Creating your very own home bar can be a costly endeavor. However, you can't let that fact discourage you from having a crack at trying home bartending. As someone who has spent years building my home bar, the best advice I can give you at this point is to start small and build on from there. Trying to jump from 0 to 100 in a short period will most likely leave you with many unnecessary bottles and items and an empty bank account.
I'll break this topic down into five parts: bottles, mixers, equipment, glassware, and books. These, I believe, are the key components to start setting up a home bar. However, I will be focusing on the very basic needs when starting. Once you've established your home bar, then you can expand from there.
When deciding what bottles you should include in a home bar, ultimately, you'd want to have an extensive collection that can even rival your local bar. But it would be best if you remembered that when you start, the home bar will cater primarily to your needs and preferences. Therefore, rather than suit everyone's preferences, start with thinking of what cocktails or spirits you like to drink. For example, if you're someone who likes tiki cocktails, then start with a decent selection of rums or if you fancy yourself as a whiskey person, then start by picking up different regional whiskeys. However, if you're looking for a comprehensive list of spirits to buy, these are the bottles that can make a substantial selection of classic cocktails.
To put it plainly, spirits create the base flavor of a cocktail. It's essential to get familiar with the base spirits because most cocktail recipes will require these. Here's a good list of spirits to start with and a couple of brand recommendations.
Bourbon Whiskey: Bulleit Bourbon, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Wild Turkey
Gin: Bulldog, Hendrick's, Monkey 47, Tanqueray
Rum (White or Aged): Bacardi Carta Blanca, Plantation 3 Stars, Plantation Original Dark, Myer's Rum
Tequila (Blanco or Reposado): El Jimador, Don Julio, Herradura, Ocho
Vodka: Grey Goose, Ketel One, Reyka, Tito's
Liqueurs & Fortified Wines
Liqueurs are essentially sweetened spirits that take on a variety of flavors. Usually, these are used in cocktails to add different flavors, thus modifying the drink. Fortified wines such as vermouths are also commonly used in cocktail making and are considered vital in any home bar. Although there are countless liqueurs to choose from, here are the bottles you'd most likely use.
Dry Vermouth (Bianco or Extra Dry): Cinzano, Mancino, Martini
Sweet Vermouth (Rosso): Cinzano, Mancino, Punt E Mes
Coffee Liqueur: Caffè Borghetti, Kahlúa, Mr. Black
Italian Bitters: Aperol, Campari (you'd pick Aperol over Campari if you find the latter too bitter)
Orange Liqueur: Cointreau, Grand Marnier
These are typically sold in small bottles and used as the finishing touches on cocktails. Concentrated and packed with flavor, bitters are essential ingredients in some of the most popular cocktails, like an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Here are three quintessential bitters to add to your bar that will make many classic recipes.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Start by slowly accumulating these essential bottles first before expanding to a broader selection. These will allow you to make a wide variety of classic cocktail recipes. However, do keep this in mind, buy and make what you like first. Think of the cocktails and drinks you like the most, and begin by purchasing those bottles.