Brandy Rand

Thirsty Writer, Libations Marketer

Home Bar Essentials

Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Northshore Magazine.

My home bar always sparks conversation among friends. Having spent my entire adult life in the beverage business, I’ve acquired all of the necessities to turn out a proper cocktail in minutes. I’m often asked what my favorite brands of spirits are or what would be an impressive drink to make guests. And, well, I have an opinion on everything from ice (the most important component of your drink!) to the best bar tools to do the job properly. The items below are a handy compendium of cocktails, spirits, and barware that will raise your home bar from rookie to professional status faster than you can order a second round.

Stock a Better Bar

The key to a killer home bar is having all the basics on hand and ready to shake, stir, and sip on a moment’s notice. Take the time to invest in just a few key bottles and you’ll be able to please every palate.

Vodka: The Russians are experts here, so go with a classic like Stolichnaya. Or drink local with Boston’s own Bully Boy.

Gin: Nothing says London dry more than Beefeater. Out in the Berkshires, award-winning Greylock gin is a state-side favorite.

Rum: For white rum, there’s no better choice than Ipswich-made Privateer. An aged rum like Appleton VX will add depth to cocktails and is also sippable on its own.

Whiskey: This is a big category with a ton of options, but every bar should have a good bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare and a premium single malt whiskey like Glenmorangie 18.

Tequila: Go for 100 percent blue agave tequila like Don Julio for margaritas and an aged Reposado like Cazadores for shots (if it’s that kind of party). If you want to go a bit more esoteric, skip tequila altogether and go for a smoky single village mescal like Del Maguey.

Bonus Bottles: Just like salt and pepper, these supplementary items are what bring out the flavor and add balance to a variety of cocktails: Angostura bitters, Campari, dry vermouth, and sweet vermouth (the latter two should be refrigerated after opened, as they are fortified wines). For European flair, pick up a few apéritifs and digestifs like Chartreuse, Averna, Aperol, or Cocchi Americano. Not only are the bottles a gorgeous addition to any bar, but they can all be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

Three Simple Cocktails: Only Three Ingredients

Everyone should have a signature cocktail up his/her sleeve to make on a moment’s notice. Don’t rely on a gin and tonic; shake (or stir) things up with these three-ingredient classic cocktails that are impressively easy.


An Italian aperitivo-hour staple, the Negroni is both bitter and sweet…and utterly sublime. Not a gin fan? Substitute bourbon and you’ll have another classic, the Boulevardier.

In a rocks glass filled with one large ice cube (see bar tools for reference), measure one ounce each gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Stir with a bar spoon for 30 seconds or so until chilled. Take a peel of or- ange and lightly squeeze to release the citrus oil and drop into the glass.


Strong, simple, and stirred. Done right, this drink is a perfect bal- ance of everything there is to love about whiskey.

In an Old Fashioned glass measure one bar spoon (about 3/4 tea- spoon) of sugar, one bar spoon of water, and two dashes Angostura bitters. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add two ounces of bourbon (or rye) and one large ice cube. Stir for about 30 seconds or so until chilled. Take a peel of orange and lightly squeeze to release the citrus oil and drop into the glass.


Move over margarita; the daiquiri is a fresh take on a citrus-based cocktail that was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite tipple.

Measure two ounces white rum, 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, and 3/4 ounce simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar dissolved) in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake it like you mean it until very chilled. Strain into a coupe glass if serving straight up, or into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.

Buy These Bar Tools

1) Tovolo XL Silicone King Cube Tray ($9.99 at Shubie’s, Marblehead) because big ice is way better than melted ice.

2) Yarai Mixing Pitcher with Hawthorne Strainer ($29.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Danvers) is ideal for whipping up a batch of Old Fashioneds and a proper martini.

3) Twisted Handle Bar Spoon ($4 at The Boston Shaker) is a classy way to stir drinks.

4) Professional Boston Shaker ($14.50 at The Boston Shaker) will allow you to channel your inner bartender. Note: A general rule of thumb is to only shake cocktails containing fresh citrus juice; everything else should be stirred.

5) The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique ($30 at The Beehive, Salem) by bartender extraordinaire Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a fantastic reference for expanding your cocktail repertoire.



This entry was posted on March 7, 2015 by in bar tools & gifts, gin, Northshore Magazine, recipes, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey and tagged , , .
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