Every gentleman needs a bar, but no bar is created equal. There are several essential elements that need to be included in each bar cart for it to be considered a success.

This guide explains exactly what you need to mix the perfect drink, with a few options to splurge on the really good stuff.

Ready to get started?

Liquors

The foundation of all bar carts will contain, obviously, the most important selections you’ll make for your cart. The liquors you choose to stock will set the tone for your cart and the type of offerings you can create.

A comprehensive liquor selection doesn’t necessarily have to be expansive. The following are the fundamental liquor options that should be included in your bar.

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Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon

Only a novice would categorize them together – and that’s not you. As you well know, the difference between the three is simple:

  • Scotch is whisky made from malted barley in Scotland, and
  • if your liquor is distilled in Ireland, it’s whiskey,
  • while bourbon is whisky made in the U.S.

See – not hard at all!

  • The Essential: Jameson is a faithful and delicious whiskey go-to. It has a high-end flavor that keeps whiskey lovers happy and coming back for more. Show off your bartending skills with an Irish Mule. – $25
  • The Splurge:  Pick up a bottle of Redbreast 12 Year. If your boss stops by, I promise, he will be impressed. – $63

Vodka

Typically distilled from potatoes or grains, Vodka is a bar staple and choosing the right one to fit your needs is a fairly simple task.

High-quality vodka—no matter what the price—should have minimal taste, smooth texture, and won’t burn the palate. Vodka that meets this requirement has been filtered through activated charcoal to remove impurities while preserving the flavor characteristics.

Bar staples like Bloody Mary’s, Black and White Russians, and Screwdrivers include vodka as their main ingredient.

  • The Essential: Tito’s Handmade is a corn-based vodka still made in small batches. – $33
  • The Splurge: Known for its smooth finish, Stolichnaya Elit Vodka is a Russian vodka that’s distilled four times, to perfection some say. – $60

Gin

Thank the juniper berry for this popular libation. Gin, unlike many spirits, is made to be mixed with cocktails – not to be consumed on its own. That’s probably why this specific spirit is the one that’s a primary ingredient in most classic cocktails.

So, whether you’re looking for that distinctive pine flavor or a mix of citrus undertones, Gin is an essential element for your cart.

  • The Essential: Tanqueray is an old faithful for a reason, so stick with it – it’s good! – $25
  • The Splurge: Hendrick’s is traditional and perfect for mixing your favorite cocktails. – $42

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Tequila

Notorious for shots and margaritas, tequila is a necessary addition to every man’s cart. Made from the blue agave plant, tequila can be divided into five categories: Silver, Gold, Reposado, Anejo, and Extra Anejo.

  • The Essential: Stick with something simple like Espolon Tequila Añejo. It’s aged for 12 months and has a smooth flavor. – $25
  • The Splurge: Try a bottle of Partida Reposado. Its signature flavor is a hint of sweetness, which is perfect for La Paloma. – $63

Rum

Who knew that this tasty liquor is fermented from molasses? Depending on the aging processes, consumers can choose between light or dark rum to add to their personal collection.

With tasty cocktails like Mojitos and Dark and Stormy’s on the line, rum should definitely be included in your inventory.

  • The Essential: If you can swing it, get a light and dark rum like Kinkylux White and Kinkynero Dark. – $60 for both
  • The Splurge: Angostura 7 Year Dark Rum is your best bet. This dark rum is aged a bit longer than average and has hints of maple, toffee, honey and chocolate. – $32

Mixers

Your cart and your cocktails would be incomplete without these staple mixers. These classic three will go a long way to meeting all of your cocktail needs.

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Vermouth (dry and sweet)

Your martini game would be nowhere without this addition.

  • The Essential:  For the most classic choice, try Martini Rosso. It’s a fan favorite. – $10
  • The Splurge: Test your palate with Vya, the most distinctive tasting vermouth on the market. – $20

Cointreau, triple sec, or Grand Marnier

Your margaritas will fall flat without this game changer.

  • The Essential:  Fee Brothers Curacao Triple Sec is needed for a successful margarita. – $10
  • The Splurge: Grand Marnier will take your cocktails to the next level. – $22

Bitters

Only a dash or two will do the trick.

