Okay, no one likes getting a good cocktail in a bar more than me (well, a few people do). With a happy bartender making me well-crafted drinks, or pouring me a well-poured beer or glass of wine, I’m a happy person. But I also like to make nice imbibables at home--and I’m guessing you do, too. It can be hard to know how to start, however. Making sure you have the core drink-making tools is key. While the below aren’t the only tools, they’ll sure come in handy.
1. Cocktail Shaker: The king of the cocktail-making tools, your cocktail shaker should be comfortable, cozy and awesome. You have two options here, the Cobbler shaker or the Boston shaker. Both are nice, though the Cobbler-style shaker may be easier to use at first. It has a bigger bottom piece covered by a smaller top piece that fits snugly into the bottom piece. The top tends to have a strainer built in, as well as a cap that can double as a measuring device. Using a Cobbler shaker is easy-peasy: add ice and ingredients to the bottom piece, secure the top and then shake, shake, shake (whichever shaker you chose, I suggest shaking for around 10 seconds). Remove the cap, strain into glasses, garnish as needed and serve. Be sure when picking out your shaker that you select one that’s 18/10 stainless steel, as your shaker’s the top dog amongst bar tools, you’ll want to get a shiny (and durable) one. The Boston shaker has a glass bottom cup and a top cup made of metal (which should also be 18/10 stainless steel if you go the Boston route). To begin using it, just add your ice and ingredients to the bottom cup, and then insert the metal top cup into the bottom cup. Then, carefully (there’s no need for spillage), with the palm of your hand give the bottom of the metal cup a little thump to create a seal between the two cups. Holding both pieces (one in each hand), shake, shake, shake, then place it metal-side down on a flat surface, and again, carefully, strike or nudge the metal piece with your palm or hand to break the seal. You’ll need to then use a separate strainer to strain the drink into a glass before garnishing and serving.
2. Measuring Device: Even if your cocktail shaker happens to come with some measuring capabilities, an extra jigger or other measuring option will help ensure your drinks don’t turn out tasting like curb water. My favorite is the Oxo Good Grips 1/4-Cup Mini Angled Measuring Cup. It isn’t very shiny, but it works wonderfully for precise measuring, with angled sides that have the amounts on the inside--making it very easy to read.
3. Muddler: For doing the mash up on fruits or fresh herbs, as well as for turning ice cubes into cracked ice, there’s nothing quite like a muddler. It also works well to keep people from taking sips out of your drink (just a light rap on the knuckles will do it). Your muddler should be sturdy, wooden and look somewhat like a small baseball bat--tapering from a larger to a smaller end. If one end is a little heavier, it helps with the leverage for ice-cracking, too. I have a bunch, but my favorite is one I paid far too much for, called a Pug Muddler.
4. Spoon and Knife: “Ah-ha!” I can hear you saying: “He’s lost it. These are eating utensils, not drink-making items.” But a long, thin, mobile drink spoon for stirring certain drinks, and a flexible, sharp, comfy paring knife or other knife for cutting garnishes and fruit of all kinds, are essentials indeed. A dedicated drink-making cutting board to go with that knife isn’t a bad thing at all, either.
5. Drink Book: You don’t want to go about throwing this and that together wily-nily, or you’ll end up with poor-tasting drinks, a bad rep as a party host and a frown. Save yourself from all of those by investing in a drink book with clear concise recipes (a little bit of wit helps, too). Sure, you could go buy any of my drink books and I certainly wouldn’t cry. But there are other fine books out there, too. The Essential Bartender’s Guide by local bar-writer, and fine fella, Robert Hess is wonderful for home and pro bartenders. And The Essential Cocktail by King Cocktail Dale DeGroff is also a winner.