The 6 most important bottles for every bar cart

Keen to make cocktails at home but aren’t sure how to go about stocking your drinks trolley? Don’t worry, we’ve got you.

Here are six essentials that will have you mixing, stirring and shaking your way to beverage bliss in no time, with suggested cocktails to boot.

1. Whiskey

Known as uisce beatha (“the water of life”) in Irish, there are many kinds of whiskey – the most famous being Scotch, Irish and American bourbon. Each has various subcategories and styles but they’re all made from grains, such as barley and corn.

They’re usually interchangeable, so choose whichever you prefer for your trolley. In fact, there will probably be a name for the version you’re making – for example, if you use Scotch instead of bourbon in your Manhattan, it becomes a Rob Roy.

Old Fashioned

45 ml bourbon

1 sugar cube

Few dashes Angostura bitters

Few dashes plain water

In a tumbler, muddle sugar with bitters and water. Fill a glass with ice, add whiskey and stir. Garnish with orange slice or zest.

Also try: Whiskey sour, hot toddy

2. White rum

Contrary to popular belief, white rum isn’t necessarily unaged. The best white rums are aged in wood to gain flavour and soften them up, then charcoal-filtered to remove its colour.

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Standard rum is made from molasses, while rhum agricole is made from sugarcane juice. When in doubt, opt for the former, as rhum agricole can be challenging.


60 ml white rum

20 ml fresh lime juice

2 bar spoons of superfine sugar

Stir ingredients in a shaker to dissolve sugar. Add ice, shake, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Also try: Mojito, piña colada

3. Tequila

Made from the agave plant – like its sister, mezcal – tequila adds a wonderful vegetal character to cocktails. The difference between the two flavour-wise is that mezcal has an added smokiness, as the agave is roasted with fire.

If that sounds like your thing, sub out tequila for mezcal on your trolley, as most agave-based cocktails can use either.

Tommy’s margarita

60 ml tequila

30 ml fresh lime juice

15 ml agave syrup

4 drops bitters

Shake with ice, then finely strain into a chilled cocktail glass (a half-salted rim is optional).

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Also try: Mexican mule, tequila and tonic

4. Gin

Gin is really just vodka infused with juniper and other botanicals. In South Africa, you’ll find all sorts of interesting indigenous plants in the recipes, but traditionally coriander, angelica, orris root, cassia bark, cardamom and citrus are commonly used.

Clover Club

45 ml gin

15 ml raspberry syrup

15 ml fresh lemon juice

Few drops egg white or cellulose

Shake ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with fresh raspberries.

Also try: Red Snapper, South Side, Gimlet, Bee’s Knees, Basil Smash, Gin Fizz

5. Campari

While Campari falls under the “bitter” category of alcohols, its flavour profile is unique, which is why it’s getting mentioned by name here. This cult brand is filled with history. It was invented by Gaspare Campari in Italy 1860 and the recipe remains unchanged to this day.

Easily identifiable by its vibrant red colour, it’s an essential addition to your drinks trolley.


25 ml Campari

25 ml sweet red vermouth

25 ml brut sparkling wine

Pour ingredients into an ice-filled glass, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice.

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Also try: Negroni, Campari spritz

6. Vermouth

It’s a tough call choosing between red or white vermouth, as they both make excellent cocktails and they’re actually both necessary for a solid home bar.

Both are fortified wines, white being drier and more umami-like in flavour, while the red is typically sweeter. They’re also both usually made from white grapes, the red colour coming from added red wine, botanicals or colourant.

If you have to choose one, red is probably more versatile – think Negronis and Sbagliatos, as well as Manhattans – but do you need white for a martini…

Manhattan (red vermouth)

50 ml rye whiskey
20 ml sweet red vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Dry martini (white vermouth)

60 ml gin

10 ml gry vermouth

Lemon peel or green olives, for garnish

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze oil from lemon peel onto the drink, or garnish with olives.