This comprehensive guide will prepare you for any party. 

By Betty Gold
Updated June 27, 2019
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Having a well-curated bar cart is a tell-tale sign you've entered into adulthood. The organized assortment of shiny bottles, spirits, and mixers will encourage you to shake and serve delicious drinks worthy of even the most hard-to-please cocktail connoisseurs.

Don't believe us? We tapped Eric Brass, the owner and founder of Tequila Tromba, to weigh in on bar cart essentials. After Eric’s many years of experience within the spirit industry, he's learned a thing or two about home bar staples, from brag-worthy liquors to mixers and must-have bar tools. He's here to share his step-by-step guide for designing a bar cart from scratch and curating an impressive selection of spirits.

Step 1: The Design.

Determine the space you have to work with. Your home bar should have a story and every product should connect with you on a personal level, keeping in mind the small amount of storage space you have to work with. Everything on your home bar cart should have a clear reason for being there and you should feel free to get creative—your home bar doesn’t have to be a dust collector.

Make sure to have some crowd pleasers there, too. Much like when you're in a bar, you don’t want everything to be too what-the-bartender-wants. Instead, go for quality products that everyone knows and loves.

Some people prefer to keep their liquor cabinet or home bar in the kitchen or basement, depending on where they entertain most. "For my own home bar, I was able to dedicate the front room of our house for entertaining and transform a bookshelf into a liquor cabinet. It's a focal point in the space and leads to conversations about travels, spirits, and pairings!" says Brass.

Step 2: Stock Up On Basics.

The backbone of a good bar starts with six basic spirits: the clear and brown foundational bottles. For clear spirits always have a tequila, gin, and vodka on hand; for darker spirits, scotch, bourbon, and rum.

All should be products that you believe in and have a story that can relate to your guests. Try for brands that are independent and really care about the craft and quality of what they are doing.

Step 3: Consider Your Spirit Quality.

Not everyone enjoys straight spirits—that’s why cocktails were invented. Your bar selection will depend on whether you plan to mix and blend cocktails, or drink your liquor neat. "Remember to have a few go-to cocktails you love to serve, too!" adds Brass.

A smart rule of thumb: A cocktail should be made with good spirits, but don't use anything super-premium if you plan to use it to build a cocktail. "For the person who prefers to drink their liquor straight or neat, that’s when you’d want to consider investing in a higher price point bottle," recommends Brass.

Step 4: Move on to Mixers.

At the minimum, you should have real fruit juices on hand. Fruits like lime, lemon, and orange are always a great option, as they pair well with a majority of spirits. Whatever you do, don’t buy the artificial green bottled lime juice or any other pre-made mixers from the grocery store. Spend the few extra dollars on the real deal.

For those who have more space to work with and plan to create cocktails often, simple syrups and agave nectar are things that you might find yourself reaching for frequently. These are all very basic ingredients but can be used as a sweetener in a lot of classic drinks.

Bitters are also a perfect option for elevating your cocktail and bringing a unique twist to things like old fashions.

When it comes to pairing, there are no set rules regarding what should and should not be mixed together. According to Brass, "People should be adventurous with their mixers. The general rule of thumb is to stick to one base spirit, such as tequila or whiskey. From there, the limits are endless for what can be created."

Step 5: Get Your Tools & Gadgets.

I highly recommend investing in a bartending tool kit; tools on the higher end will last you a lifetime. At a minimum, make sure you have a double-sided jigger, shaker, and muddler on hand to craft your drinks! There are a variety of jiggers and different kinds of shakers available, but it helps to do your research and find one that caters to your experience level.

"For beginners, I would recommend starting with a cobbler shaker," says Brass. "This type tends to be a favorite among at-home mixologists —it’s basic, clean, and easy to use." Don't forget good glassware, too.