  • The Essential:  As long as either Angostura or Peychaud’s make the cart, you’re doing just fine! – $5 each

Aside from these alcoholic mixers, add your favorite liquors and cordials, like limoncello, Bailey’s Irish Crème and Grand Marnier. Also, always have a variety of grocery store mixers added to your cart. You can’t go wrong with Coke, orange juice, ginger ale and tonic.

Glassware

Presentation is everything, my friends. Whether you’re reaching for Waterford or are content with the perfect pint, the vessels in which you poor each boozy creation is very important.

Obviously, only invest in what you and your guests will use. If you don’t plan on having champagne in stock, displaying flutes in your cart is a waste of valuable space and money.

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The Essentials

  • Pint Glass – Because you can’t pour the perfect pint without the glass.
  • Wine Glass – Sometimes you just want to kick back with a glass of Merlot.
  • Shot Glasses – That tequila isn’t going to shoot itself.
  • High-Ball – For any variety of mix drink that your heart desires.
  • Old-Fashioned – Neat or on the rocks, this glass is perfect for your single malt scotch.

The Splurge

  • Champagne Flute – So you’ll always be prepared for a toast.
  • Cocktail Coupe – Just in case you ever get the urge to redecorate in an Art-Deco theme.

If you’re trying to live a stylish life, having the right glass for the right beverage will up your game. Depending on your level of fancy, this could get pretty pricey.  – $200+

Toolbox

Congratulations, men! Your bar is almost complete! All that’s left is a couple of essential tools to complete your work station.

Your toolbox can be extensive or simple, depending on your bar tending needs. Let’s meet in the middle with the most common tools you’ll need to mix up a great cocktail.

  • Cocktail shaker, mixing glass and strainer – Shaken or stirred – however you like it!
  • Jiggers – For all your measuring needs.
  • Bar Spoon – To meet all your stirring, mixing and layering needs.
  • Cutting Board – Those lime wedges aren’t going to cut themselves.
  • Ice Bucket – Unless you have a wet bar with a fridge, an ice bucket is a necessity!

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For a finishing touch, add monogrammed bar napkins or your favorite sport’s team logo to the bar. It’s your space, right? For a cool $50, you can have the toolbox of your dreams.

A final tip for every budget: Make a list of what you’re going to get before you get to the liquor store. It’s easier than you realize to go grossly over budget without planning.

That’s it! You’re armed with all the components necessary for a bar cart of epic proportions. Stock wisely.

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PUBLISHED May 7, 2015


Savannah Hemmings is a personal stylist and lifestyle blogger. Check out her site for styling tips or connect with her on Twitter.



  • Reedik Tuuling

    Bro, you forgot syrups. Sugarcane and Grenadine are essentials.

  • Lukas T

    Good point Reedik… One can make their own simple syrup easily enough, though you have to keep it fresh. Grenadine for sure,; sweetened lime juice is pretty crucial, too.

    Speaking of lime juice, here’s a cocktail that’s a bit different, but that I enjoy: a French Gimlet.

    2 parts vodka or gin (I recommend gin; you don’t have to use anything too expensive because the lime and elderflower will dominate)
    1 part St-Germain
    1/2 part freshly squeezed lime juice (Rose’s sweetened lime juice works well, too)

  • Stads

    Need a staple rye on this list, like Rittenhouse. Much better suited for Manhattans than Jameson. Flavor stands up to tons more creative cocktails with pungent herbs and spices as well.

    Also – Vermouth will go bad after 4ish weeks depending on how you keep it. It’s a fortified wine based liqueur and will get oxidized with time.

    Lukas T – I’d advocate juicing fresh limes rather than using a sweetened lime juice. No respectable mixologist/bar is using Rose’s in their cocktail program.

    Reedik – Make your own simples. Boil some water in a kettle, throw 1/2 cup sugar (or any other sweetener, i.e honey, agave, etc.) in a measuring cup, top with 1/2 cup boiling water, stir til sugar is dissolved. Keeps about a month in the fridge in a mason jar.

    • Cameron Stewart Olson

      Simple syrup is 1:2 water-to-sugar. If you use one liquid cup of water, use two dry cups of sugar (or a bit more).

  • As a Kentuckian; I feel obliged to say that Bourbon is only produced in Kentucky, not the USA in general.

    Even if the Whiskey in question goes through the actual Bourbon processes those of us from Kentucky will only ever refer to it as Whiskey if not made within the borders of Kentucky.

