Learn how to stock your bar cart with these great locally made spirits — plus a few extra must-haves. Below, you’ll find must-have tools and ingredients to make great cocktails at home.
Of the positives that have come out of a series of stay-at-home, work-from-home, do-everything-at-home orders, I think curating my space to work for me is one of them.
The at-home Happy Hour may be here to stay, and it’s time to have more in your (my) arsenal than uncorking a bottle of wine.
Here’s a cheat sheet for a well-stocked bar cart.
Need a bar cart? Here’s one similar to mine (below).
Bar Cart Tools
You really don’t need an entire arsenal of tools for home bartending. Much of what you own already can be repurposed. A few must-haves, however, include:
- Jigger (yes, you want to measure your booze)
- Bottle opener
- Ice cube tray
(If you happen to purchase anything from the above links, I may get a few cents, so thank you!)
You can get much of this at The Restaurant Store really cheap, though not as aesthetically pleasing as versions available elsewhere.
My mixer set (pictured) is vintage from Stash; the corkscrew I linked is the absolute best, and I basically give them to all of my friends at some point (it comes in a bunch of different finishes/colors). I love bottle openers that double as art, personally. I really like this jigger because it’s two-sided with several measurements, and it’s dishwasher-safe.
Stock these (not so) Basic Boozes
A perfect bar cart is customized to your tastes and preferences — it doesn’t need to have *everything,* especially if you don’t often entertain.
Basics include vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey.
But if you hate gin and prefer bourbon, customize. An ideal home set-up includes one or two light spirits, at least one dark spirit, a liqueur or two.
HOLLA Spirits comes in a growing number of real flavors, from Amazemint to PBV (peanut butter), but the OG is the most versatile, of course. Buy at Pennsylvania Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores or online here. My go-tos include original, apple, and lemon.
If you’re a tequila person, you’re going to want Tattered Flag’s Reposado Agave Spirit, a barrel-aged “tequila” (which is in quotation marks because much like champagne, tequila can only be called so if produced in Jalisco, Mexico). Buy online – Tattered Flag Supply Drop ships anywhere in Pennsylvania!
For those who prefer the smokiness of mezcal, don’t sleep on Dock Street Spirits Vicio Mezcal. This is the product of the incredible women behind the famed Dock Street Brewery, which I learned about when we interviewed them for Poured in Pennsylvania a few years ago. You can buy this at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores.
There are a growing number of Pennsylvania distillers, many of whom are breaking into the whiskey space. Personally, I most enjoy Eight Oaks Pinot Bourbon, which you can find at the Broad Street Market. Stoll & Wolfe is worth the visit for excellent quality whiskey, and Tattered Flag offers four different types of whiskies, depending on your preferences.
Beyond the basics, your bar cart stocking efforts will be greatly rewarded for investing in a few other “extra credit” liquors and liqueurs.
For instance, adding Spiked Cherries to your bar cart (refrigerate after opening, please!) will add a fun element and perfect garnish to many cocktails. Save the liquid! It’s boozy, and also can be used in drink recipes.
Vermouth is a must, as well (ahem, also keep this in your fridge). I’m coveting this new cherry vermouth from Ploughman Cider and this brand new sweet-vermouth-inspired, apple-brandy mead from Upper Reach Meadery.
Another one of my favorites is Midstate Distillery’s Coffee Liqueur. Starting with a rum base, this is a collaboration with Harrisburg’s own Little Amps Coffee Roasters, meaning you’re getting a doubly local, doubly delicious product. And you can buy it at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores if you can’t make it over to Midstate’s Cameron Street location.
Finally, one more in the extra credit category — these low alcohol apertifs from Haus make a great addition to your bar cart.
Made responsibly in California (okay, this one isn’t local but bare with me), Haus Spirits provide a low alcohol option made from real ingredients. Enjoy on the rocks (without any rockiness). I love to pair these with sparkling water for the easiest of cocktails, especially the Rose Rosé. They also go well with teas, too. I’m mixing the Lemon Lavender with green tea and honey for a fresh take on a hot toddy.
Don’t forget the mixers! I like to keep it simple. I’m not big on juices and sodas, but I make a few exceptions.
Sparkling water or seltzer (or club soda) — flavored or plain, this will go far whether you’re putting together a cocktail or a mocktail.
Ginger beer is a must for mules. Zeroday Brewing‘s Ginger Beer is hands-down the best I’ve ever had and my preferred option. You can typically get crowlers at the Outpost at Broad Street Market or Midtown Cinema for ultimate convenience.
If you can’t get Zeroday’s (or if it’s too spicy for you), Gosling’s is the mass-available standard. It can be found at most grocery stores.
For extra credit, grab some good quality tonic water, grapefruit juice, fresh citrus, and bitters.
Peychaud’s and Angosturo play quite differently in cocktails, but you can never go wrong with orange bitters.
What are your bar cart stocking must-haves? I’m always looking for Pennsylvania-made Amari and other “mixing” liqueurs made locally. Send them my way!