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13 Essential Spirits For A Cocktail Bar At Home | Barorder

13 Essential spirits for a cocktail bar at home

Our guide to building a cocktail bar at home, one that can make a wide range of drinks. This contains the essentials, our top picks and some recommendations.

Essential Spirits

We have kept this list pretty tight but tried to cover a broad range of tastes and preferences. These bottles will give you a pretty great cocktail bar at home. Needless to say, you can tailor your buys to your tastes. All our spirits have recipes they are used in, to give you a guide and some inspiration.

Cocktails are made, usually, from 4 ingredients; spirits, bitters, citrus and sugar. In this guide we will cover the spirits and bitters. A quick note on citrus, we’re not greengrocers so you’ll need to bring your own lemons and limes. On the sugar, we love cocktails made with syrups – just a little adds great texture and richness. Check out our essential syrup recipes for cocktail making.

Now, onto the essential spirits. There are 3 main categories to think about when stocking your home bar; base spirits, modifiers/liqueurs and bitters. 

Essentail Spirits


Gin is so popular at the moment and there are new distilleries popping up every month. It’s the base spirit in many popular classic cocktails and blends really well with flavoured liqueurs. You can create such a variety of cocktails with gin, it should be a staple of a great home bar. If you think you don’t like gin, we challenge you to make some of the below cocktails. You can get quality gin at a pretty good price.

We love Ramsbury Single Estate Gin for its cinnamon, almond and quince botanicals. It’s a London dry style, making it perfect for mixing in most cocktails calling for gin. London dry recipes will be balanced to bring through the juniper botanicals alongside the other flavours, so this is a great universal bottle for your bar.


All bourbon is whiskey but not all Whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is typically American-made, that’s also why we spell Whiskey with an ‘e’ when referring to it! To call a whiskey a bourbon, it must first meet a few legal requirements.

Firstly, the mash – that’s the grains that the spirit is distilled from – must be 51% corn. This is in contrast to scotch whisky which is distilled from malted barley. The corn gives bourbon a sweeter taste, perfect for mixing. The other notable rule is Bourbon must be aged in new charred American oak barrels, this aging provides the woody and oaky notes that bourbon is famous for. It also helps to round off the sweetness. Bourbon is called for in many american classics and so should be in your home bar. 

Rye Whiskey

Similar to bourbon, all rye is whiskey but not all whiskey is rye. Back to the mash, for a rye it needs to be 51% rye grains. The rye grains provide a deeper, richer and spicier flavour to this whiskey. Rye cocktails are typically richer and have baking spice notes perfectly mixed against sweet syrups. If you think you don’t like whiskey, we would recommend trying a rye.

Rye whiskey is also called for in so many classic cocktails, our favorites being a Manhattan, Sazerac and a Scofflaw, that we have to have it among our essentials. Rye is noticeably different from bourbon, especially when mixed into a cocktail, so we feel a bottle of Rye in addition to bourbon is a must. 


We’ll try to keep this short as we will write multiple articles about rum in the future, it’s our favourite spirit. Rums vary so much and the rules about what can be called Rum are pretty relaxed. The result is a spirit that can vary massively, one bottle and distillery to the next. 

Many recipes, especially ‘tiki’ style recipes from Trader Vic and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, call for multiple rums to be used in one drink. This mixing plays into the variety of tastes and flavours, you should absolutely mix and combine rums in your cocktails. You will learn about flavours and styles that compliment one another, plus make some outstanding drinks. Our tip, make sure each rum you add to your home bar has a clear and unique style and flavour profile. This variety and style comes mostly from the input ingredients, distillation process and ageing technique and climate. 

For our essential list we have 2 to recommend for great cocktail making, a light rum and a darker, fuller-flavour rum. For our light rum, we love Plantation 3 Stars. It blends rums from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. It’s charcoal filtered to give a brilliantly clear and creamy spirit. You get a little rum funk flavour, a little caramel and a little grassy note. Perfect for Pina Coladas and Daiquiris.

