Last year I stocked my first bar cart for our home. A lot of you asked me about tips for getting started. At the time, I suggested just buying what you like and building it up over time. A year later I still agree with that advice, but have a little lot I want to add. Ready for a long post about liquor? K. Let’s chat…
I have put together some suggestions for starting at different budgets, but first a few money saving tips!
-Don’t buy any flavored liquors, at least not at first! Donut flavored vodka can be tempting because the labels are adorable, and it sounds so interesting. But you’ll be seriously limited on what you can make with it. Instead, focus on buying base spirits like Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin and Rum. When you want something flavored you can make your own syrups or infuse your own liquor. It’s super easy!
– Buy baby bottles. 🙂 When you are trying a new recipe with a bunch of new ingredients, buy mini bottles (1.7oz) instead of full size. The liquor store I go to has almost every specialty liquor in cute tiny bottles. After you’ve tried it, you can decide if you want to invest in a bigger bottle.
– Focus on favorites. If already know you love whiskey, spend a little more on those bottles and collect your favorites. Spend more on your favorites and be extra thrifty on the rest.
Here’s a little guide to starting your bar cart at different budgets. I know liquor costs are very different everywhere in the world, but here’s what you can get where we live. $15 (or so) bottles are our starting point. It’s smart to stick with “medium shelf” or higher, so you’re sure can get the base qualities of the liquor. The cheapest stuff can get a little unpredictable. And then, obviously you can upgrade when you want to! It’s also important to note that these guides do not include mixers like cranberry juice or club soda or garnishes like mint leaves, lemons and limes. Even still, it’s nice to have a fully stocked bar and only need a few fresh ingredients for new recipes!
For this budget I recommend investing in three different base spirits (choose your favorites from Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin and Rum). If you aren’t sure what you like yet, google some of your favorite cocktails to see what they are made with. I also recommend one bottle of bitters. Start with Angostura or any aromatic cocktail bitters, because you can use them in a huge variety of drinks.
Here are a few recipes you can make with my choice of base spirits pictured above (Vodka, Gin & Rum) and common kitchen staples (like juice and club soda!). With Gin, you can make a Tom Collins, a Gimlet or a Gin Sour. With Rum, you can try a Mojito, a Hurricane and a Painkiller. With Vodka, you can make a Bloody Mary, a Screwdriver or a Salty Dog. See? The possibilities are endless!
For this budget, I recommend purchasing 5-6 bottles of base liquor. You can also get two bottles of bitters. Or you can swap out one of the bitters for some dry and sweet vermouth (this needs to be refrigerated after opening).
A few recipes you can make: (in addition to the recipes above!): With Whiskey, you can make a Whiskey Sour, a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. With tequila, you can make Margaritas (in about 1 million different flavors), a Tequila Sunrise and a Bloody Maria.
Suggestions for a $250 Budget (and beyond!)
I know it’s unlikely that many of you will want to spend this much on bar cart supplies in one day, so just think of this as planning for the future! You can build it up over time. For this budget I recommend 9 base liquors (you can branch out/upgrade as shown below), 6 bitters (I use Fee Brothers Celery, Bitterman’s Elemekule and Hellfire bitters most, in addition to the Angosturas) and 3-5 Liqueurs and Mixers (I love St. Germain, Benedictine and Cointreau).
Also at this stage, it’s a great time to branch out and invest in some good bar tools and different types of glassware. We’ll talk more about that stuff below.
I spent the past year collecting different bottles and pieces a little bit at a time. The best part is that now no matter what recipe I want to try I usually don’t need to spend too much money, because I have so many basics. Plus it’s great for parties! We have a couple friends who geek out for hours mixing different cocktails.
After you’ve collected the basics, you can branch out and collect different types of your favorite spirits. Whiskey, Gin, Rum and Tequila are really diverse and it’s fun to collect different types from different regions.
There are so many special bottles that you may want to eventually collect. I love this Japanese Whiskey for Hot Toddys. And Absinthe is something I rarely use, but it’s fun to have for special recipes. Since liquor lasts forever-ish, it’s ok to buy things you won’t use as often. Although, every time I buy a special bottle I inevitably start searching for more ways to use it!
