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When ordering a drink at a bar, may your hardest decision be which beverage to sip on first — amiright? But, when it comes to concocting a cocktail at home… things can get a little bit more tricky.
There are a lot of elements to consider when you’re mixing, muddling, shaking, and stirring from the comfort of your kitchen — not to mention a variety of different products, spirits, tools, and garnishes to choose from and store in your bar cart. And, if the unlimited options aren’t overwhelming enough, learning how they all fit together can be a hoot.
To take the guesswork (and potential stress) out of a fun evening in–filled with libations — we went straight to the experts. We tapped five pros who are involved with and appearing at Charleston Wine + Food 2022 in South Carolina (and, needless to say: they make amazingly delicious drinks, too).
Here’s what they recommend you always have in your at-home bar cart.
Any cocktail aficionado will tell you: ice matters. It’s safe to say that Ivy Mix, the founder of Speed Rack and owner of Leyenda and Fiasco! Wine + Spirits in Brooklyn, NY, agrees. “Nice Ice makes all the difference,” says Ivy, who recommends silicone ice trays for cubes. “I like using big 2 in. x 2 in. cubes in my stirred drinks and I like to shake my cocktails with the 1 in. x 1 in.” Her “hot” tip: try making these with boiled or purified water for extra clear cubes.
“A nice range of bitters is always useful,” says Lynnette Marrero, co-founder of Speed Rack and the bar director of LLama Inn in Brooklyn and LLama San in Manhattan. “These are the salt and pepper of cocktail making. You can order a sample pack from a range of bitters like Hella Bitters so you can tweak recipes by changing up bitters.”
These two tools are probably the most often thought about when it comes to making quality cocktails. And for good reason. Nikki Fairman, a bartender, and co-founder of The Substitutes in Charleston, SC, says, “With these two simple tools you will be ready for anything. There are many types of cocktail shakers but what’s known as a Cobbler Shaker is the best for home use. Cobbler Shakers come in a multitude of sizes and have a built-in strainer and lid.”
In terms of stirring? “A proper bar spoon may seem odd but its slender handle and the way it glides around the glass is crucial for stirring up your favorite Negroni or Manhattan,” says Nikki. Her hot tip: Every cocktail that contains juice should be shaken and any cocktail that doesn’t should be stirred.
Keep things versatile! “When you have a choice of flavors on the bar cart you can allow so much variety to the drink in the glass,” says Tiffanie Barriere, owner and creative director of The Drinking Coach in Atlanta.
“You want to be careful to not only have the things you drink but also be able to change the profile with another spirit and offer something different to any guest that may come over.”
Tiffanie also notes that dark and white spirits are usually the same proof. “Never think one is stronger than the other. One is just aged more than the other and having a choice of flavor helps to keep your mind curious and palate excited to try different styles,” she says.
“It’s your bar cart — make it look fancy!,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, a beverage consultant in New York City. “Estelle Colored Glass glassware is not only some of the prettiest and aesthetically pleasing coupes, flutes, and rocks glasses on the market, but it’s also woman founded and owned,” Pamela notes that the variety of colors gives any household the opportunity to match it to their room decor. “The styles are extremely chic.”