    You see we are kind of like wine snobs and the French when it comes to something that is produced regionally. Just ask a French farmer if he would eat Parmesan produced outside of France. He will most likely tell you that it would be a nice cheese but that it would never be Parmesan.

    • Stads

      Sorry but even as a Bourbon snob, that’s not very accurate!

      Parmesan is legally only from around Parma in Italy, always has been and always will be.

      Legally, Bourbon just has to be 51% corn and aged for at least 2 yrs on new, charred American oak. Historically, Bourbon style whiskey was first distilled in Bourbon County, Virginia – it was the first whiskey region ever to use corn in its mash. Granted, the county extended into parts of Kentucky, but Virginia is the historical home of Bourbon.

      Kentucky’s claim to fame in modern Bourbon is the development of the sour mash process.

      • That still doesn’t change my statement.

        • Cameron Stewart Olson

          There is a dispute over whether it’s called “bourbon” from Old Bourbon County, in Virginia (which, at the time, was a large portion of Kentucky) or from Bourbon St, New Orleans. The name has existed since ~1820, but the Kentucky derivation only since the 1870s. It technically has no legally defined area of production, unlike various cheeses or champagne, per Federal law, and that’s recognized by other countries. It’s bourbon if it’s made in the U.S.A.

  • Matt Johnson

    Was also surprised to see the lack of a rye suggestion. Rittenhouse and Old Overholt are good entry level ryes for mixing.

    A fairly recent staple in my bar setup is St. Germain liqueur. Makes a great addition to gin and champagne drinks!

    • Cameron Stewart Olson

      French 75 is a good one for making with St Germain:

      2oz gin (Hendrick’s is prime)
      1 oz St Germain
      1oz fresh lemon juice

      Shake with ice, pour into a flute, top with champagne or brut, and garnish with lemon twist. Voila!

  • Cameron Stewart Olson

    A few comments, from one who used to be a bartender:

    The availability of various kinds of alcohol can be quite regional; I live in Missouri, with very lax liquor laws, and there are a bunch of better quality liquors one could buy. Personally, I think that trying to keep local flavors in a bar is one of the best ways to go (but again, I’m from Missouri and we have lots of production).

    With the other comments, I agree that a staple rye whiskey needs to be on the list; “whiskey” is a more generic term, and there are four kinds. I would also say that Jameson isn’t a very good go-to because it’s not good for all-around cocktails; Jack Daniels might be a better choice but truly I would recommend a brand like Rieger (made in Kansas City). As for scotch, good scotch is a splurge item and I have always liked Balvenie 12yr Doublewood. Bourbon has a wide variety of price-points but Maker’s Mark is a good starting point. The best way to pick a first whiskey is to go to a trusty bar and try a few – a good barkeep will pour a little dribble into a shot glass for you to smell and taste (and always smell first!). A note of caution: DO NOT try white whiskey. It’s worthless. It’s awful. It’s a silly fad. Don’t waste your money.

    As far as vodka, I would completely pass on Stolichnaya and go for Reyka – it’s cheaper and better, plus it’s Icelandic. The Icelanders filter it in volcanic rock to produce a very smooth, mellow vodka with sweet flowery notes. It’s best enjoyed neat, but makes for some mean cocktails. But if all you use your vodka for is mixing, Grey Goose is a very good choice.

    DeKuyper is a decent brand for various liqueurs, especially basic triple-sec (although it’s liquid candy), if the budget is tight. Pinckney Bend is a liquor distillery that makes a phenomenal gin.

    And now for the glassware: for beer, if you’re not a snob or you’re not interested in being particular, nonic pints or shaker pints are the way to go, but be aware there are several appropriate glasses for different beer styles. Shakers can also double as really big high-ball glasses. For cocktails I would say start with highball and lowball/old-fashioned glasses, but definitely pick up some martini glasses (martinis, manhattans, etc). Champagne flutes can be a good idea too, because several cocktails are served in them. Some other things worth having, which will definitely impress, are whiskey ice-sphere molds so there’s one giant rock in that glass, not a melting slush, and whiskey stones: little cubes of polished stone that chill a drink without watering it down. I like my scotch chilled, but not watery.

    Lastly, if you’re not an experienced bartender, or you want to expand your repertoire (which is always a good move), pick up a book on cocktails.