Setting the Bar


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From knives made for special garnishes and atomizers that diffuse a hint of a flavor over the top of a drink to specialty glassware, cocktail making can get tool-heavy in a hurry. When I wrote Th e Essential Bar Book: An A-to-Z Guide to Spirits, Cocktails, and Wine, with 115 Recipes for the World’s Great Drinks (Ten Speed Press, 2014), I ended up with overflowing cabinets of equipment for recipe testing—and that’s before counting the bottles of liquor. But though gadgets and gizmos can be fun, when it comes to home entertaining, sometimes simple is best. A minimal setup should help you shake and stir your way through most recipes. From my experience with the book, here were the items that I used most frequently:

Bartenders and cocktail writers usually prefer the two-piece Boston shaker setup—a mixing glass and a shaking tin—because there are fewer parts to lose (and wash), and the disassembly is easy. But for at-home use, the basic three-piece cocktail shaker (lid, strainer and mixing tin) works well too and involves less technique.

Technically, you probably can make most stirred cocktails in a pint glass or other oversized container (a shaker tin can be used in a pinch), but a mixing beaker really gives you enough room to do a proper stir, has a handy spout for an easy pour and, as a bonus, is often pretty enough to display on your shelves or home bar.

One of the last directives for nearly every cocktail recipe is to “strain into a cocktail glass.” And for that, you’ll need a strainer. The Hawthorne strainer is more industrial, with a spring and little feet that help hold it to the top of a mixing glass, while the Julep strainer—a small, bowl-shaped disk with perfo-rated holes—is prettier. Either will do in a pinch.

For getting the proportions of a cocktail perfect, having the right measuring tools helps. Th ese small measuring cups come in a variety of sizes; the most common are two stacked together: a 1 and ½ ounce, and 1½ and ¾ ounce. Having both is handy for exacting recipes. Stainless steel versions are easy to clean; flashier options come in gold.

Longer than your average teaspoon or dinner spoon, bar spoons are less about measuring ingredients and more about helping to get the right lift and spin when stirring cocktails. Yes, there’s some technique involved (there are a number of videos online for a demonstration), but practicing has never been so fun, right?

For making everything from citrus peels—the workhorse of the cocktail garnish universe—and to more elaborate flair, such as cucumber ribbons, the basic vegetable peeler can’t be beat.

This small, all-purpose knife will carry you through countless citrus wheels, wedges and peels for your garnish game.

Sure, you can hand squeeze limes and lemons, but to get the most out of citrus fruits, a juicer will come in handy and save a lot of clean-up time. A simple plastic or stainless steel manual model will work for most small-scale recipes (and perform better than many electric versions).

For pretty-looking cocktails, having nice ice helps. While restaurants and bars may rely on Kold-Draft ice makers (the industry gold standard), at home, using silicon trays for square ice cubes is a totally acceptable compromise and a big step up from generic freezer cubes.

Blended cocktails tend to get a bad rap from the cocktail snob crowd, but let’s get real: It’s always pina colada season in Hawai‘i. Regular models will do the trick, but heavy duty blenders—the Vitamix, the Ninja, the Magic Bullet—work really well, getting your drink from chunky and icy to creamy and frothy in no time.

From mashing sugar with bitters for the perfect old fashioned to lightly tapping mint for mojitos, a good muddler (a dowel-like instrument with a flat or rounded end) will come in handy. (If you’re really looking to pare down your equipment though, some bar spoons come with a blunt end that can double as a muddler.)

Bonus Equipment:

No, you don’t necessarily need this peeler, which makes long, continuous curliques of citrus peel possible, but for truly stunning garnishes, it is fun to have around.

You can crush ice for authentic Moscow mules and swizzles in a dishtowel, or you can do it the stylish (and less messy) way in this reusable canvas bag.

Flaming orange peels may not add up to much of a difference in flavor in a cocktail, but it adds a fun flair to home bartending, and for that, you’ll need a fire source.

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