“A home bar is as much a state of mind than a physical object,” says Henry Jeffreys, writer for The Spectator, The Guardian and The Economist — and an expert on anything uncorked, shaken or stirred. “It’s more about the satisfaction of doing something really well, without cutting any corners.”
We couldn’t agree more. The home bar is one of the last bastions of the gentleman. As Jeffreys points out, it allows you to amuse your guests with bon mots whilst knocking up an Manhattan rather than sequestering yourself away in the kitchen. And, as he explores in his new book, The Home Bar, it’s always worth doing properly.
“Even if you don’t have space for a proper bar,” says Jeffreys, “it doesn’t matter. Your home bar could be a cupboard or a tray. You might only have space to offer two or three drinks, but a small selection done well is much better than an wide array made sloppily.”
Firstly, decide on a structure for your bar
So what do you need to create the ultimate home bar? As Jeffreys’ mentions, you don’t have to invest in a huge cabinet or unit to create a striking bar — a choice tray or trolley could do the job just as well.
“It depends on how much space you have,” the writer advises. “For most of my friend’s flats and houses in London, there isn’t space for a proper bar, so I’d recommend getting a trolley or a cabinet. You can pick up really nice mid-century cabinets that open up into a bar for not much money. In fact, someone left one out on our street a couple of months ago and I helped a neighbour carry it into his house.”
Tom Dixon Form Brass Tray
Made Alana Drinks Trolley
Ligne Roset Kermes Sideboard
Raise your glassware game
“You really don’t need that many types of glasses,” reveals Jeffreys. “The ones you can’t do without are tumblers, martini and highball glasses, and one good all-round wine glass which you can use for red, white and champagne — yes really, you don’t need a specialist glass for sparkling wine.”
The home bar expert also warns that tiki cups, although fun to look at, aren’t a necessary investment unless you’re going to be making a lot of tiki cocktails. So, Pina Coladas aside, you only really need the four styles of glassware. In the second tier come coupes, sherry copitas and Nick & Nora glasses — but only if you’ve got space on your bar.
Soho Home Crystal Martini Glasses
Ralph Lauren Bentley Crystal Highball
Villeroy & Boch Tumblers
The best barware will bring the glamour
You’ve got your base, you’ve got your glasses. Now, invest in the best barware to elevate your drinks cabinet into a real bar. Even if you’ve already got the basics — a sharp knife, a fine strainer, a corkscrew — we’d suggest doubling up for your bar and buying again.
“And get a shaker,” adds Jeffreys. “I have an old silver-plated one that look very glam. Buy a bar spoon and a small glass jug for precise measurements — making cocktails is a lot like baking, you have to be exact. Jiggers are also handy for making quick cocktails, although I prefer to use the jug.”
Soho Home Collins Bar Tool Set
Arthur Price Silver-Plated Cocktail Shaker
Georg Jensen Sky Spoon & Jigger Set
Stock up with the spirits you need
According to Jeffreys, most of the great cocktails are built around either gin or American whiskey, so start off with a decent bottle of each. Tanqueray, perhaps — and an excellent bourbon such as Four Roses Small Batch.
“Then you need two types of vermouth,” the home bar expert continues, “French and Italian. I recommend Dolin dry and Cinzano 1757. I’d also suggest getting a decent Tequila, an aged rum like Appleton Estate 12, and a white rum. Finally, a blended Scotch whisky, such as Johnnie Walker Black Label, a single malt or two — Ardbeg or Glenfarclas, some VSOP Cognac and a bottle of decent Polish vodka.”
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Tanqueray No.10 Gin
Appleton Estate 12 Year Rum
Supplement with syrups, bitters and mixers
“You must have Angostura bitters and orange bitters — Fee Brothers do a nice one. And, if you get the bitters bug, you could start exploring other types, such as grapefruit, coffee and chocolate bitters.”
Jeffreys also suggests making your own syrups. Sugar syrup is easy to make, he says, as is grenadine — gently heat pomegranate juice with lots of sugar.
“There’s no point buying the best spirits and then ruining them with syrups made with artificial ingredients,” says Jeffreys. “In terms of other mixers, I always have sparkling water in small plastic bottles, but I’m tempted to buy a Sodastream as I get through so much of it. With tonic water, just the plain stuff — Schweppes isn’t bad, as long as its out of a small can so it’s really fizzy.”
Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Schweppes Tonic Water
Don’t underestimate the importance of ice
Your bar is almost fully stocked. But, before you get mixing, Jeffreys has one more piece of icy advice.
“Finally, you need tonnes and tonnes of ice,” says the writer. “Really more than you’d think. Each cocktail made needs a shaker full of ice. It also helps if you have a small fridge with freezer compartment devoted to drinks making. I cannot stress this enough — making a good cocktail is about coldness and avoiding dilution.
Soho Home Barwell Ice Bucket
Christofle Oh Steel Ice Tongs
Wintersmiths Phantom Ice Ball Maker
Want to expand your American whiskey collection? Here are the bourbons that will make you cheat on Scotch…