It’s been some time since my days of taking shots of Svedka from a crumpled up water bottle, so I like to think my cocktail crafting skills as well as my palette have matured. I’ve been having a lot of fun lately creating and shooting photos of new cocktail recipes. Plus, happy hour at home now is NEVER boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love grabbing a drink with friends, but being able to whip up drinks just as good (if not better IMO) is a huge incentive to save some cash and enjoy in the comfort of my own home when I've got all the cocktail essentials on hand.
Nothing impresses guests more than a handmade fancy cocktail. I’m here to help you stock your bar cart with all of the bartending necessities as well as give you some of my mixologist tips on how to craft a show stopping beverage.
This post may contain affiliate links; please read my disclosure policy.
What's on my bar cart
Everyone has their favorite liquors and the ones they avoid at all costs. Stock your bar cart with what you fancy, but here’s a list of what I keep around for my cocktail building.
- Tequila - Because your girl LOVES a margarita. This Spicy Jalapeño is one of my favorite versions.
- Vodka - I’m a fan flavored vodka when it comes to crafting a unique drink. I use cranberry flavored in my Cranberry Fizz Cocktail and Ketel One Botanical Peach & Orange Blossom Vodka in my Blood Orange Moscow Mule.
- Rum - I find myself using rum more in the summer months. Caribbean Rum Punch Spritz anyone? Makes me feel like I'm on a beach in Mexico and damn that feels good.
- Triple sec / Orange liqueur - Another margarita must have. I use it in my Italian Margarita too.
- Aperol - For an Aperol Spritz, duh! Quite possibly one of my favorite happy hour drinks despite the New York Times calling it “not a good drink”... Like the triple sec, I also use Aperol in my Italian Marg.
- Wine - Mostly reds because that’s what I prefer, but also a bottle or two of Rosé for my Rosé Gummies (if you haven’t tried them what are you waiting for!?)
- Champagne - Keep this on hand not not only for the Aperol Spritzs but also for any impromptu celebrations. That occasion will come and you can thank me later;) Also did you know you can FREEZE CHAMPAGNE. Make champagne ice cubes and thank me later when you’re Aperol Spritz is icy cold, but never watered down.
I keep a few of my prettiest glasses on my bar car cart simply for aesthetics. ESPECIALLY these fun Moscow Mule glasses I had to hunt the internet for. These are my favorite wine glasses, my favorite cocktail glasses, and my favorite beer glasses for those uninterested in the fancy mixed drinks and just wanting a brew. A fun drinking glass can really elevate the happy hour experience.
You can shop these glasses now by clicking on their photo below!
These are the main tools I’ve got on my bar cart. There’s a lot of sets out there that you can purchase like this gorgeous one from Crate and Barrel, but I also think its fun to mix and match items when I find unique pieces at stores like HomeGoods.
- Shaker - Shaking your cocktail (with ice) will ensure its nice and cold and tastes consistent throughout.
- Strainer (or get a shaker with a built-in strainer) - this is helpful when you’ve got ingredients like freshly grated ginger or pulp of fruit that help flavor your cocktail when your shaking but you ultimately want a smooth drink.
- Jigger - Good cocktails have properly measured ingredients and a jigger can help you achieve this.
- Bar spoons - Not necessary, you could use a regular spoon for stirring but the longer handle is nice and it can look cute on a bar cart.
- Muddler - necessary when you’ve got fresh ingredients that you want to get the flavors out of. I muddle jalapeño and orange together for my spicy marg.
- Citrus peeler - This is a great tool to help you garnish a drink. For example, a curl of a lemon peel would be perfect in this Skinny Lemonade Mojito.
- Bottle opener - I like one that can open wine as well as beer bottles just so I’ve got one less item to clutter my cart.
