essential spirits

Home bar essentials : basic spirits you need

When you’re just starting to build up your home bar and spirit collection, I think it’s best if you to start small and take it a step at a time. 

As for many things in life, it will turn out much better if you stop for 10 minutes to plan.

You need to think about what you like and what drinks you’ll mostly enjoy drinking in the comfort of your own house. …Do you like strong, spirit forward drinks? do you love gin and tonics? do you go crazy for sparkling wine or do you prefer fruity cocktails? 

The best thing you can do to buy spirits that you will actually use is to make a short list of a few cocktails that you want to make and then buying the ingredients accordingly. 

You can check out this post to have a better understanding of cocktails categories that will help you focus on stocking up your bar for your own preferences. 

This article is part of the series ‘home bar essential’. Also check out ‘essential mixers‘ , ‘essential tools‘ and ‘essential glassware‘ to gain a better understanding of the basics of bar-tending.


This said, here’s a list of essential liquids for a well stocked bar (obviously don’t buy scotch if you and everyone you know hates it). With this list you’ll be able to make a variety of classic cocktails such as (to name a just a few):

– gin &tonic / white lady / martini /martinez /negroni /lucian gaudin /bee’s knees /

-mojito / daiquiri / mai tai /

-whisk(e)y sour /manhattan / rob roy /boulevardier / old pal / mint julep / old fashioned

-margarita / paloma / oxhacan old fashioned /

– cosmopolitan / bloody mary / kangaroo / moscow mule

Essential Spirit n.1 – Gin

A must. I don’t think i really have to sell it to you but you must stock a nice gin in your pantry. 

If you didn’t notice, gin is the drink of the moment and it’s such a versatile spirit for cocktails.

 I’m not even going to try to suggest one in those few lines because there are so many on the market and i’m sure you must have tried a few different ones already… Go get yourself your favorite one. 

One thing i’d suggest you do is trying to have a bottle from a local producer in your stock: smaller producers will often put much love in their product and i think it’s great to support local businesses.

Essential Spirit n.2 – Rum

I mean, who doesn’t like a daiquiri or a mojito??

Definitely buy a bottle of light rum (I’d go for Plantation 3 stars over Bacardi as it packs more flavor) and a bottle of something darker like a tasty 7yo or 12 yo… something like-> this

This way, you’ll be able to experiment with the different flavors they will impart in the exact same cocktail… which is always fun!
whisky essential spirit

Essential Spirit n.3 – Whisk(e)y

Right. I’ll try to put it in simple terms, even if whisky is my favorite spirit and I love every nuance of it and I could talk about it for days…
Generally speaking there are three main ‘kind’ of whisky that you could get as basics for your home bar: bourbon, rye and Scotch. 
The main differences between them lie in the primary grain used to distill them and in the way they are aged. 
What you need to worry about at this stage is their flavor profile: because bourbon is distilled from corn, this spirit has usually a nice sweetness to it, while rye whisky (distilled from rye ..duh!) will be slightly spicier and peppery.

In short, you need to decide between sweet bourbon, spicy rye or crazy scotch. Or just buy one of each !


Essential Spirit n.4 – Tequila


Tequila is not just for shots. You need this delicious spirit for drinks like the Margarita,  El diablo or the Paloma.

Tequila has a bit of a bad reputation but in reality is one of the tastiest and most complex spirits (both in taste, classification and history). 

Consider digging into the wonderful world of Mezcal, if you like things with a smokey finish…

And if indeed you’re doing shots, try to swap the classic lime and salt chaser for a slice of orange dipped in cinnamon…you won’t regret it!

vodka essential spirit

Essential Spirit n.5 – Vodka

Vodka is a very versatile spirit. It literally goes with anything, but doesn’t add much to the party. 

The reason this spirit exist is to be as tasteless, colorless and odorless as possible in order to provide a blank canvas for anything else, great to starting out mixing flavors for the first time!

And for Sunday brunch’s Bloody Marys!

Essential Spirit n.6 – Cointreau

I’m not joking, this crystal clear orange liqueur is an absolute essential… I’ve been there -thinking: will I ever seriously use an orange liqueur? what for?, proceeded not to buy it and regret it the moment I opened the cocktail book..
So, just buy it, trust me. 

This little number here is in all your favorite cocktails : margarita, cosmopolitan, sidecar, mai tai and more.

Essential Spirit n.7 – Vermouth


Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine essential in the making of many super-classic cocktails. 
I’m talking martinis, manhattans, vieux carres, negronis and many more…

There are many kinds of vermouths with different degrees of sweetness, bitterness or simply with different types of wines as a base. 

At this stage, you only need to worry about the two main traditional types: Sweet (or Italian / or red) vermouth which is based on red wines and was born in Italy, and Dry (or French / or white) vermouth which is based on white wines and was born in France.

In those cocktails, you’ll typically use just a very small amount of it so I’d suggest you getting a smaller 500 ml bottle of each dry and sweet vermouth to prevent spoilage and minimize waste.

campari essential spirit

Essential Spirit n.8 – Campari


It might be because I’m Italian, but I absolutely love Campari. This bittersweet liqueur from Milan is essential in the preparation of all ‘Negroni’ variations and it’s an all round perfect aperitif. 

I’m going to warn you that it might take some time for your palate to fully enjoy its taste, but once you’re there, there’s no coming back.

Essential Spirit n.9 – Angostura bitters


Bitters in bars are considered like salt, pepper and spices in kitchens.  You’ll wonder at what a difference a couple of drops make to any cocktail. 

Angostura bitters are the most fundamental bitters. Created in Trinidad and Tobago by a doctor, the history of those bitters is fascinating in itself, as they were born as a tonic medicine. And if they’ve been sticking around since 1824, there must be a good reason!

As you progress you’ll also want to stock orange, peychaud’s and many more varieties of bitters.

lulu fedi


My name is Lulu and I am a cocktail creatress, menu developer, consultant and blogger based in the wonderful Scottish highlands.

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I hope I inspired some of you with this list: I simply wanted to show you that starting a well stocked home bar doesn’t have to be crazy expensive or complicated. Literally 10 bottles top to 

Let me know in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you!

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