Beginner’s Guide to At-Home Bartending

Posted by Livia Bernard on


  • The Station
  • The Alcohols
  • The Tools
  • The Add-Ins
  • The Classics


If someone asked you to list off a few skills that are essential for a guy to know, what comes to mind? The common ones we think of are: changing a tire, keeping a clean living space, performing minor household repairs, understanding basic first aid, and making a good cocktail.


Now, if your definition of a good cocktail is a rum and coke…we’re not knocking your style. We just want to let you know that you’re dipping your toes into a puddle, when you could be swimming in an ocean of delicious, handcrafted beverages. Dabbling in mixology can be intimidating, so we collected the most important components you should know to become a great at-home bartender.


Set Yourself Up for Success


Between the liquors, the tools and the barware, you’re going to need a place to put of this stuff. The bar cart has long been a popular choice and great way to store the tools of the trade in an aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible way. Use whatever works best for you and check out your local thrift or vintage store if you’re looking to score something affordable and unique! We also recommend a small tray and bar towel to complete your basic set-up essentials. Now it’s time to hit the liquor store.


Fill Up Your Shopping Cart


Vodka, Gin, Whiskey, Tequila, Rum and Bourbon; the bar essentials. If you’re balling on a budget, pick up what you can find. But, if you want to be more serious about the quality of your cocktails you might need to drop a few dollars. Investing in a premium liquor could actually improve your overall drinking, and post-drinking, experience. There are many iterations of each liquor type such as London Dry Gin vs American Gin, so the best way to discover exactly what to get is to ask for some suggestions from your local liquor store! Let them know what you’ve tried and they’ll help find you something you’ll like.


Tools of the Trade

When it comes to cocktail making tools, the list is quite extensive. There are many types of strainers, stirring instruments, mixing receptacles, shakers, and more. So, we narrowed it down to a few essentials, and mentioned a few bonus items as well.


A jigger is a small, double sided measuring cup used to portion out alcohol, syrups and juices when creating a cocktail. They are usually made out of metal and contain lines to allow measuring from 0.5 to 2.5 ounces. Jiggers are more versatile than a traditional shot glass due to the additional measurements it provides.


A cobbler shaker is comprised of a smaller lid with a strainer and a larger bottom. This is a good beginner shaker since it does have straining capabilities built in, however, it does tend to get stuck more often.


A Boston shaker is made up of either two metal cups or a metal base and a pint glass. The two fit together at a slight angle forming a seal, and can be popped open with a healthy smack. If you are using one of these you are going to need a hawthorn strainer.


This strainer looks like a palm-sized metal paddle with a tight spring curved around one side. When you are ready to pour your cocktail you simply cap it at the opening of your shaker and pour through the coil end to catch any unwanted ice chips. Now speaking of ice, if you want your delicious drink to stay cold without being watered down too much in the process you should invest in some jumbo ice cubes.


Cocktail ice cubes are often large squares or spheres that are functional but also look pretty cool. Try freezing fruit or herbs in them for a creative flair.


A bar spoon is a long, swiveled spoon that is used to stir spirit-forward cocktails. It can also be used as a unit of measurement but the spoon is quite small, around ¼ of a teaspoon at most.


When it comes to glassware, things can get complicated. There are martini glasses, champagne flutes, coups, collins glasses and more. If you don’t want to go on a hunt for every cocktail glass under the sun, we don’t blame you. The perfect solution to this is to get a set of whiskey glasses. They’re a great size, easy to clean and make any cocktail look classy.


If you make your own syrups you’re going to need some glass bottles. These were created to house olive oil but the size and speed-pour spouts make the perfect, mess free syrup bottle.


If already have a few of the essentials and want to add a few more intermediate items, here are a few bonus items: Metal straws, a muddler for drinks like a mojito, a lemon/lime juicer, a peeler and a small paring knife.


With a Cherry on Top


A drink made with purely liquor, is just a glass of liquor. To make a good drink you’re going to need to incorporate some add-ins. Some obvious ones are seltzer, juices like orange and pineapple, and simple syrup. Lemons and limes are another huge staple; get the bottled kind if you want to save yourself some time (but don’t tell anyone we said that). Now, it’s time to dabble in the more intermediate stuff: Bitters, Vermouth, liqueurs and garnishes.


A liqueur is a sweetened spirit, made by combining nuts, seeds, flowers, spices and herbs with a neutral spirit like vodka. They are often used as a component in a cocktail or dessert, but can also be enjoyed alone as well. A few key players that are great in many cocktails are: Triple Sec or Cointreau (orange liqueur), St. Germain (elderflower) and Campari (herbs and fruit). We’ll tell you what to do with these in just a bit.


Vermouth is fortified wine, created by soaking herbs, spices, and aromatics in a base of wine with an additional neutral spirit. After the flavors get to know each other, the mixture is strained of the foliage and bottled. It’s most commonly seen in a sweet and dry variation, but can come in a wide variety of different blends.


Bitters are very similar to a liqueur in terms of how it’s made, just minus the sweetness. The most well-known bitters is Angostura, and popular drinks such as the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Champagne Cocktail call for a few drops to complete the flavor profile.


A few garnishes that really give your cocktail that extra flair are: green olives, rock candy, bourbon cherries, maraschino cherries, mint, twist of citrus, flowers, herbs, or any fruit that can be tossed into or onto the glass.


Let the Fun Be-Gin


Now that you have all the tools and information you need, it’s time to put it all together!

Old Fashioned Dissolve a cube or teaspoon of sugar in 3 dashes of bitters and a splash of warm water. Add ice, whiskey and stir before serving.


Margarita Shake 2oz of tequila, ¾ oz of lime juice and ¾ oz of simple syrup with ice. Pour through a Hawthorne strainer into a salt rimmed glass.


Tom Collins Mix 2 oz of gin, ¾ oz of lemon juice, ½ oz of simple syrup, and seltzer in a glass with ice. Garnish with a twist or wedge of lemon.


Moscow Mule Stir 2 oz of vodka, ½ oz of lime juice, and 6oz of ginger beer into an ice-filled copper mug


Negroni Equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari with a twist of orange. Stirred, not shaken.


Mojito Muddle several mint leaves with a splash of lime juice, fill glass with ice and seltzer, pour 2 oz of rum over the top and stir. Garish with mint and lime to serve.


Cosmopolitan Combine 2 oz of vodka, 1oz of cranberry juice, ¾ oz of lime juice, and ¾ oz of triple sec in a shaker with ice. Shake well, pour through a Hawthorne strainer and garnish with a twist of orange or lime wedge.


Manhattan Stir 2 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, a dash of angostura butters, and ¾ oz of sweet vermouth over ice. Garnish with a twist of orange and a cherry.


Tequila Sunrise Mix 2 oz of tequila and 4oz of orange juice in a glass. Pour 1/4 oz of grenadine over the top. Garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry.


Mint Julep Muddle mint and a teaspoon of powdered sugar in a glass, fill with finely crushed ice and pour over bourbon. Top off with a spring of mint. 


Congratulations! You’ve graduated from 2(X)IST Bar Basics. Don’t be afraid to try something new, get creative, and practice on your friends. Here’s to picking up a new skill and saving money on “just ok” drinks from the bar down the street. Now get out there and sip on your expertly made Old Fashioned while wearing a tux and smoking jacket (or velour robe) like the suave, sophisticated man you are. 

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