Tips and tricks from
four Southern pros
A bar cart can either be a requisite décor piece filling up an odd corner or it can serve as the shining beacon of respite to break up the long winter days stuck indoors. We choose the latter. To use the space properly, we talked to beverage professionals from across the South about how to properly stock a bar cart with everything needed to mix up a libation on a whim. From top-to-bottom, these experts give you the tools to build your cart for your best at-home cocktails, from base liquor to garnish.
TLP: What three rules would you give to someone stocking their at-home bar?
Miguel: You should always start with what you like drinking. There’s no use filling your bar cart with a variety of base spirits if you’re strictly a bourbon and/or gin drinker. Also, fancy tools do not make the bartender—you do not need to spend top dollar on expensive bar tools if you are just starting out.
Megan: Fresh ingredients always taste better than processed. No need to splurge on your spirits selection. Always wash your hands.
Alba: Buy the Angostura bitters. Always use fresh juice. Refrigerate all Vermouth.
TLP: What are the essential base liquors to always have on hand?
Feizal: Whiskey: Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniels, Rittenhouse, or something bonded. Vodka: Tito’s can be your only vodka—it’s basically the new word for vodka. Rum: a white rum and an aged dark rum. Gin: usually something right down the middle, like Bombay, that pleases a lot of palates. Tequila: one silver and something aged.
Miguel: The bottles I tend to grab the most when preparing a cocktail for myself or my family are usually one of the big five: Bourbon, Gin, Vodka, Rum, or Tequila.
Alba: Gin, Whiskey, Tequila, Rum, and Mezcal.
TLP: What mixers and liqueurs do you suggest keeping on hand?
Miguel: I like to keep a couple modifiers at my home bar. These are some of my favorites and they have a decently long shelf life due to their alcohol content: Aperitifs (Campari, Aperol, etc.), which add a crisp, dry, bright, or bitter-sweet element to your cocktail; liqueurs (Banana du Bresil, Creme de Cacao, St. Germain, Dry Curacao, etc.) add a specific sweet flavor to your cocktail; digestifs (Amaro Montenegro, Cynar, etc.) add a dark, bittersweet element to your cocktail; other bitters (Peychaud’s, Orange, Lavender, etc.) are often called the ‘spice cabinet’ of the mixology world—just a few drops will go a long way in transforming your cocktail.
Feizal: These days, ginger beer is a must-have, as are simple syrup and demerara syrup. My must-have liqueurs include Aperol, St. Germain, and Cointreau. Amaros like Fernet Branca or Averna or Campari always lend some heft to a good home bar.
Alba: Topo Chico, Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic, and Barritt’s Ginger Beer. I don’t keep many liqueurs on hand, mostly Madeira of different grape varieties and various types of Sherry.
TLP: What are your favorite garnishes to keep stocked?
Megan: Luxardo brand maraschino cherries are the créme de la créme of cherries, in my honest opinion. And fresh citrus fruit is a must, but since lemons, limes, and oranges are perishable, purchase only what you need, when you need it, to reduce food waste. Otherwise, you will need to consider what your menu will look like to inform your garnish selection. Making mojitos? You’re going to need mint. Dirty martinis on your mind? You better have some olives.
Alba: To keep garnishes stocked, especially in a home setting where things aren’t getting rotated, I use a dehydrator to dehydrate lemons, limes, pineapple wheels, orange wheels, and apple slices, or any fruit you’d like. Keep these items in a sealed jar with a small paper towel at the base to absorb moisture.
TLP: What are your must-have tools for basic mixing?
Miguel: There are thousands of beautiful varieties out there that serve the same purpose. When selecting your tools, be sure to stick to an aesthetic (tools typically come in silver, gold, copper, matte black, etc.) and build your collection from there. That being said, a complete home bar needs: a jigger to measure all your pours; a cocktail shaker—I prefer shaking tins but a cobbler shaker is also fine; a mixing glass for stirred cocktails; a long bar spoon for stirring said cocktails; strainers—hawthorne with fine strainers for shaken, Julep for stirred; and a bar knife, which I prefer over a peeler for citrus.
Feizal: Any mixing glass (a pint glass will do in a pinch), a bar spoon (and NOT the one with the red plastic end on it), a hawthorne strainer and a shaker tin that gets a good seal, a hand juicer, and jiggers. Free-pouring is for beach bars and dives—a good cocktail is precise.
TLP: When do you splurge on cocktail essentials?
Megan: Honestly, I tend to splurge on cocktail books, but I’m also a bit of a nerd (and also a professional). It’s important to keep sharpening the ol’ figurative knife—and immersing myself in historical context, or the creative process of other professional nerds, is where I find a lot of inspiration. So, books. And bitters.
Alba: I love a beautiful ornate mixing glass and punch set ups.
TLP: What’s your go-to cocktail to mix up when entertaining at home?
Miguel: It really depends on the size of the party. For dinner parties (4 to 8), I’ll typically make a few classic bourbon cocktails to start. Anything from a whiskey sour to a Boulevardier is always a crowd pleaser—but it really depends on the guest. I like to create something unique depending on what my guests have a taste for that night.
Megan: I love hosting friends and family in our backyard, when it is safe to do so, and my go-tos are usually in the crowd-pleasing variety. I honestly love making and serving Sangria, or a rum punch, flavored to match the season. That, and any variation of a mule, because they are just so stinking refreshing.
TLP: Last question. If you had one tip to take an at-home bar from basic to top-notch, what would that be?
Miguel: A home bar is nothing without the home bartender. Invest in some bar literature and learn how to construct a handful of three-ingredient, classic cocktails that you enjoy and can make for your guests. Most bar books will have a plethora of recipes as well as some basic bar techniques to elevate your home bartending game. Become a student of the craft and strive to learn and grow; your guests will thank you for it.
Feizal: Make it personal. Anyone can buy a bottle of Eagle Rare. Instead, make the bar itself tell a story: a one-of-a-kind vintage cart, a stir spoon carved out of a pirate’s peg-leg, a mixing glass that you found at a market in Hong Kong. Good booze pairs well with a good story. Let your bar tell that story.
Recipes from the Experts:
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