Essential Drinks to Build a Basic Bar

I just set up a basic list of the main drinks that I consider essential to set up a bar without major investments and above all to prepare dozens or hundreds of cocktails from the possible combinations.

Essential Drinks to Build a Basic Bar


  • Basic: Absolut or any other imported brand. There is no considerable difference in flavor between vodka and anyone who claims otherwise is generally mistaken.
  • Flavored: I recommend only a lemon vodka, Absolut Citron, which is classic in this category. As great options, however, it is possible to have a Danzka or Ketel One also flavored with citrus.


  • White card: A light rum is essential for the preparation of cocktails. Gold rum is rarely used. Among the good quality options are Mount Gay or Havana Club, which no longer have that excessively striking flavor of national rums.


  • Basic: Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire are great and obligatory gins for the preparation of numerous cocktails. In general, most of the imported gin, especially the legitimate London Dry English, will play this role without problems.
  • Premium: A level above the basics, premium gins are recommended primarily for Dry Martini lovers. In this case, two drinks in particular are worth the investment, just to name the most easily found – Tanqueray Ten is the premium version of gin of the same name and looks great in the preparation with sicilian lemon peel, while the Hendricks is a gin of exceptional quality which combines best with cucumber slices.


  • White tea: just like rum, in the preparation of cocktails only the light version of tequila is considered essential. I recommend the most renowned brands, which are the Patrón or the 1800’s. Optionally, the basic brands like Jose Cuervo , Sauza or Camino Real are equally valid. The Camino Real is a little too soft for my taste.


  • Blended: As a basic whiskey and mild flavor for any cocktail, I recommend Johnnie Walker (both Red and Black).
  • Bourbon: Corn whiskey, essential for many breads, is also known as a “Whiskey” – an essentially American term. Jim Beam is a classic of this category, with great flavor and good value for money. Jack Daniels is not considered Bourbon just because it is bottled in Tennessee instead of Kentucky. It can be used in the same way, however its flavor is more accentuated and can mark a cocktail too.
  • Rye: variation prepared from rye, the “Rye Whiskey” is an even more typical product of the United States and hardly imported to other regions. It is usually less crowded than Bourbon, and is ordered for some cocktails like Boulevardier. If traveling to America, make sure to bring anyone in the suitcase (do not leave for Duty Free). In the absence of a legitimate Rye, some experts recommend using the sophisticated Bourbon Woodford Reserve, which is found more easily, including in Brazil.
  • Flavored: As an option, consider having one or more flavored whiskeys in your bar (usually Bourbons). Jim Beam Honey has a fantastic bouquet and can be the basis of sophisticated cocktails. In Brazil, Jack Daniels Honey is more easily found by having official import. However, its harsh taste does not make it ideal for much of the recipes. Other flavoring variations are usually made from cherry, such as the Jim Beam Red Stag.


The diversity of liquors available on the market is so great that I decided to list, in order of priority, the most important ones. It is through the liquors that you can make several cocktails in combination with the base drinks listed above. The quality reference brand is the French Marie Brizard, which you should look for generic flavors unless otherwise noted.

Order of priority – above, the main ones:

  • Curaçau Triple Sec: basic orange used almost always.
  • Curacao Blue: less priority, but a classic essential to achieve certain colorations.
  • Cointreau: is different from Triple Sec, but one can be used in substitution of the other.
  • Amaretto: it can also be of the brands Del Orso or Disaronno.
  • Melon: if possible, the Japanese Midori.
  • Mint: if possible, instead of the transparent green (white) that will give a wider range of cocktails.
  • Cocoa: idem, if possible use the transparent (white).
  • Grenadine: usually non-alcoholic, is a pomegranate syrup.
  • Hazelnut: the best known example is the Frangelico.
  • Amarula Gold: new variation available in free shops, worth every penny.
  • Cassis: The default is Gabriel Bouldier. Essential liqueur for the preparation of Kir.


Finally, more essential than anything else, is you prepare a sugar syrup, also known as symple syrup or sugar syrup . To sweeten any drink in the bar, you will almost never use the powdered sugar (unless expressly mentioned). In 90% of cases, the syrup is used as a way to sweeten to keep revenues of standardization and at the same time, getting completely dissolved, leaving no residue to the cup bottom and avoiding muddy drinking.

To prepare it, it is quite simple: mix equal proportions of water and refined sugar, put in a saucepan and heat. Do not boil. When the sugar starts to raise bubbles, stir the mixture and keep it moving. This will prevent the syrup from burning. In a few seconds after the first bubbles appear, the sugar will be completely dissolved in the water, and will not settle more. Then put in some container, let cool, cover and keep in the refrigerator.

The symple syrup lasts about two weeks refrigerated. If you add a little vodka to the mixture (half a serving in a half liter container, then ready), you can store it for about a month.

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