How to up your home bar game

The home bar has taken centre stage over the last few weeks since Joburg’s best bars have been off limits. So, you have a bar cart or nice bar top space in your home – now what? Seeing as you can’t go ham at the liquor store and probably only have half-empty bottles of liquor that guests brought to a dinner party last year and a sad lemon, we’re here to help you with ‘quarantending’.



There are some basic tools you’ll need for mixing your own cocktails. The most essential ones are a cutting board, sturdy knife (with a serrated blade for cutting citrus), good sized shaker (ideally one that allows you to mix more than one cocktail at a time), jigger (the double-sided shot glass type apparatus used to measure alcohol), muddler, basic key or bottle opener, basic corkscrew or wine key, easy-to-clean glass bottles or jars for containing simple syrups and fresh juices as well as some white towels that can be bleached.

Other not-so-important tools that you can purchase later on or along the way include a blender, red wine bottle aerator, electric corkscrew, wine bottle stoppers and citrus press to easily make fresh juices.



The price of glassware can add up quickly, so we don’t recommend buying ones you personally won’t use. Some basic glasses we suggest you get are pint glasses, lowball glasses, champagne flutes and red wine glasses – because you can pour white wine into red wine glasses, but not vice versa. Down the line, you can purchase coup glasses, highball glasses, martini glasses, a punch bowl and copper mugs.

Here’s a brief rundown of which glass you should use for which drink:

Pint glass: Beer and double mixed drinks

Lowball glass: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni and White Russian

Champagne flute: Bellini, champagne and prosecco

Coupe glass: Champagne craft cocktails that don’t require ice

Highball glass: Gin and tonic, mojito, Bloody Mary and Dark ‘n’ Stormy

Martini glass: Martini, Cosmopolitan, Brandy Alexander and Kamikaze

Punch bowl: Punch and Pimm’s

Copper mug: Moscow Mule (which can be made with pretty much anything, not just vodka)


Must-have mixers

Mixers that you should always keep on hand are club soda, tonic water, cranberry juice, orange juice, grapefruit juice and ginger beer. Our top tip is to opt for canned juices and mixers as they won’t expire quickly. You should also always have a shaker of orange Angostura bitters handy – even though bitters isn’t technically a mixer, it goes into a number of basic cocktails.

To make simple syrups, you’ll need white or Demerara sugar (the brown sugar used in Old Fashioned cocktails). Simply combine one part sugar with two parts hot water and shake until the sugar has fully dissolves. It’s as easy as that! But keep in mind that simple syrups have a shelf life and only keep for about a week in the fridge.


Basic bottles 

At the end of the day, this is your bar above anything else – so don’t make the mistake of thinking you need every type of liquor under the sun in your home bar. There are, however, some basic bottles that we do suggest you buy: Gin (for a gin and tonic or Tom Collins), light rum (for a mojito), dark rum (for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy), silver and gold tequila (for a margarita), bourbon (for an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep), rye whisky (for a Manhattan), sweet and dry vermouth (for a martini), vodka (for a Moscow Mule) and Cointreau (for a White Lady).



To make a cocktail go from oh to damn the next time an unexpected guest arrives, there are some garnishes you need to keep on hand for your home bar. These are olives (AKA one of the most iconic garnishes ever), fruit peels (lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits), herbs (rosemary, basil and mint), spices (cinnamon, clove, ground ginger and coriander) and fruit soaked in booze (cherries soaked in brandy or whisky). If you dare, you can also try crispy, salty bacon as a garnish in a cocktail like a Bloody Mary – it can actually make just about any cocktail better!


Masterful mixology tips

Keep your cocktails cold: Who knew the wow factor of serving homemade cocktails on the rocks could be so simple! To enhance any cocktail, simply add luxe ice. Big ice cubes work best for spirit-forward drinks, while you’ll need crushed, cracked or pebble ice for tiki drinks. For highballs, turn to ice shards, cracked ice or Collins spears. Standard ice cubes work for pretty much everything else.

Know how much booze to use: Balance is key to any great cocktail, so while it’s fun to play around you must stay proportional in terms of how much booze you use. For spirit-based cocktails, the standard bar pour is 60ml of spirits, such as 60ml of tequila in a margarita. For spirit-forward drinks like a martini or Old Fashioned, aim for 75ml to 90ml of spirits. Remember: Less is more, and you can always add to it.

Make citrus your best friend: Citrus fruits including lemons, limes and oranges are as basic to cocktails as the liquor itself. In our opinion, every amazing cocktail is made with fresh fruit juice, so avoid using premade fruit juices and freshly squeeze your own if possible. Yes, it’s a pain – but we promise it’s worth it! Other fruits, such as berries, pineapple and peaches can be frozen for your convenience.

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