How to Stock Your Home Bar Cart
Home bartending can be an expensive hobby—very rewarding (and delicious)—but expensive, so we recommend building your bar cart little by little if you’re just starting out. A $200 or $300 investment can get you set up with a good variety of bottles (spirits, bitters, liqueurs), and the essential tools needed to craft a damn good drink.
Below, we’ve got a pretty comprehensive list of what you’ll need to make a variety of classic cocktails, including spirits, liqueurs, bitters, and bar tools (even a bar cart). But before diving in, grab a shot of whiskey and relax a little bit. Remember that you don’t have to buy everything at once and that you can tailor your selection to you and your guests’ tastes. If your friends don’t love bourbon whiskey—get new friends (kidding)—skip it and invest in that gin you know will be a hit.
Here’s a list of action items to get you started:
• Purchase a set of home bartending tools
• Pick up a couple of the recommended spirits that you’re most excited about
• Buy Angostura and Orange bitters
• Grab whichever recommended liqueurs you’ll use in your first couple cocktails
If there’s a plate of food in front of you, consider spirits to be the meat—they’re what the rest of the cocktail is built on. And, you can mix them, or sip ‘em neat. Here’s a good list to start out, including a few solid brand recommendations. (Or, if you’d rather drink away from home, check out our list of 10 regional spirits worth traveling for.)
• Bourbon Whiskey: Bulleit, Four Roses (yellow label), Buffalo Trace, 1792 Bourbon, Old Grandad
• Rye Whiskey: Old Overholt, Bulleit Rye, Knob Creek Rye, Redemption (For more, check out our favorite reader-recommended whiskeys under $100.)
• Gin: Hendrick’s, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth Gin, Ford’s Gin, Sipsmith, St. George Terroir Gin
• Tequila (Blanco or Reposado): Altos, El Tesoro, Patron (which we use in our mixed berry margarita recipe), Herradura, Espolon, Azunia
• Light or Dark Rum: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Bacardi Superior, Cana Brava, Mount Gay Black Barrel
• Vodka: Reyka, Greygoose, Absolut, Ketel One, Tito’s
Bitters are typically referred to as the salt and pepper of the cocktail world. They contribute to the flavor profile and help to balance out a drink. If you taste your cocktail and think to yourself, “Something is missing,” then consider adding bitters. Here are four of the most common (and versatile) to start with.
• Angostura Bitters (which we use in our Bourbon Coffee Old Fashioned Recipe)
• Orange Bitters
• Peychaud’s Bitters
• Chocolate Bitters
Liqueurs and other goods
Liqueurs are essentially sweetened spirits ranging in a wide variety of flavors from bitter and herbal, from coffee-flavored to orange. They can be sipped on their own, or mixed with to add different flavor complexities to a cocktail (which is why they’re also called modifiers). There are a ton of different liqueurs available, so don’t feel like you have to collect them all at once. Here are the ones most heavily used in my home bar.
• Sweet Vermouth: Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, or Dolin (which we use in our barrel-aged Greenpoint recipe)
• Dry Vermouth: Dolin, Noilly Prat (which we use in our Grapefruit Cachaça Negroni Recipe)
• Campari: This one can be a bit too bitter if you’re just starting out. It’s definitely an acquired taste, so if you want to ease into the world of bitter, start with Aperol (it’s much more forgiving and amazing come time to brunch).
• Amaro Montenegro
• Orange Liqueur: Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Shrubb J.M. Liqueur D’Orange
• St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Raw materials won’t do you any good if you don’t have the means to put them together, so the right tools are essential. With these items (and a little practice) you’ll be mixing bar-worthy cocktails at home.
• Bar Cart
• Cocktail Shaker
• Mixing Glass
• Julep Strainer
• Hawthorne Strainer
• Fine Mesh Strainer
• Bar Spoon
• 2 Liter Mini Barrel: This optional piece is great for aging your own cocktails (see our guide here).
This article originally appeared on Apartment Bartender. Head to the site for more cocktail recipes and home bartending tips.