These are SO fun! I love trying different liqueurs and mixers! They aren’t as versatile as the base liquor, which is why it’s important to collect those first, but they often come up in cocktail recipes and will add lot of flavor to your drinks!
Above: Citrus Juicer, Fine Mesh Strainer, Julep Strainer, Jigger, Muddler.
Tools are usually inexpensive and you’ll get a LOT of use out of them. Plus, they are just fun because they’ll make your at-home-cocktails feel more legit! The tools I use the most are my muddler (for any drink with muddled fruit or mint leaves) and my fine mesh strainer (great for straining homemade simple syrups into mason jars). A jigger is nice for measuring, but you can use any measuring cup! Having a cocktail shaker is awesome, but you can use anything that seals (like a mason jar) if you don’t have one. You just need to be creative when you’re pouring, so the ice stays in the container.
Some classic cocktails are served in special cups. It’s fun to collect copper mugs for Moscow Mules and silver cups for Mint Juleps. I collect cocktail shakers at home and I love using them at parties and for special dinners.
There are endless varieties of glassware you can collect. I’m planning to write a whole post about just glasses eventually. To get started, the most used glasses in my collection are a simple cocktail glass, a rocks glass and a collins glass. So basically, something pretty, something short and something tall! You can always branch out from there. I love collecting random vintage glassware from flea markets.
Additional Resources: Bar Cart, Lucite Tray.
Let me know if you have any questions of experiences you’d like to share in the comments!! xo. Elsie
Credits//Author and Photography: Elsie Larson.
We were so excited when we found our bar cart over the weekend! It’s similar to Elsie’s in that it’s BRIGHT green, too! Love it so much!
Couldn’t wait to share!!
Thank you so much for those tips Elsie, I was just thinking of buying a bar cart, now I can’t wait to start ! 🙂
What a helpful post! I’ve been wanting to incorporate a bar cart into our home for a while now and have been wondering where to start. Thanks!
Wonderful suggestions! My collection is definitely in need of more special bottles of liquor!
After many years, I still find it fun to add to the basic bar mix. My latest was a painted sugar skull decanter of tequila.
Thank you for a great advice! This came just right on time for me, I’m trying to build up a little bar!
Looooove your blog <3
This is so helpful! I’d love to entertain more and definitely need to build a collection of better options for guests.
I have bought a few vintage cocktail supplies on Etsy, it’s probably the easiest place to shop aside from local!
The trays are from West Elm.
Thanks so much!
Bitters are flavor enhancers so they help to bring out flavor in your drinks. They are super strong, so only a few drops are needed.
I didn’t include wine of champagne since it’s normal to drink a bottle like that in one day. This post is strictly about cocktails, but we’ve been working on some wine posts for the future!!
Jeremy and I just started getting into wine recently. We are planning to build a wine rack sometime soon for our home. I’ll post it here when we do!
That sounds so fun! I’m so jealous!
Great idea Coquetin!
Hi Kayla! I’m so happy it was helpful.
Our bar cart is from West Elm.
I love Root & Snap sounds incredible too. Gonna keep an eye out for that.
Thanks so much for your recommendations!
It’s from West Elm.
I just got a bar cart for Christmas and styling it was such fun. But going forward, I want to focus on stocking it with essentials. So your post was perfect. I have the necessary ingredients for my favorite cocktails, but I’m missing a few basics. Thanks for the list. And I need some new tools! I think a muddler and juicer are high priority purchases. I live buying vintage. But do you have any tips for great places to buy bar tending supplies?
I loved your bar cart post last year so much – it inspired me to gift my husband (who loves experimenting with mixing drinks) with his own bar cart, complete with a few new bottles to try! People are drawn to it when they come over because it’s a bit unique, and after my parents decided to pass their liquor collection onto us last year it’s quite well-stocked with some great bottles!
This is super helpful!
I also second the point about buying the small bottles first. My husband and I have bought a bottle of something we just knew would be amazing, and ended up giving it away because we didn’t like it at all. A bit of an expensive lesson, for sure!