Having a home bar is cool.
It is, however, not cool if the only thing you can offer guests is a couple dusty bottles of liquor you can’t get rid of.
What you have in your home bar makes or breaks your gathering, however informal it may be.
So let’s go over some home bar basics.
Below are some tips on how to stock a home bar. Then we’ve got a full bar liquor list that can be used for both home bars and commercial bars and restaurants.
There are countless types of alcohol you can pick up when stocking a bar. But below is what a bar must have. We've also got a downloadable full-bar liquor list template that you can download and customize.
How To Stock A Bar
Stocking a bar can seem like an overwhelming task. You need to balance your profit margins, recipes, customer demand, and more. To help make this easier, let’s break your decision making process down into a few simple steps.
First, the different qualities of liquor you’ll be looking for:
- Well—Well liquor is what your bartender will use when your guest doesn’t name a specific brand in their drink order. It is generally the most inexpensive liquor at the bar and what's used in the drinks every bartender knows.
- Call—This is what your bartender will use if your guest requests a specific brand for their orders like Tanqueray. To put it simply, they ‘call’ for a certain brand. ‘Call’ liquor tends to be the more popular brands but is generally not the most expensive.
- Top Shelf—Also referred to as premium. These are usually the most expensive items in your bar as they carry a more refined reputation. Most bars will have these on display to pique guests’ interest and to upsell drinks.
Each level represents an increase in quality that will help you price your liquor accordingly. When stocking and purchasing your liquor, aim to maintain a par for all three. Also make sure your bar layout shows them off accordingly. If your bartenders follow the standard pour and master the free pour, you can make the most out of these liquors.
Now, let’s look at the full list of items you’ll need for your bar.
Full Bar Liquor List : Bar Must Haves
Now let’s get into the guidelines around a commercial bar liquor inventory list. As a bar, you’re likely aware of the types of liquors out there. Or you have a certain concept or clientele you need to serve and recommendations from us won’t matter. That’s why we’re sticking to liquor amounts instead of brand recommendations.
- Vodka—For vodka, we recommend stocking between 2 to 3 bottles for each level. In terms of liquor bottle sizes, we're referring to fifths here. If you want a flavored vodka, stick with a brand of citrus one since it’s the most versatile.
- Gin and Rum—Similar to vodka, around 2 to 3 bottles of gin and rum for each level should be enough for your bar. We do recommend trying to stock multiple kinds of rum to have a wide variety of selections for your guests. For gin, try to map it out based on the intensity of the botanicals on the palate.
- Tequila—For tequila, you should aim to have at least 3 bottles of each level. One thing to pay attention to is that tequila’s quality can vary drastically, so make sure to test them out before purchasing.
- Whiskey—Have at least 4 bottles of whiskey ready at your bar. You can start with the basics such as bourbon, rye, Irish, and Scotch. Once you have a better understanding of your guests and what they usually order, you can expand your whiskey selections.
- Wine—We recommend having at least 2 bottles of light-bodied wine along with two more of richer, full-bodied options. This applies to both your red wine and white wine. There are many wine bottle sizes, so stick to a size you know you'll use before the alcohol goes bad. For sparkling wine, you can go lighter on quantities and have one bottle at your bar. No need to buy a case of wine here. The one you choose should be good enough to enjoy on its own. It also shouldn't overpower other ingredients in cocktails when the recipe needs a sparkling wine topper. Just stick to the standard wine pour and you can maximize the profit from this bottle.
- Draft Beer—Have at least 4 kegs. If you pick your styles well enough, you can have a pretty full selection from just these four taps. Just make sure your bartenders track keg inventory and know how to pour beer so you don't waste too much.
- Bottled and Canned Beer—Think of your bottled and canned beers as a supplement to your draft program. Stock up around 4–6 bottles at your bar for every 4-6 kegs you offer. And don’t forget to stock at least one cider to have an option for gluten-free drinkers! Make sure you offer a lager, ale, stout, pilsner, IPA, and wheat beer. That covers all the bases.
The above will cover a basic bar liquor list. But that’s not all. You’ll need something to mix all these goodies with.
Essential Bar Mixers
- Apple juice
- Cranberry juice
- Grapefruit juice
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- Orange juice
- Pineapple juice
- Tomato juice
- Tonic Water
- Coca-Cola or Pepsi (plus diet)
- 7-Up or Sprite
- Margarita Mix
- Rose’s lime juice
- Simple syrup
And you’ll need some wine and beer on your bar stock list, of course.
Free Full Bar Liquor List Template [DOWNLOAD]
For your convenience, we put together a free downloadable full bar liquor list. Click the image below to download a printable version.
You can also download an editable Excel version of the full bar liquor list template here.
When taking inventory for the entire bar, you can use a liquor inventory sheet and take inventory manually. Or you can automate the process with bar inventory software. Depending on how busy your bar gets, the bar inventory can be done either daily or weekly. Just don't wait until an item runs out completely to order more. You can even buy it online if your suppliers are okay with shipping alcohol. And don't forget: liquor isn't the only thing your bar needs. Check out our list of bar and restaurant cleaning supplies, too.
How to Stock a Home Bar
If people are hanging out with you, chances are they like you. You should lean into what makes you special, and make your home bar a reflection of you. It’s what your guests want.
We’ll provide some categories below, but it’s up to you to choose what sings to you. Only then will your home bar be yours.
Here are the bar staples you’ll need:
Best Rum for Home Bar
A good bar has both kinds of rum: a light and a dark. A light rum, also called a silver or white rum, has almost no color and a very slight flavor. It’s filtered numerous times and isn’t aged long. It’ll be the rum you use for most rum-based cocktails. Drinks like mojitos and daiquiris. Those are some of the most popular cocktails around.
