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Everything You Need for a Simplified Bar Cart

Plus 5 essential cocktails to start with.
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Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz

One of my favorite "quarantine traditions" takes place every evening at 5 o'clock. As the work day winds down, I set up Sloan with a movie in our bedroom (her treat) and G and I enjoy a cocktail together (our treat). Nearly every night for the past several weeks, G has shaken up a new cocktail—Aperol Spritzes, martinis, and margaritas are all on regular rotation—as I keep him company in the kitchen or get dinner started. Taking the time to make a proper drink, instead of simply pouring a glass of wine, or gin over ice, makes the evening habit feel like a ritual that signals the end of the day. On our last Instagram Live Happy Hour (every Friday at 5!), we received several questions about how to put together an essential bar cart. Below, G shared the foundational alcohol, ingredients, and tools for a basic bar cart:

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There are five foundational spirits I always recommend, but of course if you don't drink one of them (for example, we hardly drink vodka), then feel free to skip it. Below are my recommendations, with some high-end and everyday options:

Gin: Plymouth Gin ($36) or Ki No Bi Kyoto Distillery Gin ($70)

Vodka: Reyka Icelandic Vodka ($30) or Beluga Gold Line ($100)

Tequila: Casamigos Blanco ($39, this is what I use for margaritas) or Tears of Llorna No 3. Extra Anejo ($249, this is a sipping tequila)

Whisky: Rittenhouse 100 ($22, an essential Rye, one of my favorites) or Masterson's 10 Year Rye ($66, sipping whisky)

Cognac or rum: Maison Surrenne Distillerie Galtaud ($93)

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There's a wide variety of aperitifs available, which can be sipped on their own or added to a cocktail. It really comes down to preference and taste, but here are a few I recommend everyone start with:

Vermouths (dry and sweet): Dry is usually clear and is usually used in cocktails like martinis, while sweet vermouth is usually brown or red and goes into Italian drinks like Negronis. 

Any orange liqueur: Orange liquors are frequently used in cocktails, and differ slightly in taste, but are—for the most part—interchangeable, in a pinch. We like Cointreau or Grand Marnier, and Triple Sec for margaritas. 

Bitter: An herb-blended bitter like Angostura is essential for adding depth and aromatics to a cocktail—it's the final touch you didn't know you needed until you start using it. I also add a dash of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 to martinis. 

Additional: You can stop here, but of course look up your favorite cocktails and add the ingredients. CampariNonino AmaroLa Fee AbsintheLilletLuxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and Saint Germain are all commonly featured in cocktails as well but not essential. 

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Citrus: The main thing is to stock up on lots of lemons and limes, which are used in a variety of summer cocktails especially. Orange is also common, but I tend to only use it as a garnish in Aperol Spritzes and Negronis because it's too sweet for my preference. 

Bubbles: If you don't like tonic water, then use ginger ale or club soda. Chances are you already have something like La Croix or Perrier on hand, and each can be a great finish to a cocktail.  

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Again, this comes down to preference, but most garnishes are items you already have in your kitchen, like fruit peels, olives, or even pickled onions. I like to have Luxardo Cherries on hand because the flavor is better than the dyed, glow-in-the-dark red maraschino and can make something like a Manhattan feel that much more special. 

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Shaker: You don't need a fancy set-up, but every bar cart should have a basic shaker. I like Boston shakers, which have a metal base and a pint glass, but some people prefer the option with a built-in strainer, called a cobbler shaker. After this, the rest is really optional...

Silicone Ice Molds: I recommend larger ice cubes, since they melt slower (so they don't dilute the drink as quickly), look better than the crescent cubes most people have, and make the drink colder. We use these silicone molds from Tivolo

Jigger or shot glass: For measuring, though you can use a measuring cup too.

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Drinks are served in different glasses for a reason. For example the narrower the opening, the more concentrated the smell is (think of a wine glass), but you don't have to invest in a ton of glassware. You can probably use what you have on hand, but if you do want to buy some, I recommend a set of martini glasses (which will hold 99% of your cocktails) and a set of lowball or rocks glasses. Save the cognac snifters and collins glasses for the next level.

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I would start with accessible drinks that you can use this time to perfect. For example, it's easy to make a martini, but takes time to perfect one. Here are some classics to start with: 

1. Martini (gin or vodka and dry vermouth)
2. Negroni (Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth + orange wedge)
3. Old Fashioned (sugar, bitters, whiskey + cherry and orange wedge)
4. Manhattan (whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters + cherry)
5. Margarita (citrus, tequila, orange liqueur, Cointreau)

For more, I recommend Speakeasy (this is from the guys at Employees Only) and The Ultimate Bar Book (one of the "Bibles" that contains everything).

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