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How To Build A Home Bar You Can Be Proud Of, Without Breaking The Bank

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that, at no extra cost to you, we will be compensated when a purchase is made. We only recommend products that we use ourselves.

By u/jensmulderman, posted in r/barbattlestations

We LOVE cocktails. In fact we love them so much we make them every day at home, and we can tell you from experience that it's a love affair that runs the risk of tugging the purse strings harder than our heart strings if we're not careful!

On Reddit there is a fantastic subreddit community called r/barbattlestations, where cocktail enthusiasts, such as you and I, share photos of their amazing home bars that they've worked hard to put together. Some are a simple and minimalist collection of spirits on a decorative bar cart, whilst others could boldly rival the flashy, glamorous bars of the West End.

It's important to state that when we say 'building a home bar', we mean creating a portfolio of different spirits, liqueurs, and other ingredients and not necessarily crafting a physical space for them - Rocket Homes estimate the cost of building a basement bar from scratch to be anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000! Luckily, we understand that a home bar is much, much more than the physical frame in which you place your spirit - its a public display of the passion and pride you put into expressing yourself and your love of the craft in a nuanced way. But this still comes with costs we need to minimize. A single bottle of a spirit may not set you back a significant amount, but if you're dreaming of accumulating a huge collection you need to be aware of how rapidly those costs will pile up.

In this post we want to consider the financial aspect while showing you the surprisingly easy steps to building a home bar you can be proud of, without having to exhaust your funds to do so!

Decide On A Direction

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People advises us to 'begin with the end in mind'. Although this advice was directed towards business and goal setting purposes, it entirely applies to building a home bar too. Recognise what types of drinks you like and cater towards your own preferences with laser focus. One of the most underrated advantages of building a home bar is that its built entirely around YOU. You are judge, jury and executioner of what goes down in your bar, so If you know you dislike sparkling wine you don't need to spend a penny on any glassware or ingredients that cater towards it.

By u/Bourbonguz81, posted in r/barbattlestations

Decide on a theme and focus on that. If you know you have a penchant for Tiki Cocktails, you know you'll be needing to stock up on rum, triple sec, pineapple juice, and probably some cool Tiki glassware before anything else, since most of them share these common ingredients. Similarly, if you're obsessed with whiskey and the many forms it comes in, focus all your resources on the tools you'll need most for it. If you're easy going and up for anything, limit your purchases to the bare essentials - a point we'll expand on later on.

The last thing you need to consider before jumping in is the atmosphere you want to create. Decide if the bar is going to be a quiet secret space for you to escape to or a stage to entertain your friends and family at gatherings. Consider the room it will be in, the space and lighting it provides and whether it already has surfaces you can repurpose. Maybe even try physically building your own bar in your garden from scratch if you're really going to immerse yourself in it!

Start With The Basics

Before you even think about buying spirits, make sure you first have the tools you need to get the job done first. Get the appropriate glassware you need based off the previous point. If you're happy to go with the flow and experiment, just buy one or two of each type of glassware if you don't plan to entertain guests on a regular basis.

By u/makefunofmymom, posted in r/barbattlestations

Next you'll need a Cocktail Making Set with only the essential tools you need to make the drinks you want to make. Buying a 24 piece set with 4 metal straws, a corkscrew and peeler (even though you already have both), and a mixing glass (despite the fact you only like Mules) is not only a waste of money, but also introduces unnecessary clutter to your carefully curated bar set up. If over time you want to try new things then buy the necessary equipment as and when you need them to avoid a massive up-front investment.

Be sure to arm yourself with a collection of Cocktail Recipes you want to make and buy the basic ingredients you'll need to do so. For a basic bar with the most potential, we recommend you have one bottle of each of the following: vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, tequila, and triple sec. These 6 spirits are the foundation of 90% of cocktails and you can build around them to make whatever you like.

Build Around The Spirits You Have

Many cocktails include similar mostly ingredients such as Sours, and are built upon similar foundation, such as Daiquiris, Gimlets and Margaritas. Have a look at some of your favourite drinks recipes, try to identify some common ingredients between them, and focus first on obtaining these ones before any else. The most recurring ingredients are Sugar Syrup, lemon and lime juice so stock up on those!

When it comes to branching out, aim to buy bridge products like these that you can use in more than one cocktail. If you already have some of these at home the most cost effective approach is to buy complementary ingredients that will allow you to expand the range of mixed drinks you can produce from them.

Avoid Orphan Products

In the hospitality industry an Orphan Product is referred to as something that can only be used as an ingredient in just one thing. A good example would be the Worcestershire Sauce in a Bloody Mary, since there is no other recipe out there that calls for the same ingredient. While products like this may be absolutely essential for a particular drink, ask yourself whether or not it can be used in any other cocktail recipe. If it can't, it will just become a novelty item that spends more time gathering dust on your shelf after being used once or twice.

