Back to the Basics: 7 Liquor Essentials for Your Home Bar

29 October 2021
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If you’ve ever looked up recipes for cocktails, you’ll notice there are certain liquors that are essential for nearly every drink. From the best rums to mixers, here are 7 foundational liquors to keep in your cabinet, and a list of basic mixers to keep close at hand.

1. Whiskey

Whiskey brings to mind cowboys at saloons, downing shots at the gambling table. Whiskey is a fundamental part of many drinks, however, including Mint Juleps and Manhattans. Choosing one can seem overwhelming, but here’s how to keep it simple:

  • Scotch is a smooth whiskey for sipping. It’s aged in oak barrels for three years or more before it is bottled and sold.
  • Bourbon lacks the 3-year aging requirement of Scotch and Irish whiskeys. Be warned: it must be 80 proof…or more. Keep this in mind when using Bourbon for cocktails.
  • Rye whiskey is a spicy choice made of rye, barley, and corn. If it hasn’t been blended and aged for more than two years, it’s called “straight rye whiskey.”
  • Blended whiskey, like the name implies, is a mixture of several types. These are the most affordable of the whiskey family, and make great mixers for cocktails.

2. Vodka

No home bar would be complete without a bottle or two of vodka. It’s the most common liquor in cocktails of all sorts. It’s available in citrus, vanilla, and unflavored choices, and is relatively affordable as a mixer. If you’re making a vodka-heavy drink, such as a martini, or sipping it neat, spend a little extra for a top-shelf bottle.

3. Rum

This is a versatile mixer for many cocktails, including frozen drinks, and an excellent easy way to spice up coffees and hot chocolates. Choose one bottle each of light and dark rums. Light rums are standard for cocktails, but dark varieties are essential for tropical drinks.

4. Orange Liqueurs

A good orange liqueur will last you quite a while, and is important as a mixer for many lighter, fruitier drinks. Triple sec is a good, well-rounded option.

5. Coffee Liqueurs

Kahlúa is the favorite standby for coffee liqueurs. It’s an important mixer for many cocktails, including the basic and popular White Russian.

6. Irish Cream Liqueurs

A favorite in hot drinks, irish cream liqueurs are a staple in any home bar. Adding a splash to coffee or hot chocolate, along with a dollop of whipped cream, makles an easy, cozy drink. Bailey’s is hands-down the most popular of the bunch, but there are other brands such as RumChata, too.

7. Tequila

This is the backbone of the margarita, but goes well in plenty of mixed drinks. The best and most versatile tequila will be silver (blanco) types, but having a higher quality, aged reposado is a great addition to your tequila collection.

Non-Alcoholic Essentials for a Home Bar

Just as important as your liquors, there are non-alcoholic essentials to keep on hand for mixed drinks and cocktails.


Grapefruit, pineapple, orange, cranberry, lemon and lime juices are at the heart of many cocktail recipes. Don’t forget tomato juice if you’re a fan of bloody marys.

Simple Syrups

You can buy simple syrups pre-made, or just boil sugar and water to make your own. It can take the edge off of bitter drinks and sweeten your favorite cocktails.


This red mixer is flavored with pomegranate juice and is used in many popular cocktails. 


Soda is an important mixer, but the good news is that when used in cocktails and mixed drinks, off-brands are just as good as name-brands. Have some club soda, cola, tonic water, and lemon-lime selections close at hand.


Orange, lemon, and lime slices are staple garnishes for nearly every drink. Depending on the drink you’re mixing, you may also need olives, salt, sugar, or celery. Hot drinks can be garnished with whipped cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Now You’re Ready!

With this basic list of essential liquors and mixers, your home bar should be stocked and ready for almost any visitor. If you’re trying a new drink, make sure to double check the ingredients so you have everything you need in advance.

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