Every week I post these cocktail recipes, each one of them featuring at least three ingredients, and increasingly difficult to find. Usually I have all these spirits and mixers on hand, but even this cocktail devotée can find stocking a home bar daunting. Lucky for me, John and I sat down one Saturday and made a list (one of our favorite things to do, apart or together) so I though I'd share our combined cocktail wisdom.
Over the next few Fridays, I'll be going over the in's and out's of building a top-notch home bar; in less than a month, you'll be able to whip up anything your thirsty friends might ask for! Today, let's start at the very beginning:
the tools of the trade.
Every bar needs equipment, and yours is no exception. Pull out what you have already-likely, this includes a collection of themed or printed cocktail shakers, an old electric juicer and maybe a jigger, that little silver thing with two ends. Hey, we all start somewhere!
Your printed cocktail shaker probably doesn't need to be replaced. Keep in mind that the larger the shaker, not only can you shake up more drinks in a single go, you can chill that solo cocktail faster. If you simply can't bear to look at that Pink Elephant plastic shaker (I have certainly never possessed such a hideous item!), try a classic Boston shaker. The two parts will either both be stainless steal or feature one bar glass and one stainless steel cup; the choice is purely a matter of aesthetics. That bar glass can also be used for spirituous cocktails, which should be stirred, so if you're looking to simplify, I'd pick a mismatched set.
Once you've got your shakers selected, consider strainers. Good bartenders keep three on hand: a julep strainer, a Hawthorne strainer and a tea strainer.
The julep strainer is the saucer shaped beauty with larger holes; use this one for straining spirituous cocktails without much gunk to worry about (unlike cocktails with muddled mint leaves, freshly squeezed juices, etc)
The Hawthorne strainer is that rounded strainer with the spring along the bottom; use it along with a fine tea strainer (just like you'd use to strain jams or jellies) to keep your drinks free of pulp and excess ice.
In addition to shakers and strainers, bartenders rely on jiggers for precise measurements. We have three different sizes: 2 oz/1 oz, 1oz/.5oz and .75oz/.5oz. Maybe you don't need them all right now, but at $1.25 a piece, you'll be glad you got a complete set.
Now pull out that juicer-if it works, don't worry about replacing it. If it doesn't, or you realize you don't have one, let me suggest a citrus juicer (or better yet, an overhand press if you have the money and counter space)! The reason most people buy margarita mix is because juicing enough limes for more than 2 cocktails can take quite a bit of time, but a good juicer will speed up the process.
Other things that you don't need to finish your bar but never hurt: a citrus reamer, a zester (which you might already have in your kitchen tools), a dedicated bar knife (which can just as easily be a paring knife) and long bar spoons for stirring martinis and other spirit-driven cocktails. You'll also want a muddler if you like mojitos; skip the silicone-bottomed tools and find a wooden muddler that looks like a small baseball bat. The smooth, wooden bottom will help extract oils from citrus or herbs, and will dissolve sugars more easily.
Keep in mind that those adorable sets you can find at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel will work in a pinch, but you'll be missing some important pieces. Generally, these sets have a jigger with unusual volumes, so be sure to check both sides carefully before you pour!
Next week, expect advice on the liquor staples every home bar needs!