There is no single blueprint for a home bar, but whether you have a nook in the kitchen or the whole corner of a game room, that watering hole may well be getting more traffic these days. Fortunately, the attention invested in a home bar pays dividends, whether you’re entertaining formally or just hanging out.
Starting or maintaining a home bar is ultimately an exercise in taste and a test of scout-like preparedness, but one of the age-old maxims is: stick with brand names. Labels make you look good (or cheap). Since liquor keeps so well, there’s no reason not to go top-shelf.
Vodka: Step up from the basic vodka with Grey Goose ($40). Made from naturally filtered spring water from the Cognac region of France, Grey Goose imparts smooth flavors and a clean finish. Flavored vodkas are more a matter of flavor preference than quality.
Gin: Hendricks ($42) is a rising star. This 88-proof small-batch gin distilled in Ayrshire, Scotland, is flavored with cucumber and rose petals, and unlike with many gins, there’s no biting aftertaste.
Rum: An aged rum like Ron Zacapa ($37), made using the concentrated first pressing sugarcane juice (rather than molasses, like most), will set you apart from those Bacardi drinkers.
Tequila: Jose Cuervo is fine for margaritas, but for sipping, have on hand a 100-percent agave, such as Patrón ($49).
Bourbon: Jim Beam may be good but Woodford Reserve ($33) is better. It doesn’t get any smoother than WR and you can smell the charred oak cask that it was aged in. Smooth and sweet starting out and finishes with a nice peppery note.
Canadian whiskey: Whether straight-up or with water, Crown Royal ($36) lends the perfect oakiness and spice to its finish.
Irish whiskey: Jameson ($35) is all you need.
Scotch: Blended, Johnny Walker Red ($31) is a worthy crowd-pleaser. For single malts, The Macallan 12-year-old ($51) is a fine choice.
Cognac: Hennessy VS ($49) is the baseline for top-shelf Cognac; enhance your digestifs by adding other brandies, grappa, and/or Calvados.
Liqueurs: Kahlua ($21) and Frangelico ($25) are two staples in a rainbow’s worth of flavors in the $20-plus range; follow your flavor preferences for more.
Staples: Noilly Prat dry vermouth; Angostura bitters; Cointreau.