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How to set up a great home bar, and be everybody’s best friend

Our resident drinks writer, Leah van Deventer walks you through it.

by: Leah van Deventer | 17 Feb 2017

Having a killer home bar, and knowing what to do with it, is the ultimate achievement for any host. And (unless you’re an insufferable arse) it will certainly put you in the running for winning that proverbial popularity contest.

Below, I’m going to walk you through what I consider to be home-bar essentials. These include the booze itself – with examples of good local and international brands and cocktails you can use them for – plus other requirements like fruits and tools. (Bonus points go to anyone who chooses all local brands for their bar because #localislekker).

Remember though, your bar is predominantly for your pleasure, so don’t invest in a bunch of stuff you don’t like. Hate absinthe? Unless your BFF (or that hottie you fancy) is a mad Sazerac fan, don’t buy it.

And if you don’t want to dive in with the full shebang, I suggest you make a list of the cocktails you like best, then figure out what’s actually in them (or scan the cocktails below). Get those ingredients first, and build your bar up from there.


Whisky or Bourbon
Local: Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky
International: Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Single Malt or Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch
Cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Whisky Sour, Rob Roy, Boulevardier

Light Rum
Local: Zulu Rum
International: New Grove Silver Rum
Cocktails: Mojito, Cuba Libre, Mai Tai

Dark Rum
Local: 031 Bay of Plenty Spiced Rum
International: Mount Gay Black Barrel
Cocktails: Daiquiri, Dark n Stormy, Mai Tai

Local: Six Dogs Karoo Gin
International: The Botanist Gin
Cocktails: Tom Collins, Gin Martini, Gin Gimlet, Negroni, French 75

Local: Jorgensen’s Primitiv Vodka
International: Ketel One Vodka
Cocktails: Moscow Mule, White Russian, Vodka Martini, Cosmopolitan, Bloody Mary

Local: La Leona Blancho
International: Don Julio Reposado
Cocktails: Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Matador, Blue Monday, Tequila Holiday

Local: Caperitif Vermouth
International: Cinzano Dry Vermouth
Cocktails: Gin Martini, Negroni, Boulevardier, Americano, Corpse Reviver

Triple sec
Local: Brothers Triple Sec
International: Bols Curaçao Triple Sec
Cocktail: Margarita, Cosmopolitan, White Lady, Sidecar, Long Island Ice Tea, Mimosa

Local: 031 Absinthe
International: Doubs Absinthe
Cocktails: Monkey Gland, Death in the Afternoon, Sazerac    

Local: Jorgensen’s Afrodite African Aromatic Bitters
International: Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Champagne Cocktail, Rob Roy, Singapore Sling


Citrus fruits
These are common in cocktails, for their juice and zests. Don’t even think about getting fruit concentrates if you want to be taken seriously behind the bar. Rather, keep a stash of fresh lemons, limes and oranges or naartjies at hand.

Maraschino cherries
They not only taste great, but they seriously up the sexy ante – especially if they have stalks.

Green olives
You’re probably only going to use these in martinis, but they’re good to have. Pitted and stuffed ones are best.

White sugar and kosher salt
Sugar will generally be needed for simple syrups, while salt is used for rimming glasses.

Soda water and tonic will take you a long way, but you’ll need Coke and ginger beer for certain drinks.

First get yourself a jigger, shaker, strainer and bar spoon. Then add a citrus reamer or squeezer, for all those lemons and limes, and a zester, for fruit zest. You’ll need a chopping board and sharp knife too, but you’ll likely already have those in your kitchen.

Bits and bobs
Toothpicks, little umbrellas, straws and swizzle sticks are not essentials, but they do add some pizazz to your drinks.

Good luck and let us know how it goes by tweeting us @Food24 or tagging us on Instagram @Food24_sa.

ALSO READ: 12 Stylish drinks trolleys you wish you owned

Want more? Catch Leah van Deventer on Twitter or Instagram.


Read more on: rum  |  whisky  |  gin  |  vodka  |  cocktails  |  drinks

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