We’d had a few old bottles of vermouth and triple sec sitting on the bar cart and a random mixers we’d picked up along the way in the fridge, but each time I sat down to make something specific — think an Old Fashioned or a Negroni — I was coming up short.
This led to one of my social distancing projects: stocking our bar with must-have cocktail mixers, liqueurs, embellishments, and the like. We’re not talking gin, bourbon, rum, tequila, etc. I mean the little extras that you need to have on hand if you’re looking to make classic cocktail.
Must-Have Cocktail Ingredients, Liqueurs, and More
So, what have I been adding to our bar cart to make sure we’re ready to mix up a Manhattan at a moment’s notice? Obviously, you need the basic liquors: gin, vodka, bourbon, rum, and tequila, but let’s get into the must have cocktail ingredients, liqueurs, and fixings that we now have on hand.
- Vermouth: We have sweet vermouth for Negronis or Manhattans, but, if you’re into martinis, you’ll want to keep a dry vermouth, too.
- Bitters: The classic I’m holding here is Angostura Bitters. You’ll need these for an Old Fashioned.
- Coffee Liqueur: Y’all know I’ll make a White Russian on occasion (get the recipe for a mint version here!), so coffee liqueur, like Kahlúa is a must-have.
- Orange Liqueur: Grab a bottle of triple sec of another orange-flavored liqueur, it comes in handy when making margaritas.
- Shrub: I picked up a Grapefruit shrub from Mother Shrub recently, which is essentially a drinking vinegar. Mixed with soda water, mezcal (my liquor of choice these days), and a bit of simple syrup, it’s absolutely delicious.
- Campari: I was inspired to make a Negroni after Stanley Tucci’s viral video a few weeks ago, so I picked up Campari and am now ready to make all the Negronis and Aperol Spritzes this summer.
- Simple Syrup: It takes just a few minutes to mix up some simple syrup to have on hand for all sorts of cocktails. Add in mint leaves for a mint versions that’s perfect in a Southside.
- Grenadine: Last week, friends and I did a virtual cocktail class to commemorate our friend Jenna’s bachelorette. One of the cocktails was a tequila-based drink with grenadine — it tasted like a melted popsicle and was oh so delish.
- Maraschino Cherries: What’s a cocktail without a little garnish? With these cherries on hand, you’re always prepared…and you can pop them on desserts, too. Of course, if you want to go a little fancier, you can grab these Jack Rudy Bourbon Cherries.
- Ginger Beer: Maybe Moscow Mules are your scene…or maybe you prefer a dark and stormy. Either way, ginger beer is the base for many a crowd favorite.
- Lemon and Lime Juice: I never realized how often I would pull out these citrus juices, but they get added to almost everything refreshing cocktail. Plus, you need lime juice to make the spicy margs everyone’s all about right now.
- Tomato Juice: I love a spicy Bloody Mary and, obviously, all good Bloody Marys start with tomato juice. I won’t get into it, but you’ll also need Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, pepper, and salt.
- Pineapple Juice: It’s easy to have a can of pineapple juice in your pantry ready for a hot afternoon when you’re craving a tropical cocktail.
- Coffee: I always have a pitcher of cold brew in the fridge, which comes in hand for fun takes on classics. Adam made me a coffee-based Dark and Stormy recently and it was phenomenal.
- Club Soda and Tonic Water: For obvious reasons, you need these two base mixers. I just get the cheap stuff from the grocery store, but some people swear by gourmet tonics.
- Chili Powder: I’m adding this to the list because I had no idea that just straight up chili powder in a glass is the best way to get a spicy marg. Game-changer.
Things I don’t have yet and need: Amaretto, St. Germain, Irish Cream, Crème de Menthe.
Best Places in DC to Find Cocktail Ingredients
If you’re local in DC and stocking up on these must-have cocktail ingredients, why not support a local business while you fill your bar? Of course, this could be said for anywhere, but since I’m DC, I’m going to share what I know, which is places in DC to find cocktail accoutrements.
- Salt & Sundry: In addition to fun glassware and bar essentials, you’ll find craft cocktail fixings from Jack Rudy, Mother Shrub, and more. If I could build a bar cart (or kitchen?!) with solely items from this shop, I would.
- Schneider’s: This spot has been a go-to shop for Capitol Hill residents for over 70 years. If you want guidance on exactly what to get and a great selection, stop in here.
- Shop Made in DC: You’ll find local cocktail ingredients from small businesses like Pratt & Standard, Element Shrub, and more. Bonus: they have a fun “Lift the Spirits” cocktail gift box that curates the selections for you on their website! Perfect to celebrate a friend…or yourself.
So, what are y’all mixing up these days? Let me know if you’ve found a new favorite cocktail while staying at home!