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Home bar cocktails
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The beginner's guide to setting up a bar at home

Everything you'll need to get you started and where to get your supplies

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Written by
Tatum Ancheta
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With the city's bars temporarily closed and social distancing restrictions still in place, this might be the perfect time to build your own home bar so you can drink safely at home. Christmas time is here, and while we can't really celebrate with large gatherings, if you're having a couple of your friends over, it will help to have a well-stocked bar. And social distancing aside, there are a lot of benefits to having your own bar. You don’t have to leave the house to have a good drink or two. If you do overindulge, you don’t have to worry about getting home safely. You can be as dressed up or down as you’d like. Plus, you’ll save some cash in the long run because drinking out in the city is not cheap. 

There are sites with online delivery services that can accommodate your home bar needs, so you’ll be able to set it up in no time. To get you started, here are a few tips on how to set up your bar at home. 

RECOMMENDED: Is home bartending not your style? Order ready-to-drink bottled cocktails from your favourite neighbourhood bars

Tips for setting up your home bar

Bar set-up
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Bar set-up

Abundant space is a scarcity in Hong Kong. So, if you have a tight apartment, you can repurpose furniture like a console table or side table as your designated bar. Or just set up a stylish tray stocked with your favourite spirits and tools on your kitchen counter. You can easily pick up or order online a stylish tray from Ikea; they have everything from wood, metal, or plastic trays.  

If you have the luxury of space, you can invest in a bar cart or trolley that fits your design taste. The important thing is to have your drinking paraphernalia in one easily accessible area. Check out online shops like Stockroom, Decor8, iDecorateShop, or Ubuy.hk for stylish trolleys, style varies from silver, black, or gold metal carts with glass or wood planes. 

Bar tools 
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Bar tools 

When it comes to bar tools, you can start with the basics and add more later on. Get the essentials: a shaker for mixing the drinks (most bartenders prefer the two-piece Boston tin shaker, but a three-piece cobbler shaker will work just fine. The Parisian shaker may look pretty, but it is such a pain to use, and you will have a hard time getting your mixed drink out); a jigger for measuring ingredients; a Hawthorne strainer for straining ice, pulps and other tidbits from cocktails; a muddler for mashing fruits, herbs and spices; a mixing glass for mixing stirred cocktails; a long-handled bar spoon for mixing and layering the drinks; a manual citrus press for juicing lemons and various citrus; a bottle opener (which you probably already have); a corkscrew for opening wines; and a sharp paring knife to cut garnishes and other fresh ingredients. 

Invest in a bar set for a uniformed look. This one from The Bottle Shop ($330) has most of the basics and comes in a sleek bamboo rack that would look good at any bar. If you'd like to buy separate tools, check out online shops like  Vinoble, Barshop.hk, and Liquorland

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Glassware
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Glassware

Glassware is not all about the aesthetics, although that does count. The proper glass can enhance your cocktail and your drinking experience. Glassware does take up quite a lot of space though, so it might be best to just get glasses you’ll often use. If you prefer to drink your spirits neat or on the rocks, get a set of rock glasses, also called Old Fashioned glasses. These are low ball glasses that looks like a short tumbler, usually used for whisky sours and spirit-forward drinks like Negroni and Old Fashioned (hence the name of the glass). For long drinks, get highball glasses, these are usually used for G&Ts and other fizzy drinks, and can even be used as drinking glasses. Coupe or coupette glasses are used for shaken, and stirred drinks served chilled with no ice. And if you’re more into wines, get glasses based on the wines you often drink, there are different glasses for red, white, sweet, and sparkling. If you have the budget and want to splurge, invest in crystal glasses. You can also mix and match with vintage pieces you can find in secondhand shops or online marketplaces.

You can purchase glasswares online via Vinoble, Indigo-living, Bidvino, or Townhouse. 

Spirits
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Spirits

A bar is only as good as the liquor it’s stocked with. Get a variety of spirit staples that are easy to mix in cocktails and good to drink on their own: gin, vodka, rum, whisky, bourbon, and tequila. It’s not necessary to get the top-shelf stuff, although they say "the better the quality, the less likely you’ll have a hangover." Stock up with your favourite bottles, since you’ll be the one drinking them for the most part. Master a few simple cocktails that you can whip up for yourself and your guests. Keep in mind that some aromatized fortified wine like vermouth and liqueurs like cream liqueur need refrigeration once opened as it easily oxidizes or gets stale. 

For liquor supplies, these alcohol delivery services will let you kick back and wait for the booze to arrive on your doorstep. 

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Mixers, syrups, and bitters  
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Mixers, syrups, and bitters  

Mixers and syrups are the keys to experimenting with the flavours of your cocktails. Different fruit juices (fresh and ready to drink), soda water, tonic water, cola, ginger ale are used in cocktails or in highballs to make spirits more palatable. Sweeteners (as are souring agents like citrus) in a cocktail is necessary to balance and enhance the flavours in your cocktail, so do not skip this ingredient. You can make your own simple syrup by mixing equal parts water and sugar over heat and use this as a base for other flavoured syrups. There is also a range of flavoured syrups from well-known brands like Giffard and Monin that you can choose from. If you’re cutting down on sugar there are low-sugar and sugar-free alternatives out there that you can use. Try out which ones work best for you. Bitters add an extra oomph to cocktails and are key ingredients in some classics. Angostura bitters is a staple in every bar, so start with that and experiment with other bitters once you’re more comfortable. Some mixers and homemade syrups are best kept in the fridge, so take your fridge space into consideration.  

Online sites like The Bottle Shop and HK Liquorstore offer a good selection of mixers and bitters. 

Garnishes
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Garnishes

Garnishes not only make your drinks look prettier, but they also add to the smell and taste of your cocktails. The staple garnishes are citrus, so lemon, lime, and orange. Some recipes require just the peel and others use a slice or a wheel. For the peel, make sure that you don’t include the pith (the white part) because that part is bitter. What’s good about fresh garnishes is that you can display them in a fruit basket and can consume them outside of making just cocktails, like with apples, cucumber, pomelo. Your spice rack is a good source of garnishes as well. You can use cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom for G&T's for example or in infusing your spirits for more flavour. Fresh herbs like mint, basil, and cilantro can be used in both drinks and dishes as well. If you have a dehydrator, you can use dehydrated fruit as garnishes or make fruit candies to complement the drinks. Seasonal fruits add an extra element to your cocktails that tie them to a season. The limit for garnishes is your imagination. Be brave and experiment. 

Order fresh produce from various supermarkets in Hong Kong that have online delivery services

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More tips
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More tips

Take inspirations for your home bar aesthetics from Instagram and Pinterest and use those as a base for what works for your space and budget. Purchase a few cocktail books to give you some guidance. Books like The Savoy Cocktail Book, Imbibe, How to Mix Drinks, and The Joy of Mixology, can give you a better understanding of classic cocktails and guide you in making your own signature concoctions. Having your own home bar allows you to make your own rules, so be fearless and feel free to experiment to know what you like. Plus, since it’s your own bar, you can have happy hours any time of day. 

Now level up your home bartending game

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