Building A Home Bar on a Budget - Part 2 of ???

When building your home bar always keep in mind that it's yours, so make it to your liking! If you don't like my advice please don't take it, I just want to help you think through the very fun project of establishing your home bar!

After much anticipation, I present to you the second post in my series on how to build a home bar on a budget. This post will cover what I consider to be the best part of building your home bar - shopping for booze! Yes, I like this even better than drinking the booze which comes in a close second. As discussed in my previous post, setting a budget is an important first step to building your home bar, so I'll break this lesson down into four parts - the basics that apply across the board, as well as sample shopping lists for three different budget levels.

The Basics:
The composition of your home bar should reflect your personal tastes and allow you to introduce your guests to drinks that you like. Therefore I don't suggest going out and buying booze based on the 'I'll take one of each' approach. However, there are a few things to keep in mind so that your bar doesn't end up being too one-dimensional:

  1. Given that you're reading my blog I'm guessing you like whiskey. That's great, but remember that a lot of people don't, and that your home bar isn't strictly for your personal enjoyment. If your friends aren't into aged spirits, always keep a few bottles of light, clear alcohol (vodka, white rum, etc.) on hand, as well as sweet liquors and mixers such as peach schnapps, amaretto, and triple sec. If you anticipate using these mostly for heavily flavored mixed drinks it's a great opportunity to buy cheapo brands and save money for the booze that you'll be sipping straight.
  2. Some liquors only make sense if you have other, complimentary products available. For example, if you're going to buy lots of gin, make sure you keep tonic on hand. Similarly, don't buy tequila without triple sec if you plan on making margaritas. Think about the proportions of each product that you'll use when deciding how much of each to buy - i.e. it might take three or four bottles of tonic to get through one 750mL bottle of gin, depending on how liberally you mix the two.
  3. Get in the habit of picking up fresh fruit at the grocery store for garnishes - a fresh lime wedge or orange slice can make all the difference when mixing a drink. If you don't use the fruit in a few days you can always juice it to make your own sour mix that will keep for weeks in the fridge.
  4. Price does not equal quality. There are plenty of delicious, lower-priced spirits out there, and plenty of nasty, expensive, overpriced products as well. Focus on buying products that you've tried and know to be good, or ask for recommendations or read online reviews. A few good websites for liquor reviews are,, and
  5. Looks are important. Even when buying bottom shelf liquors, you can find some bottles that will look better on your shelf than others. In my opinion, when buying something like vodka or white rum, it is okay to base your choice on price and bottle design. Don't buy a $50 bottle of Scotch because it has a nice bottle, but if you're trying to pick an $8 bottle of vodka go for the prettier one.
  6. Your initial bar shopping trip is a great time to head for a 'big box' liquor store. Mom & pop liquor shops are great for finding unique products to fill out your bar, but for your initial stock-up you want to focus on getting all the basics at the best prices you can find.
  7. Don't forget beer and wine. I'm focusing on liquors in this series of posts, but if you plan on having parties or just want to have a truly complete home bar it's important to keep a good selection of beer and wine on hand as well.
  8. I recommend sticking to 750 mL bottles for most products. They look nicer on a bar than bigger bottles and are a relative value and last longer compared to smaller bottles.
  9. Remember you don't have to completely stock your bar at once. If you really like the pricier beverages put yourself on a schedule, buying a few bottles per month until you're fully stocked. Also don't forget to budget for replenishment as you go through the contents of your bar.
So what to buy? I've put together three sample shopping lists based on three different budget levels. These are my personal suggestions, and I recommend using them only as a launching point from which to craft a bar selection that fits your personal tastes. The prices I quote are from my nearest 'big box' liquor store - Total Wine & More in Delaware, and may be slightly higher or lower in your location. All the prices are for 750 mL bottles.

Penny Pincher Bar List - $100
  • Ancient Age Bourbon - $10.99
  • Johnnie Walker Red Scotch - $18.99
  • Windsor Supreme Whiskey - $9.99
  • Di Amore Amaretto - $11.99
  • Jacquin's Triple Sec - $8.99
  • Maxim's Gin - $11.99
  • Cruzan Light Rum - $12.99
  • Cruzan Dark Rum - $12.99
  • DeKuyper Peach Schnapps - $10.99
  • Jacquin's Vodka - $6.99
Grand Total: $116.90 - I always blow through my budget, but hey, that's a damn nice $117 bar setup! If you really wanna stick to $100 drop the Johnny Walker or throttle down to 375mL bottles for a couple of the selections.

Payday Bar List - $250 - A lot of carryovers from above, plus some substitutions and additions to kick it up a notch. This list is a bit whiskey-centric as you'd expect.
  • Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon - $22.99 (Read my review here)
  • Johnnie Walker Red Scotch - $18.99
  • Speyburn 10 Year Old Single-Malt Scotch - $26.99
  • Seagram's VO Canadian Whisky - $12.49 (Read my review here)
  • Bushmill's Irish Whiskey - $23.99
  • Old Overhold Rye Whiskey - $10.99
  • Di Amore Amaretto - $11.99
  • Jacquin's Triple Sec - $8.99
  • Maxim's Gin - $11.99
  • Cruzan Light Rum - $12.99
  • Cruzan Dark Rum - $12.99
  • Myer's Dark Rum - $22.99
  • DeKuyper Peach Schnapps - $10.99
  • Svedka Vodka - $11.99
  • Svedka Citron Vodka - $11.99
  • Two Fingers White Tequila - $11.99
Grand Total: $256.33 - not bad for a bar setup that should last you through several awesome parties.

Big Spender Bar List - $500 - at this point you're really just fleshing out the variety within your favorite categories, and maybe keeping a few choice bottles on hand for special occasions. Add the following to the above list:
  • Maker's Mark Bourbon - $23.99
  • Basil Hayden 8 Year Old Bourbon - $36.99
  • Macallan 12 Year Old Scotch - $46.99
  • Redbreast Irish Whiskey - $43.99
  • Frangelico Hazelnut Liquor - $26.99
  • DeKuyper Peppermint Schnapps - $9.99
  • DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker Schnapps - $9.99
  • Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila - $15.99
  • Paul Masson Brandy - $12.99
  • Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth - $4.99 (375 mL bottle)*
  • Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth - $4.99 (375 mL bottle)*
Grand Total: $494.22 - Much easier to come in under budget when you're playing with the big bucks, although even with this list there are many more things I would love to add. Proof that there's always room for expansion.

Check back soon for a few more tips on how to get maximum enjoyment out of your newly established home bar.

*Vermouth is wine-based, so it does go bad in a week or so after you open it. For this reason I recommend buying smaller bottles unless you plan on having a big martini party where you'll be consuming a lot of vermouth quickly. Also storing it in the fridge can keep it fresher a bit longer. If you do end up with spoiled vermouth it's not the end of the world - it's great as a marinade for cooking. Use dry vermouth for seafood or fish dishes and sweet vermouth for red meat or to give a real kick to roasted potatoes.