Perfecting the Home Bar

by Charley Zimmerman

If you are a lover of cocktails hoping to re-create some of your favorites at home, you might find yourself lacking the proper tools. Most made-for-home bar products are a disaster, proving to be leaky, difficult to use, or just generally confusing.

If you want to get serious without breaking the bank, here are a few industry-recommended tools to make sure your next cocktail party is a hit. 

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JIGGERS

There is a secret that most bartenders don't want you to know.

Our cocktails don't taste good because of our fancy shaking techniques, or because we flame an orange just right over the drink. Our drinks taste good because we follow a recipe, and just like the home cook, we measure our ingredients. Hence, the almighty jigger. It is a mistake to think that a bartender who jiggers every drink is inexperienced; on the contrary, an experienced bartender with fast jiggering skills can make some of the best tasting and most accurate drinks. Additionally, knowing the formulae for balanced drinks makes a jigger-friendly bartender able to make off the cuff drinks that much better. Jiggers rule. 

Ready to buy? Have a look at the OXO Steel Double Jigger.

 

SHAKING TINS

Shaking tins are the bread and butter of cocktail making; without serious tins, you might as well just pour yourself a highball. Tin-on-tin sets are the only way to go for the even mildly serious home bartender. The Boston shaker (consisting of a metal tin and a pint glass) were primarily meant for bartenders who eye-ball their liquids instead of measuring -- and as we now know, measuring is the best way to go. Tin-on-tin sets last longer than glass, have less chance of shattering in your hand, and cool down faster than glass. 

Check out these Koriko weighted shaking tins.

 

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STRAINERS

After you've shaken the hell out of your cocktail, you need a way to separate it from all that ice. Hawthorne strainers have a metal spring fixed around the edge of the rim that acts as a type of sieve. The Hawthorne strainer can be quite the interactive tool: apply pressure and push against the spring, and you can limit how much ice/muddled fruit/etc passes through. Lighten up your pressure and pull back, and you can let more through, as you desire. Mesh conical strainers can be used in tandem with your Hawthorne strainer to make sure you catch everything. When you shake good and hard in your shaking tins, the ice inside is going to break up, leaving ice crystals in your cocktail. These crystals are not going to keep your drink cold very long; in fact, they will melt quickly and dilute your drink very fast. It's all a matter of taste and preference, though, so experiment and see what you prefer! 

I recommend the OXO Steel Cocktail Strainer and the Coco Strainer.

 

BAR SPOONS

Not all cocktails are made equally. Some things, like your classic Manhattans or Martinis, are better stirred -- not shaken. Again, this is a matter of taste and preference, however, there are a few guidelines. As a general rule, cocktails which contain fruit juices are shaken, and cocktails that consist of only alcohol are stirred. Have you ever put a bottle of vodka in the freezer? This is the consistence you are looking for from a stirred cocktail: an icy cold, velvety smooth drink. For this you will, of course, need a stirring spoon. Bar spoons have straight, long handles that are often threaded for better grip. Learning to stir properly can take some time, but there is one quick trick -- take your spoon, and hold it upside down!  Holding the spoon end and stirring with the handle requires less practice and is far easier. 

I recommend the stainless steel Teardrop bar spoon

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You can stir a cocktail in anything, as long as your spoon has a clear path. Keep your stir smooth and your ice undisturbed as possible to keep air from getting into the mix -- air creates bubbles which will ruin your velvety texture. You can find a variety of beautiful Japanese Yarai mixing glasses online, but they can be expensive and break easily (at least in the fast pace of a professional bar). 

There are a handful of other tools essential to the professional bartender, but these four essentials will turn your home bar from frustrating to, well, intoxicatingly easy.

Cheers! 

Charley Zimmerman
October 6, 2017

Jon Ellms

Old Vines Wine Bar, 173 Port Road, Kennebunk, ME, 04043, United States