The second rum should be dark (i.e. aged) or spiced (spices added). These rums are more suited to sipping straight because of the more complex flavor profiles. That said, dark and spiced rums are used in the Dark & Stormy and other deeper-cut tropical cocktails.
Must Have Bourbons for Home Bar
Whiskey is probably the most complicated decision for your home bar inventory. If you like Scotch or Irish whiskey, then stock it. But the most bang for your buck will be keeping a bourbon around, and potentially supplementing it with a rye whiskey.
Both bourbons and ryes excel at drinking neat or using in cocktails. We’re talking classics like the old fashioned, the boulevardier, and the Manhattan.
Our choices for the must have bourbons for a home bar are:
- Koval Single Barrel. Balanced, approachable, notes of mango chutney and vanilla. Pepper-caramel finish. Scrumptious.
- Knob Creek. Full-bodied, sweet, woody, with notes of cocoa and maple.
- Bulleit. Gentle spice and oak with a long and dry finish that seems to glow in your mouth.
- Four Roses Single Barrel. Heavy spice (though mellow) with honey and peach notes, smooth, robust, and long.
Pick one or two from the list above. You can’t go wrong.
Best Vodka for Home Bar
There’s no shortage of well-known vodka brands out there. If you have a home bar, it’s likely that you have a preference. Buy that one. That’s the best vodka for your home bar.
If you don’t have a preference, maybe these tasting notes will nudge you along toward a decision:
- Absolut. Black peppery spice with faint brown bread and vanilla.
- Belvedere. Vanilla and rye with white pepper lingering.
- Ketel One. Hints of citrus and honey.
- Chopin. Creamy with subtle green apple, vanilla, and earth notes.
Note that vodka flavors are extremely subtle. Foremost, all the above vodkas taste clean and crisp.
Best Gin for Home Bar
Even if you don’t like gin, you should have a bottle for your home bar. We know, we said to make this bar your own. But gin is so common in mix drinks, your bar would be deficient without it. A bottle of London dry gin is the most versatile type of gin out there. It’s the most widely-produced gin in the world. It’s also heavy on the juniper and excels in every gin cocktail out there.
Here are the London dry gins you should choose from:
- Beefeater. Spicy and fruity, bright citrus notes that burst on the nose. Our recommendation.
- Bombay Sapphire. Meandering botanicals that open up to ripe citrus and hints of fragrant spice.
- Tanqueray. Coriander and licorice notes with an underlying backbone of pine.
- Sipsmith. Summer meadow notes with mellow juniper and a hint of lemon tart on the back end.
Best Brandy for Home Bar
One bottle of brandy will do. Outside of Cognac, brandy isn’t enjoyed much on its own by the casual bargoer, which is a shame. Because some brandies are just as rewarding to sip as the most noble Scotch out there.
That said, your best bet is to pick up a bottle of VS Cognac (like Hennessy). It can be used for brandy cocktails and is especially well-regarded enjoyed neat. Two birds with one stone.
Best Tequila for Home Bar
Stock at least one nice tequila for sipping, shots, and margaritas. The right move is picking up a silver, or blanco, tequila.
Blanco is aged a maximum of 2 months and tends to be the easiest to use in mixed drinks because of its unassuming flavor profile.
If you have any tequila aficionados around, then you can splurge for a reposago (aged 2-11 months) or an añejo (aged 1-3 years). But if you don’t, a nice bottle of blanco will be just fine.
Must Have Liqueurs for Home Bar
Here are the basic liqueurs a home bar should have:
- Amaretto. The classic Italian almond-flavored delight.
- Dry vermouth. Useful for martinis.
- Sweet vermouth. Useful for martinis and negronis, along with a collection of tasty bourbon cocktails.
- Orange liqueur. Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, take your pick. They’re used in so many cocktails it’s not even funny.
- Kahlúa. Coffee liqueur used in espresso martinis, white russians, and more.
- Campari. A potable bitters (see: what are bitters?) that’s used in a vast array of cocktails. It’s great on its own, too.
Yes, that’s a short list. But these are only the must have liqueurs for a home bar. If you want a longer list, check out the full bar liquor list below.
Home Bar Mixers
The mixers you need for your home bar are:
- Tonic water
- Margarita mix
- Angostura bitters
- Simple syrup
- Rose’s lime juice
Get a hold of those and that’ll set you up real nice-like.
Other Home Bar Essentials
You’ve got all the tasty parts. Now it’s time for the tools and other home bar accessories and supplies. We went through the trouble of finding the best ones out there to save you some time. Check 'em out:
Home Bar Accessories
Home Bar Suppliers
- Bar spoon (European- or Japanese-style, doesn’t matter)
And that should do it! If you want to go the whole nine yards, check out our full bar liquor list guidelines below. They’re for bars and restaurants, so they’re a little more extensive.
How To Stock A Bar Cart
If you don’t have a large home bar or have a second area with just a bar cart, you need to be a bit more particular in the items you stock. The key here is to pick the most commonly used ingredients and any favorites you or your guests have.
In general, these are the things you’ll want on a bar cart:
- Ice bucket and tongs
- Collins glasses
- Wine glasses
- Martini glasses
- Mixers (club soda, tonic, lime juice, etc.)
Best Selection, Bar None
There is no question that for a bar to be successful, it must always be well-stocked with liquor. One of the most important bar manager duties is making sure you never run out of any essential items. You must stay on top of your liquor inventory. That's why we created this full bar liquor list for all the folks out there wondering how to stock a bar!
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