By u/jensmulderman, posted in r/barbattlestations

Don't mix these products up with slow moving products such as bitters. Only a tiny bit is required in any given recipe but its often one of the most defining tastes and is difficult to accurately recreate.

If you absolutely love a particular drink that requires a product like this and drink it all the time, by all means purchase it, as it will be money well spent. If you don't think you'll be using it much but really want it anyway, try and work out a way you can make it at home, which leads us to the next point...

Make Whatever You Can From Scratch

One of the best kept secrets in the industry is just how cheap and easy it is to make to the ingredients of the drinks you love so much. This information is kept tightly guarded to keep the barriers to entry high, so that you continue to rely on your local watering hole to get a taste of your favourite drink.

By u/meeksdigital, posted in r/barbattlestations

Sometimes its just hidden behind thinly layered jargon, as is the case with Half & Half which is simply just equal parts milk and cream. Other times, a change of name is all it takes to justify an insane hike in prices. For example, 'Simple Syrup', which is essentially dissolved sugar, goes for up to £13 on Amazon despite the fact you can make up to 1.2 litres of it at home for 65p!

Fruit flavoured syrups and infused spirits also tend to be orphan products but can luckily be made in any quantity from home quickly, easily, and cheaply, saving you enormous amounts of money. Something as simple as fruit juice is something we're all guilty of spending money on even though we can juice the same fruits we're already using for garnishes and save cash!

Check out our useful guides on making some key cocktail components you can make at home.

Variety Is Nice, But Not A Necessity

The biggest mistake people make when brainstorming what their dream home bar will look like is directly comparing it to their local commercial bar that might have tens, or sometimes hundreds of spirits. A unique selling point for many pubs, bars and restaurants is displaying the variety of spirits they have in stock, which simultaneously creates intrigue and excitement whilst catering to as many tastes as possible.

But lets not get too carried away here, you're not actually opening a bar on the high street. Remember what we said in the first point: '[a] home bar is... built entirely around YOU''. One of each spirit will be fine. Unless you're aiming specifically for range, delving into a particular niche of spirits, or illegally selling mixed drinks out of your basement, you don't need to have 3 different bottles of of vodka, just pick a bottle your favourite and move swiftly on-wards.

The only exceptions to this only really apply to rum and whiskey enthusiasts, due to the notable differences between varieties. We recommend that if you love rum, make sure you have a bottle of white, spiced and dark on hand. Whiskey lovers only need to pick their favourite, although Bourbon is the most versatile for cocktails. Throw in a bottle of Rye, Scotch or Single Malt to give your collection enviable range and variety.

Create A System for Organising Bottles

There is absolutely no strict rule for how this is done. If you want to, you can group all the spirits on one shelf and all the bitters on another, organise them by height order or organise them alphabetically - its completely down to your personal preference and aesthetic vision. As long as everything has a place and you can slot new additions in smoothly you've created a winning formula.

Personally, we prefer the functional approach of grouping bottles that are most used together as close together as possible. For example this would mean grouping our gin, Campari and vermouth all together so we can knock out our Negronis quickly and efficiently.

Sticking to a visually or functionally clear system to organise your products ensures consistency and practicality no matter how many times your tastes may change. Once you've decided on your organisation system, it's time to dress it up and exude a refined and professional image.

Limit The Thrills

By u/elusivemoosedrinks, posted in r/barbattlestations

To successfully upgrade your home bar from a dingy watering hole to a stunning centre-piece your friends can't stop talking about, you have to focus on the visuals. Contrary to popular opinion, to do this you don't need flashing neon lights, an ice sink, or even shelves. In fact, some of the very best home bars on r/barbattlestations don't even have shelves!

All you need to do is just make sure it is well lit, clean, organised. If your bar gets natural sunlight or is in a well lit room, there isn't really much more you need to stress about. If not, get your hands on some low cost spotlights or back-lights that are simple and discrete.

Keep the bottles and glassware that defines the theme of your bar on display at all times. To do this inexpensively, try using a repurposed wine rack (wall mounted or free-standing) or a basic drinks trolley. If your bar has a low ceiling, consider installing these sleek and modern hanging stemware racks to visually communicate how much you mean business.

Owners of the most stunning home bars will tell you that the devil is in the details. We really recommend investing in some professional pour spouts to give your bottle collection a sleek, professional look and for bonus points, point them all in the same direction. But remember, speed pourers don't exist purely just for the aesthetic...

Learn How To Pour Correctly

Now that your perfectly curated collection is built the last thing you want to do is wastefully spill your precious spirits over the counter top. A standard sized 70cl bottle will yield 28 perfect 25ml shots, so if you feel like you're getting any less than that then you're increasing the frequency that you'll be spending money restocking your bottles.

Read our blog post on how you can cut down on wastage through more disciplined pouring practices. You'll quickly see that your bar will have an unrivalled longevity and upkeep will become less and less of an expensive hobby over time.



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