How To Rethink Your Home Bar

It’s not just a liquor cabinet, but a symbol of hospitality.

By Terry Cermak + Photography by Marc Babin

Once you get past the winter holidays, you’ll find it’s a great time to rethink your home bar. Odds are your liquor is depleted, your bar tools are broken (or missing), and you no longer have any glasses that match. Here are a few tips for a bar reset:

1. Your Liquors

Take a look at your bar space. If it’s cluttered, you can’t find anything, and you have plenty of near-empty bottles, it’s really time to whittle down your excess inventory. Save some of the dregs for cooking (you can store them in space-saving jars in the cupboard) and share the rest with friends (anyone for an impromptu bar-cleaning happy hour?).

2. Vermouth, Port, and Sherry

ICYMI: vermouth does not last forever. Yes, it’s a fortified wine but it still generally does not have enough alcohol to preserve it indefinitely (the cutoff point is about 18%). Once opened, it can be kept refrigerated for about three months before it starts to seriously decline. At six months it belongs down the sink. Port and sherry are higher in alcohol and can hold up quite a bit longer. Port in particular looks lovely in a cut glass decanter on a side table outside your actual bar (a two-fer: free bar space and enhanced décor!).

3. Mixers

Most commercial mixers will last quite a while since they are loaded with sugar and preservatives. They also don’t taste very good. Take this opportunity to toss out the old stuff and start exploring higher quality craft mixers and fresh juice. You may be pleasantly surprised.

4. Bar Tools

Serious cocktail aficionados love bar toys (myself included), but take a minute to think about what you actually use and need. Opt for plastic mini measuring cups (more precise than jiggers). Certainly a mixing glass and/or shaker. If you have a shaker with an ice strainer you can live without a Hawthorne strainer (although you’ll have to take my julep strainer from my cold, dead hands). Essential items include a small sharp knife for slicing fruits, a good quality hand citrus squeezer, a citrus peeler/zester and a mixing spoon. BTW, I love the long, twisted elegance of my barspoon, but you can really stir with any utensil that’s long and slender, like an ice tea spoon or table knife (British scientists actually proved that wooden spoons chill drinks faster than metal spoons, since metal is a good conductor of heat). If you do use your bar spoon, you’re probably doing it wrong: stir with the spoon bowl side up, above the glass. The mini-muddler on the other end is sized better for quick stirring at the bottom of the glass.

5. Glassware

Everyone loves beautiful glasses, but if space is critical, all you really need are a few simple rocks glasses, one style of cocktail glass (a coup or Nick & Nora), and a tall tumbler for a Collins glass. And remember, wine glasses make perfectly acceptable cocktail glasses.

Well after all that, I need a drink! May I offer:

The Clean Martini

Contralto’s soft complexity blends perfectly with Oxley’s crisp, bright, clean botanicals.

2 1/2 ounces Oxley Gin
1/4 ounce Contralto Dry Vermouth
1 large slice of lemon peel
2 drops of angostura bitters

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


Terry Cermak is a spirit specialist at Rollers Wine & Spirits and Wine & Cheese, If You Please? He is also an online contributor, writer-at-large and creator of LOCAL Life’s local cocktails series.

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