Here’s a few fun items I like to add to my bar cart some of which are functional, but mostly just to make the cart look pretty 🙂 The cart is definitely a statement piece in my home and I love it that way.
cocktail essential ingredients to have on hand
Club soda, seltzer, another sparkling beverage (I love Olipop! Code: APAIGEOFPOSITIVITY15 saves you $$) - Having club soda in your pantry sets you up for success in the cocktail making world. Even if your in a pinch with regards to ingredients you can whip up a simple drink if you’ve got some bubbly beverages on hand (hello vodka soda, splash of cran).
Fruit Juices - Orange, cranberry, pomegranate all serve as great mixers too. I like using the diet version of fruit juices to cut down on the sugar in hopes to lighten the potential hangover the next morning. Diet cranberry-pomegranate juice goes into my Cranberry Fizz Cocktail.
Ginger Beer - I’ve been on a Moscow Mule kick lately and ginger beer is a must. Like the fruit juice, I like to use diet to cut back on the added sugar a bit. Zevia makes a tasty zero calorie, stevia sweetened version that is good.
Herbs - Rosemary, mint, thyme are my go to’s for cocktail garnish. I usually get my fresh herbs from Trader Joe’s. The small plastic boxes they sell give a good amount, are usually really fresh, and the most cost effective I’ve been able to find.
Fruits - I like sliced lemon, lime, orange, blood orange, pomegranate, and cranberry as cocktail garnishes. They not only bring extra flavor to your dish but are also a beautiful pop of color.
Simple Syrup or Honey - It’s not uncommon for cocktails to need a touch of sweetness. I use honey in my Thanksgiving Margarita for the perfect balance in flavors.
Chill your glass
Temperature can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying a cocktail. To help with this, chill your glass by simply placing it in the freezer 30 minutes to 3 hours before you plan on using them. In a pinch, you can more quickly chill a glass by wrapping it in a damp paper towel and sticking in the freezer for just 5 minutes (perhaps while you craft your drink). A thicker glass can also retain some of the temperature better than a thin one.
Yes makes for more work, but this keeps the cocktail your drinking cold until the last sip, and like I said, temperature can make all the difference. Split one serving amongst two people and just make it twice.
Crush your ice / use an ice cube tray
Something about the moon shaped cubes really takes away from the vibe of a well crafted cocktail.
Add the bubbles LAST
Like very very last. You want to serve your cocktail with maximum bubbles and the best way to avoid your sparkling element from becoming flat, whether that be champagne, club soda, sparkling water, etc., it’s important to add just before sipping.
Stir vs shake
Know your drink. If it gets made right in the glass you’re drinking from, stirring with a cocktail spoon is the way to go. Additionally, if bubbles are involved (club soda, seltzer, champagne, etc) you obviously want to stir instead of shake. Shaking is best for drinks that contain milk or cream liquors, sour mixes, or egg whites like I do in my Vodka Sour. Shaking is also common for crafting a martini. Using a cocktail shaker gives you a better balance of flavors and can give you a super cold drink without actually putting ice in the glass if instead you shake with ice.
Rimming a glass
Flex your bartending skills with a salt or sugar rim. It’s really not that hard, but your guests will be impressed. To do this you’ll need lemon or lime to run along the top edge of the glass to moisten it - dipping the lip of your glass in a small dish of water will also work. Then have a dish slightly wider than the rim of your glass filled with salt or sugar. Flip your glass into the dish and rotate the wet rim of your glass in the salt/sugar until all sides are covered. Lightly shake off any excess and you’re good to go!
My Favorite Cocktail recipes
Click the photos below to be taken to the full recipe details
So thats it for my list of cocktail essentials and mixologist tips! The tools and accessories linked have been an accumulation over the years of the items that work best for me. If you want something specific from this list and use one of my links to purchase it, it directly supports me. Feel free to share this post with anyone!! Happy cocktail crafting!
Please, please leave a review on the individual cocktail recipe if you choose to make one. Every 5-star review allows me to provide free recipes to y'all. Thank you SO much!!