure you have appropriate glassware and as well as beer and wine. Most people just want a cocktail or two, but if you are entertaining for a number of hours, people will likely want to switch over at some point.

What’s the biggest rookie mistake to avoid?

If you are working on your own special proprietary cocktail, that’s great, but newbies tend to try to add everything plus the kitchen sink to get the taste they’re after. Less is almost always more. Remember that!

What’s the easiest drink to make/keep on hand if all of this terrifies me and I don’t to spend a ton of money?

Really good ginger beer is a total fix-all and tastes great with almost all booze. I like Fever Tree and Reeds — the more gingery, the better. Add vodka and you have a Moscow Mule. Rum? A Dark and Stormy. Otherwise, add one part dry vermouth to two parts gin or vodka to one part water and stick that in the freezer for yummy yummy martinis straight out of the jar.

Any insider secrets for us?

So a nice and REALLY easy way to make a cocktail more exciting is with tea. Instead of just plain simple syrup, use tea! Chamomile makes a delicious syrup as does jasmine. Here’s how:

1) Make strong tea
2) Add equal parts tea and sugar in a saucepan. (1 cup to 1 cup)
3) Stir to dissolve sugar and let cool.
4) Once the simple syrup is cool, remove any additional ingredients, like tea bags.
5) Use the syrup to make drinks.

Fresh citrus and simple syrup in the same ratio can make can make great drinks, too.

Good luck!

Ivy Mix is head bartender and co-owner of Leyenda, a cocktail bar in Brooklyn. (Read her New York Times profile here!) She’s also the co-founder of Speed Rack, an all-female bartending competition and breast cancer charity.

Follow Ivy on Instagram @ivymix and Twitter @ivymix. Follow Leyenda @leyendabk and Speed Rack @speed_rack on Instagram, too!

Special thanks to Astor Wines & Spirits for providing the cocktail materials and to Jonathan Adler and Parker Thatch for the beautiful bar props! Photos by Krista Anna Lewis; creative direction by Emily Zirimis.

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