Asked & Answered: Raising the Home Bar with Trevor Felch

Asked & Answered: Raising the Home Bar with Trevor Felch

Asked & Answered: Raising the Home Bar

Writer Trevor Felch has frequented his fair share of local bars—all in the name of research/work. In 2020, Cider Mill Press published his San Francisco Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the City by the Bay. Given all the time he’s spent at various drinking establishments, we asked his advice for setting up a great home bar.
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Photo credit: San Francisco Cocktails by Trevor Felch/Cider Mill Press

Get in the Spirit

Every bar needs to feature the four main families of spirits: agave-based (tequila and mezcal), clear (gin and vodka), whiskey (rye, bourbon and scotch), and sugar cane-based (rum). Then it’s important to have fortified wines and brandies (cognac, grand marnier, armagnac, calvados) as well. The next level is to have various amaros and liqueurs. But it’s really most important to start with those initial eight spirits from the four families. Tequila is great for margaritas and smoky mezcal thrives when it’s balanced out with lemon and honey or works well with amaros and Chartreuse. Gin goes well with Negronis or martinis, while vodka tends to be for brighter, lighter drinks—often carbonated drinks. Rye is terrific as a Manhattan, bourbon is good for mint juleps or old-fashioneds, and scotch is perfect with honey syrup in a penicillin or any tangy cocktail that can handle its peaty flavor. If it’s a lighter rum, then make a classic daiquiri with cane sugar and lime juice. For a darker rum, start out simply with a good quality ginger beer or a classic mai tai recipe (no pineapple juice!).

Mix It Up

In terms of mixers, only buy from companies like Small Hands Foods that truly make pure, real ingredient products for cocktails like orgeat and grenadine. Fresh juices (lemon, lime) and basic syrups (honey syrup, simple syrup) are critical to an elevated, cleaner cocktail. As for liqueurs, there are literally hundreds of worthy options from around the world, so it’s best to zero in on the 15-20 favorite cocktails that you want to make and what you’ll need for them. Usually that means a few Italian options (think Campari, Cynar, Fernet Branca), some French choices like Pastis and Chartreuse, perhaps Pimm’s for the summer, and then whatever other interesting flavors you’re interested in. For the espresso martini crowd, you’ll probably need Kahlua.
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Photo credit: Timothy Evans for Be Home

Glass Act

The very first consideration with glassware—besides if you want it to be dishwasher safe or not!—is whether you’re serving cocktails with or without ice. Serving a cocktail “up” like a martini means no ice, so a stemmed glass works well. But that won’t work for a mai tai that needs to be served over ice. It is definitely not always true, but a general rule of thumb is that stirred drinks with no citrus can be in a coupe/martini glass, while shaken drinks with citrus should be in a tumbler or other non-stemmed glass. Those would be the first two versatile styles to begin with. From there, you can add Collins glasses, Nick and Nora glasses, tiki mugs, and whatever other glass styles seem like a good fit.

Tool Time

Shakers/tins, bar spoons (stirrers) and strainers are truly the only ingredients you need. You don’t need a cocktail smoker or other flashy equipment. A juicer certainly helps. For measurements, you can use regular small kitchen measuring devices or a more appropriate jigger. Home bars are different than professional bars in that you probably don’t have nearly as much storage space and actual space to make the drinks. So it’s probably best to stick to 1-2 very high quality shakers and very good strainers, then try to use everything else from your kitchen.
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Photo credit: San Francisco Cocktails by Trevor Felch/Cider Mill Press

Finishing Touches

Carefully peeling the peels of fruits into little twists or ribbons or buying already dehydrated fruit slices are the easiest garnishes that you can add to your drinks. Most drinks already have a kind of, sort of pre-set garnish that echoes the main ingredient—mint for a mint julep, lime for a caipirinha.
Only a few drinks truly demand for a garden of garnishes, led by a Pimm’s Cup and a Bloody Mary. The trick is to have a beautiful garnish that doesn’t interfere with actually drinking the drink. Colored salts or sugar add a nice touch to the rim of a glass if it works for a specific cocktail.
In addition to his bar basics, Trevor shares a recipe from San Francisco Cocktails: the namesake drink at The Beehive. “It’s a perfect example of an unfussy, simple cocktail that is given a little creative jolt and becomes special,” he says. “Milo Salehi is one of the great cocktail minds of this city, and he’s particularly great at finding that next dimension for tried-and-true flavors.” 
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Photo credit: San Francisco Cocktails by Trevor Felch/Cider Mill Press

How To Make A Beehive

You will need...
  • 1.5 oz  Botanist Islay dry gin
  • 0.75 oz  lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz  ginger solution
  • 0.5 oz  sarsaparilla-infused honey
  • 2 dash orange bitters
  • 2 dash salt solution
  • 1 oz soda water
  • lemon twist for garnish


  • In a tall glass pour 1 oz of soda water. Combine all other ingredients into a cocktail tin and shake well with ice. Strain into your glass and add ice. Garnish with a lemon twist, then serve.
  • Ginger Solution: Combine equal parts by weight: hot water, evaporated cane sugar, and fresh ginger juice. Stir until sugar is fully dissolved.
  • Sarsaparilla-Infused Honey Syrup
    • 2 cups high-grade local honey
    • 1 cup hot water
    • 1 oz Indian Sarsaparilla
  • Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and stir to combine.  Allow sarsaparilla to infuse for 24 hours before straining out of the honey syrup.
  • Salt Solution: Combine 20 grams of hot water with 1 gram of salt. Stir until salt is fully dissolved.

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