Ben Blair's Five Tips for Building a Bar at Home

Rebecca Varidel
11th Sep 2014

Ever wanted to be a bartender in your own home? One of our favourite Sydney bartenders, Ben Blair, lets you know how.

1. What are some cool cocktails to make at home?

Many of the classics are popular as they are easy to mix at home. You should most certainly rock out some Mojitos and Daiquiris in the summertime, in the cooler months learn how to make an Old Fashioned or a Hot Toddy or if you’re feeling adventurous, shoot for a Martinez or a Hanky Panky. These can all be found online, but ultimately it’s down to your taste. Make them a few times a few different ways and you’ll be on the right path to understanding your palate.

2. What is the basic equipment to build a first home bar?

Let’s start with the obvious:

  • A jigger: To balance your drinks, you will need one to measure out ingredients. This list needn’t be expensive though! A perfectly good alternative is a medicine cup, which will set you back all of about 50c from the pharmacy.
  • 2 piece shaker (commonly called a Boston Shaker, where one half is glass and the other metal). I prefer 2 metal pieces as I break the glass piece too often for my liking, search homewares stores or just use a plastic cup as the other half!
  • A mixing glass; but this can be any jug or flask, or even a pint glass! Ideally you need something that holds at very least 500ml.
  • A spoon; one that sticks out the top of your mixing glass by at least 4 inches. A long handled teaspoon is perfect as it moves around the glass easier than a wide dessert spoon (for example).
  • Strainer: in cocktail bars, they’re called Hawthorne strainers and you should be able to pick one up at many $2 stores, supermarkets and bottle-o’s, but failing that a sieve that fits over your vessel will work exactly the same!
  • A Mexican Elbow. What? It’s a handheld juice press which is great if you’re making a few It’s a handheld juice press which is great if you’re making a few drinks, but a citrus reamer will work just as well.

Outside of these basics, there are a wonderful array of bells and whistles. I would recommend sites such as to hunt for everything you could ever dream of.

3. And what kind of spirits and mixers are good to stock for the most versatility?

You’ll need some basic booze: vodka, gin, white rum, dark rum, blanco tequila, bourbon, blended scotch and then some modifiers to play with: Campari, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, angostura bitters, cointreau and if you’re feeling like you’ve exasperated yourself with those options (there are hundreds of drinks with those few ingredients): maraschino liqueur, coffee liqueur, orange bitters, yellow chartreuse.

That list right there should entertain you (and your guests) for a long time to come. The rest of what you need is seasonal - hunt for what’s best at the greengrocers and use it! Lemon and lime juice are the only thing you may need year round.

4. What is the most overrated cocktail you should not serve to friends?

Friends don’t let friends drink Long Island Ice Teas. It’s a waste of booze and it all kinda tastes a bit lost in there. The equivalent of ordering a beautiful piece of steak well done.

5. How do you feel about paper umbrellas (and what garnishes would you use for cocktails at home)?

They’re great! Particularly awesome when set on fire (mind the sprinklers though), and they’re always tropical. When garnishing at home, the garnish needs to relate to your drink (for example, a mojito has a mint sprig while a negroni requires an orange zest). If you are accenting a flavour in your drink or tying it all together, it has to have a purpose.