For our dark and full-flavoured rum we have Plantation dark rum. Blended using rums from Jamaica and Barbados and double aged, first in Bourbon and then Cognac barrels. This results in an oaky, rich caramel and funky rum perfect for Mai Tai’s and the QPH’s Swizzle and Super Cocktail.

We can’t resist, one more – Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum is excellent, it’s high proof and so pretty punchy in cocktails. It also has more of the ‘funk’ flavour Jamaican rums are famous for. A delicious rum!


Don’t just bring it out at Christmas! Actually a classic cocktail staple ingredient thanks to its long history. If you like dry wines and spirit-forward drinks, you should try some brandy cocktails. Cognac and Armagnac are both brandy but distilled and aged in those areas of France, as Champagne is to sparkling wine. We love cognac as it has stronger fruity and berry notes that work really well in cocktails and other mixed drinks. Perfect in a Sidecar or an Improved Japanese Cocktail. Cognac is also called for in some American classics, like the Sazerac.

Tequila & Mezcal

If you love Margaritas then a good Tequila or Mezcal is a must. Both are distilled using juice from Agave. Mezcal actually came first and following its success, a town called Tequila used Blue Agave to distill a version of this spirit, taking the town’s name and making it world famous. In our opinion, you can use Mezcal and Tequila interchangeably in cocktail recipes.

We prefer to mix with Mezcal for its smoky and vegetal taste. This plays brilliantly with syrups, citrus and modifying spirits. Having this in your bar also opens the door to some brilliant Californian cocktails we’ll feature soon!


A staple of most bars and homes and one of the most popular spirits in the UK. It has a clean and creamy taste perfect for mixing with modifying spirits and liqueurs. Due to the clean flavour you can take Vodka cocktails in so many directions and create some really interesting drinks. Vodka really adds firepower to the mix. Check out an Espresso Martini for a staple of Vodka based cocktails. 

Now for the modifying spirits and liqueurs.

These take your favourite base spirits and provide flavour complexity and accents building off the notes of the spirits. These turn a spirit into a cocktail.

Sweet and Dry Vermouth

A fortified wine, vermouth is distilled using botanicals, herbs and spices. White and Red wine form the base and they often contain a little brandy. A staple bottle in classic cocktail recipes and blends with most if not all of the base spirits listed above. We love the vermouths produced by Cocchi, their deep and rich flavours stand up to high proof spirits, citrus and syrups.

Quick tip. Once opened, keep your vermouth in the fridge – it’s like wine. Once opened and stored in the fridge it will be good for about a month, passable for 2-3 months. After that, replace it. 

Orange liqueur (Curacao and Triple Sec)

These are distilled spirits with orange flavour added. Once again, this makes the essentials list due to the sheer volume of cocktails calling for orange liqueur. Curacaos tend to be dry and rich while triple secs are lighter and sweeter. In our opinion, for your essentials, we recommend picking up a Curacao. As many cocktails also call for a sugar component, the slightly drier curacao can be balanced well but is allowed to provide a rich orange note to the drink, before it’s cut with the sweetness. This makes for more intensely flavoured drinks. 

Now for the bitters.

Bitters are a must to have in your home bar. You only use a few dashes per cocktail so they last forever. A common analogy for bitters is that they’re the ‘salt and pepper’ in your drink, they amplify the other flavours. More than that, they bring their own flavours and accents to the mix. Often, they are the first or final note you get when you drink a cocktail. This gives the cocktail distinct start and end tastes. The best way to make better drinks at home is to add bitters to your bar.

Old Fashioned, cocktail or Angostura bitters

These are universal bitters called for in a huge volume of cocktails. If you only have one bitters, this is the bitters you should have. Often providing heavy clove or cinnamon notes, this style of bitters accents spirits, citrus and sugar perfectly. 

Orange bitters

You may have guessed from the name. These bitters add orange notes to your drinks. Fee Brother’s orange bitters in particular have a candy-like sweet and bitter note to them. We think it’s an essentail bottle due to the volume of cocktails orange bitters are used in. So much so, we include it in our starter bar. It also happens to be used in one of our favourites, the Scofflaw