How To Stock Your Bar At Home–We Ask An Expert

We've come a long way since our days of cheap vodka in the freezer. But knowing exactly what to have on-hand in your proper, grown-up bar can get a little confusing. We want to mix up the best for our guests (and ourselves!), so we've asked local bartender Revae Schneider to show us the ropes by letting us tag along on a boozy shopping trip. If you like what Revae's pouring out, visit her at River North's post-work mecca, Union Sushi & BBQ, and bring friends. We tagged along with Revae as she honed in on bar essentials at Binny's Beverage Depot (where the real pros go). Here, she's filling us in on all the must-haves and don't-you-dares that go along with the very best liquid entertaining. Stalk our stock-up, then prepare to humbly accept the title of Best Hostess Ever. Cheers to you!
What do you love about your work, specifically in Chicago?
"I love being able to create a drink that makes people smile and think, “Woah, that’s awesome!” Chicago’s palettes seem to more adventurous which makes it more fun for me to play with cool ingredients!"
What are your must-have bar tools for anyone stocking their bar?
"A hawthorn strainer, a jigger, and a shaker are the three most necessary items for your home bar to create a balanced drink. A hand citrus press, julep strainer, a muddler, a bar spoon, and a pint glass for stirring come next. Things like a Y peeler, a channel knife, a cherry pitter, and a church key, are all great things to have but not always necessary."
What basic glassware do you recommend?
"I think everyone needs to have: a) a good rocks glass for scotches, whiskeys, and bourbons served either neat or on the rocks, b) a Collins glass for mixed drinks that would be served over ice. c) a cocktail or martini glass for drinks served Up and d) my personal favorite, the coupe glass, it’s a fun way to serve a cocktail and can also double for a champagne glass without having to use the traditional flute."
What are the mandatory bottles we need in our bar and why?
Beer: "Fleur by Goose Island, this is fun, unusual, and palette-pleasing for everyone."
Vodka: "Hanger One is a cool alternative if you want something outside of a huge name, and it's made from grapes so has a cool flavor profile on its own."
Gin: "Plymouth and Bombay Sapphire are both great options, not too overly heavy on Juniper and very palatable for around the same price point. Oxley if you want to spend a little more money, it has great notes of cocoa and vanilla."
Rum: "Appleton Estate white rum is a great price and good quality. Cruzan is a great price point and has a better flavor profile than other spiced rums."
Tequila/Mezcal: "Luna Azul is reasonably priced, really good quality, and tastes awesome in cocktails. Don Julio is much better quality than other popular brand names and it's more prevalent on the back bar of restaurants and bars. Chinaco if you want something really nice and not something you’ve heard of without paying an arm and a leg! Del Maguey Chichicapa is my favorite but carries a bigger price tag so it's more of an investment."
Scotch: "Balvenie is my favorite because it’s really got great flavor and they do a lot to try unusual things without getting too gimmicky. The 14yr Caribbean cask is my favorite."
Whiskey: "Makers Mark is the most readily available, mixes well, is tasty on the rocks or neat, and it's not too pricey. Old Weller Antique is a great price, and perfect for a Sazerac. Hudson is an investment for your bar. Great quality and if you want to pay the price, it's totally worth it."
Vermouth: "Dolin Dry Vermouth, but for something sweeter, try Carpano Antiqua Sweet Vermouth, this is perfect for Manhattans and it's of the highest quality. Lillet Blanc can be mixed in many classic cocktails and nice on the rocks with an orange slice."
What are some basic mixers (and other non-alcoholic musts) we need to keep stocked?
1. Soda water: "A must, you can use for a basic mixer or to give a cocktail a little effervesce by topping it with soda."
2. Tonic: "Just a basic, there are a lot of new designer tonics, my favorite being “Q”, tasty if you want to spend the few extra bucks."
3. Gosling's Gingerbeer: "Not mandatory, but a great mixer to have. Can be used to make a dark and stormy, a Moscow Mule, or to do fun drinks like a mojito but topping it with gingerbeer makes a completely new drink that is quite delish!"
4. Angostura bitters: "The most classic, just a great basic to have."
5. Peychauds bitters: "A must for a Sazerac and other classic cocktails."
6. Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters: "My personal favorite, a staple on my bar, brings out flavors of cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, baking spices. Love! Also just great in a vodka soda, one or two droppers makes a whole new drink."
7. Bittercube Orange bitters: "This is a must for an Old Fashioned, I also like it in a Manhattan. Angostura Carmelized Orange bitters is nice, too!"
What are some fun extras?
1. St. Germain: "This is one of my favorites, can be mixed in lots of different cocktails, added to champagne with just a touch of lemon, or just used to top your favorite 1+1 drinks!"
2. Domaine de Canton: "I’m on a ginger kick and this is a great mixer. Not too overly spicy and can be utilized in the same way St. Germain can."
3. Luxardo Maraschino: "This is used in classic cocktails, you don’t need a ton of it, and it has a really interesting flavor profile."
4. Chartruese: "I prefer green but yellow is the “light” version of it. Herbal, 110 proof, clears out your sinuses and it's just all around goodness! It can be an acquired taste."
5. Simple syrup: "Super easy to make, 1 cup sugar to 1 cup hot water and just stir until sugar dissolves in the hot water. This will stay fresh if covered in fridge for a months."

More from Chicago