Bar carts straddle the line between utility and style. While the cart, itself, needs to be perfectly fashioned to reflect the ethos of a dwelling, it’s not meant to be just another piece of furniture. For those who enjoy cocktail culture, bar carts reflect spirits knowledge and know-how, as well as their own approach to imbibing.
But, alas, a bar cart can’t hold all of the bottles in the liquor store, and the thought of pairing it down may cause you to break out in cold sweats. To help simplify this process and provide some much-needed inspiration, we asked spirits professionals from across the U.S. which bottle of booze they’re always sure to keep on their carts. What we found is that cocktail specialists love to have a mix of unique bottles that are sure to start a conversation, as well as those that can be secret weapons in all kinds of cocktails.
The Best Bottles to Keep on Your Home Bar Cart
- Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. Town Branch Bourbon
- St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
- J. Carver Barrel-Aged Gin
- Old World Spirits Rusty Blade Barrel-Aged Gin
- Valentine Distilling Liberator Barrel-Aged Gin
- The Vale Fox Distillery’s Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin
- Ron Zacapa 23 Centenario Rum
- Aberfeldy 12 Year Single Malt Scotch
- Christian Drouin Pays d’Auge Calvados
- D’USSÉ XO Cognac
- Pinhook Bourbon Country Cask Strength Bourbon
- Clase Azul Tequila
Keep reading for details about all of the recommended bottles!
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“When it comes to a must-have on a bar cart, I have to have Town Branch Bourbon by Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company. Whether it’s in an Old Fashioned or sipped neat, this bourbon is as smooth as the bottle it comes in. Hints of caramel, toffee, subtle oak, and a hint of cherry and raspberry on the finish. One bottle usually isn’t enough.” —Thomas Roman, Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage, Bobby Hotel, Nashville
“St-Germain (Elderflower liqueur) is a popular choice, as it’s very easy to work with and complements a variety of different spirits. We call it ‘bar ketchup’ because you can put it on anything to make it taste good.” —Parker Boase, Co-founder, Liquid Lab, NYC
“Oh man — that’s like picking a favorite child! But, if I had to choose just one thing, it’d probably be barrel-aged gin. J. Carver Barrel Gin, Valentine Liberator, and Rusty Blade Barrel Gin from San Francisco are my three favorites, and [are] all in my bar cart right now. It’s not very common, but it’s like a great marriage of gin and whiskey — gin botanicals, but softened by the warmth of the oak from the barrel, like a whiskey. It’s my seasonal transition go-to for an Old Fashioned in early fall or early spring, when it’s too warm for whiskey, but too cold for gin.” —Jason Suss, Owner, A Proper Pour, Minneapolis
“At the moment, I’m really enjoying Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin as my go-to. It’s from the Vale Fox Distillery. I find that the flavor profile works really well in both warm- and cold-weather cocktails. It’s got a real split personality. There’s everything you need from a dry gin for light, bright summer cocktails, but there’s also a lot of interesting flavors in there, like rooibos tea, which make it great for winter cocktails and holiday punches. The citrus and the tea really come out and play with the spices and, hopefully if you are using it, the Champagne. Sometimes, holiday punches can be on the heavier side, and Tod & Vixen’s helps that by being able to offer some richer flavors in a lighter-bodied spirit.” —Matt Piacentini, Owner, The Up & Up, NYC
“While maybe not the most trendy or edgy of choices, Campari has so many uses and can be added to so many cocktails to brighten them. On its own, with soda, fresh orange juice, or hard seltzer, if you’re feeling cheeky (seriously, try it), or added to a simple Whiskey Sour or Piña Colada to create a different cocktail altogether. Finally, it’s essential for my personal two favorite cocktails, the Boulevardier and the Jungle Bird.” —Freddie Sarkis, Chief Cocktail Officer, Liquor Lab, New York
“Zacapa 23 Centenario Rum is great for your bar cart because it’s unique and versatile. It is made up of a blend of rums aged between six and 23 years in barrels that previously held spirits like whiskey and sherry, giving it the flexibility to be substituted in cocktails that traditionally call for whiskey, like an Old Fashioned. It is also wonderful on its own to sip neat or on the rocks. Its versatility lends well in culinary applications, as well.” —Lynnette Marrero, Co-founder, Speed Rack, NYC
“I’ve been a big fan of Aberfeldy 12 for quite some time. It is an easy-drinking and approachable Scotch that works just as well in cocktails as it does neat or on the rocks. My tip: It makes an excellent Hot Toddy!” —Anthony Mitchell, Bartender, The Revel Room, Chicago
“Calvados is a brandy made from apples, and it results in a smooth and soft style of brandy. Like Champagne, Calvados has to be grown from the region of Calvados in Normandy, France. It’s a little less intense than Cognac, or what most think of when they think of brandy, and is especially great in the fall and cooler weather. An excellent producer is Christian Drouin, and their bottling called Pays d’Auge is great neat, on the rocks, or mixed with a little orange liqueur and citrus for a Sidecar cocktail.” —Amy Racine, Beverage Director, JF Restaurants, NYC
“Cognac has always been the spirit of choice in my family. Soft notes, storyline, and French. I am a Creole woman from deep south Louisiana, and I always find myself leaning for a bottle of D’USSÉ. While I have [a] heart for both VSOP and XO, D’USSÉ’s stunning onyx bottle of XO definitely means business when it’s sitting on a bar cart. The bottle holds liquid born from the Château de Cognac, which holds more than 200 years of Cognac-making history. D’USSÉ XO starts with a fruity bouquet on the nose, bringing notes of hazelnuts, nutmeg, apricot, orange, wood, and subtle warm spice on the palate for a flavor profile that truly feels like home.” —Tiffanie Barriere, Former Beverage Director, One Flew South, Atlanta
“Pinhook Bourbon Country Cask Strength Bourbon. This whiskey is beautiful and boozy, with a lot of toasted coconut and cocoa notes. Perfect with a brown sugar cube, it rounds out the flavor and tastes like autumn nights in a glass. With its beautiful tasting notes and its ability to be enjoyed on the rocks with just an orange twist or in a fun cocktail, it’s perfect for any occasion. And most occasions do call for good bourbon.” —Corey Coose, Assistant General Manager and Bar Manager, The Main Street Tavern, Amagansett, N.Y.
“Clase Azul is a great tequila to keep on your bar cart. At Insignia, we always joke that it’s almost too good because it is super smooth and has a distinct flavor profile that sets it apart from other tequilas. They have a variety of offerings, but the reposado is our favorite. They can get a little pricey, but it’s well worth it if you want to impress guests or indulge yourself. Not to mention, the bottle itself is super unique, and is always an eye catcher and a conversation sparker.” —Charles Filippazzo, Bar Manager, Insignia, Smithtown, N.Y.