Making cocktails at home does not have to be an expensive or time consuming task. The object of mixing and consuming drinks should be to maximize entertainment and minimize stress and discomfort...otherwise, what's the point?!?! To this end stocking a few (or many if that's your thing) important pieces of bar equipment will make your life easier and speed along the process of making cocktails. Choosing the right equipment for your bar starts with knowing what drinks you and yours enjoy (does this sound familiar?). Sure, we would all love a thousand dollars of Absinthiana, but if you never drink Absinthe, then do you really need a grille, Les Cuilleres or Brouilleur? So start simple, be creative and adaptive (that's just great advice for life, too) and add tools and equipment of quality construction that will last.
Gadgets are REALLY FUN! And some of them can actually be useful. However, as with many other times in your life, improvisation can bridge any gaps in your home bar tool kit. For example, even though I have bartended professionally for years, I do not own a muddler at home...I use a wooden spoon or a pestle from the kitchen...they are great, and let's face it, if I'm muddling a cocktail at home it's probably a Mint Julep and it really doesn't need a fancy muddler (and if you want to experience the perfect mint julep recipe, check this out)! And while we are talking about muddlers, here's a great piece of DIY muddler advice from one of America's top bartenders and my personal hero. I do have several exceptional tools in my home bar that make bartending at home much easier. So let's take a look at what a professional would recommend for a home bar.
Tools and Equipment:
*Juicer - I LOVE citrus in my cocktails! Citrus provides the backbone for many of my favorite spring and summer cocktails. Thus, the most important tool I have for my home bar is a retro yellow mechanical juice press. I will admit that it is not the best option for big oranges, but it knocks out limes. lemons and small oranges easily! However, there are many types and styles of juicers and I have several in my home bar. Check out this article for some good advice on determining what style juicer might be the best fit in your home bar. The most basic is the reamer and this is the single most durable piece of equipment in my home, but it can be a little slow at times if you are juicing several pieces of fruit (think margarita night and a big bag of limes) and it can lead to some sore hands. I keep two different sizes of hand press juicers in my home bar, one for lemons and limes and a larger one for oranges. The hand press is great if I am only making a drink or two as I can squeeze the juice directly into the jigger. Norpro makes a solid stainless steel hand press or if you like pretty colors Amco makes color coordinated hand presses (but don't waste your time or money with the green one or the combo with plastic insert). The next step up in juicing "technology" the mechanical press (like my little yellow number above) makes margarita night a snap. Now if you really are a baller or if your budget allows there are electric juice presses, and then there's the Sunkist and I'll just leave it at that...
*Jiggers - Measure! Measure!! MEASURE!!! I use jiggers at home and I use jiggers at the bar. Sure there are times when I free pour, but it usually involves a long and stressful day and a major snoot of some brown liquor in a glass and nothing else. For proper cocktail making, I stick to proper measurements that match my recipe! Very soon we will talk recipes (one of the three most important elements of any good cocktail according to Jeffrey Morgenthaler). I recommend stocking jiggers in 0.5 ounce, 0.75 ounce, 1 ounce and 1.5 ounce.
*Shakers - Building cocktails to end with well aerated, evenly mixed, uniform, chilled and diluted drinks requires a cocktail shaker. Cocktail Shakers come in three basic styles: Boston, Cobbler and Parisian (French). My personal go-to is the Boston Shaker. The Cobbler is cute with its little built-in straining function but I can never get all the booze out of the shaker, and that my friends is a real tragedy. I suppose I should really like to have a silver plated Parisian Shaker but I'll probably just spend my money on more booze and stick with my basic Boston Shaker.
*In the next home bartender post...Hawthorne Strainers, Lewis Bags and Mallets OH MY!