So you’ve officially taken the plunge and bought an at-home bar cart for all of your post-workday needs — welcome to adulthood! We assume you’ve already stocked the cart with the essential liquors — whiskey, gin, tequila, vodka, and rum— so now what? We’ve compiled a list of the 10 essential ingredients to consistently have tucked away on your bar cart. Keep the following items on hand at all times and you’ll never find yourself in a cocktail-creation nightmare.
Lemons & Limes
Lemons and limes are essential ingredients in most major cocktails because their acidity balances out alcohol and sugar flavors. Adding even a simple rind can change the entire flavor profile of a cocktail. Keeping lemons and limes on hand also comes in handy for adding flavor to light beers, or for you fearless tequila shot-takers.
Looking for a perfect faultless foamy finish on your cocktail? Adding an egg white will do just that. Egg whites add thickness to the texture of your cocktail while creating that deliciously frothy cap. This happens when the egg’s proteins become loosened from shaking; you can do this by “dry shaking” your cocktail, a.k.a. shaking all ingredients (including said egg) vigorously to incorporate the egg, then adding ice for a chilling second shake.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Like lemons and limes, the acidity in both orange zest and orange peels can balance out the bite of alcohol or the sweetness of sugar. Twist an orange peel into your cocktail for a sourly satisfying finish.
While this may seem like an obvious component, ice is essential to chilling your perfectly crafted cocktail. Serving up your cocktail on the proper ice will not only enhance the visual component of the drink, it’ll also properly keep your drink’s flavor. Serving cocktails over too-small ice cubes will have your creation come to a watery, disastrous mess. And who wants a diluted cocktail?
Not only will you need sugar for creating classic favorites (hello, Old Fashioned), but having sugar on hand will allow you to easily whip up simple syrup when your recipe calls for such. You can also get creative in using sugar to decoratively rim your glasses.
How are you gonna balance out that sugar in your cocktail creation? With bitters, of course! Bitters are highly concentrated extractions of flowers, herbs, bark, and plants, used to balance the sweet and sour components of drinks while adding complexity to the glass. You’ll only need a few dashes, though — these guys are potent.
While having a variety of fresh herbs on hand can be tricky, keeping mint as a staple is your best be t– you’ll be able to create favorites such as juleps and mojitos. Mint is also fun to play around with in experimental cocktails; it’s cool, crisp, and provides a refreshing sensation to the palate.
Fresh fruit, while often delicious in cocktails, can be a pain to keep preserved. Buy them too far in advance and they’ll go bad; don’t buy them soon enough and they may be underripe. We love maraschino cherries for their sweet, colorful addition to cocktails. The juice from a maraschino cherry jar can also be used as a sweetening component in somewhat austere cocktails. And let’s be honest — eating a drunken cherry after swigging down a boozy cocktail is incredibly satisfying.
Dry & Sweet Vermouth
Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine, created with brandy and infused with herbs and spices, adding depth and herbal characteristics to your cocktail. Keep a bottle of dry and sweet on hand for all of your potential cocktail needs, but don’t store these on the bar cart itself. Leaving the bottles in the fridge will preserve the products for a longer period of time.
Because who ever complained about having a bottle of bubbly on hand? Adding sparkling wine to cocktails puts a slightly boozier, effervescent twist on your creation. With a bottle of sparkling, you can easily get to crafting French 75s and Kir Royals. Worst case scenario? You find yourself without these other nine ingredients and pop the bottle on its own. Hey, there could be worse situations to find yourself in.