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Booze 101: Creating a home bar cart

Mixologist Efren Agustin teaches us how to convert an alcohol and spirits collection into a home bar cart.

When someone proclaims, “Shaken, not stirred,” it would be a shame not to have the proper equipment on hand to fulfill the order.

If done thoughtfully, a home bar cart not only provides a way to entertain guests with tasty made-to-order beverages, but also adds to the overall style and décor of a home. 

While Efren Agustin is known for taking mouthwatering cocktail pictures at bars around San Diego for his Instagram feed (@imefren), sometimes he enjoys a relaxing night at home with a good drink in hand. When a simple bar tray he had started overflowing, Agustin decided his growing collection needed a proper home — and a bar cart was the answer.

Efren Agustin’s enthusiasm for mixing spirits has evolved into a fully loaded bar cart that rivals many establishments that serve alcohol.
Efren Agustin's enthusiasm for mixing spirits has evolved into a fully loaded bar cart that rivals many establishments that serve alcohol. (David Brooks)
(David Brooks / )
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“Whether you enjoy getting behind the bar or want your friends to mix their own drinks, a bar cart is a source of entertainment, automatically making its owner the best host ever,” he said.

When searching for a bar cart, Agustin, co-founder of Greenlight Hospitality, said multiple shelves and wheels for mobility are high on the list of requirements.  

Using a mallet and serrated bread knife, Efren Agustin shapes large blocks of ice into clear frozen cubes that melt slower in a drink and add to the overall presentation of a classic cocktail.
Using a mallet and serrated bread knife, Efren Agustin shapes large blocks of ice into clear frozen cubes that melt slower in a drink and add to the overall presentation of a classic cocktail. (David Brooks)
(David Brooks / )

“Of course it sounds obvious, but your bottles, bar tools, cocktail books and glassware all need a home,” Agustin advised. “The bar cart should go wherever the party migrates." 

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Agustin acquired his cart from Bed, Bath & Beyond (which offers more than 100 options online). Other popular places to find them include West Elm and Pottery Barn.

Once the perfect bar cart is found, there are seven items, according to Agustin, that every proper home set-up must have in order to start shaking it up.

Efren Agustin measures out 1 ounce equal parts of Sunday Gin, sweet Vermouth, and Campari.
Efren Agustin measures out 1 ounce equal parts of Sunday Gin, sweet Vermouth, and Campari. (David Brooks)
(David Brooks / )

1. Jigger

Don’t ruin a cocktail because of poorly gauged ingredients. Keep cocktails balanced and on point with multi-measure jiggers. Agustin recommends the double, hourglass-shaped versions that measure ½ oz., ¾ oz., 1 oz., 1½ oz. and 2 oz. For a variety of jigger options, head to kegworks.com or find a Rabbit adjustable jigger ($10) at totalwine.com

2. Shaker

While many spirit-forward cocktails should be stirred, a number of popular drinks need a good shimmy/thrashing. Shake your money maker with the Boston Shaker and mixing glass (which also doubles as a pint glass) $15 at thebostonshaker.com. 

pac-shaker-001
Efren Agustin recommends using a shaker when preparing drinks. (David Brooks)

3. Glassware

A good rocks glass will provide the proper start, with utility for a variety of cocktails, including Negronis, Old Fashioneds, mint juleps and Sazeracs. For a variety of glassware options from $4 to $20, visit crateandbarrel.com

4. Base spirits

Five core spirits - vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whiskey - are a good base for stocking a home bar cart. As Agustin noted, “Good quality doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. Most bottles will be in the $18 to $35 range.” His top picks include You & Yours vodka, $35, and Sunday Gin, $38, youandyours.com; Plantation Pineapple Rum, $25, plantationrum.com/plantation-pineapple; Olmeca Altos Tequila, $20-25, altostequila.com; and Woodford Reserve whiskey, $28, woodfordreserve.com.

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Woodford Reserve Whiskey, part of Efren Agustin’s collection of cocktail ingredients.
Woodford Reserve Whiskey, part of Efren Agustin's collection of cocktail ingredients. (David Brooks)
(David Brooks / )

5. Vermouth

In both sweet and dry forms, vermouth is a key cocktail element. Considered a “modifier,” or a spirit that adds complexity and layering to cocktails, vermouth is the essential back-up singer/wingman to cocktails including the Manhattan, Negroni and classic martini. Look for Dolin dry vermouth ($16) and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth ($15) at klwines.com.

6. Bitters

“Cocktail bitters are to cocktails what salt and pepper are to cooking,” Agustin said of the essential condiment. Because of their intensity, only a few dashes are necessary to add flavor and complexity to cocktails. Try Angostura and Peychaud’s. Each priced at $10 at bevmo.com.

One of the many bitters like Angostura aromatic bitters that Efren Agustin uses in his cocktails.
One of the many bitters like Angostura aromatic bitters that Efren Agustin uses in his cocktails. (david Brooks)
(David Brooks / )

7. Cocktail book

“The best way to learn about cocktail making is by reading about it from some of the pros in the industry,” said Agustin. “One of my current favorites is The Cocktail Chronicles: Navigating the Cocktail Renaissance with Jigger, Shaker, and Glass by Paul Clarke.” According to Agustin, this approachable, easy-to-follow book takes the mystery out of mixology and includes helpful tips on tools, glassware and technique. $17, amazon.com.

Efren Agustin’s book collection.
Efren Augustin's book collection. (David Brooks)
(David Brooks / )
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