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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barware: Gearing Up Your Cocktail Bar

Once you’ve decided to become at amateur Mixologist, you will start thinking about what gear you need for you bar… and how much it will cost. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot on money to get started. That is important news in these recessionary times. In this post I will discuss the basic gear you need for your bar and describe the substitutions you can make until you get the “real thing”. Don’t think you have to rush out and spend a lot of money.

One source of gear is holidays and your birthday. Once your family and friends find out about your interest in cocktails, you might receive some of the barware you need as gifts. If you don’t, drop some hints and sign up for wish-lists on sites like to get them moving in the right direction. You can get shakers (and strainers) online from Amazon (see the barware product carousel). You can sometimes find good deals on barware sets (and glassware) at budget stores like T.J. Maxx or Tuesday Morning. If you’re on a tight budget, look for bargains.

Absinthe Spoon – If you’re not into Absinthe, you won’t need an Absinthe spoon. If you are, you may already have one. I list it here for completeness. But don’t run out to buy one…

Blender – To make frozen (or blended) drinks, as opposed to shaken drinks, you need a good quality blender. If you have to buy a new blender, check with Consumer Reports to make sure you’re getting a high quality brand. I have a great KitchenAid ProLine® blender that I got a good deal on several years ago.

Citrus Juice Press – You need a good juice press to get juice without pulp, which is the way you want it for most cocktails. You can get by on the one your kitchen if you strain the juice, but eventually you will want to invest in a good one. I bought a Norpro Stainless-Steel Citrus Juice Press a few years ago and love it. A plastic juice press is like a faithless lover; they will desert you and leave you crying in the middle of a cocktail party (when the handle breaks). Stick with stainless steel. One thing is counter-intuitive about this type of press: the cut face of the lemon or lime goes toward the holes. Squeeze hard and enjoy!

Cutting Board – I always have a small cutting board and a ceramic knife at the bar for slicing lemons and limes and making twists. You can use your kitchen cutting board, but remember that cocktails are all about presentation. If your bar looks sloppy or has a gigantic cutting board that is out of scale, your cocktails won’t seem to taste as good. I have some nice looking, colored-plastic cutting boards that are about 9” by 5” (or use a white one).

Grater – You won’t need a grater for every cocktail, so don’t worry about getting one right away. If you have a small kitchen grater (about 1” by 2”), you can probably get by with using it. If you kitchen one is much larger, you may eventually have to buy one, but don’t buy one until you need it.

Ice Bucket – Fresh ice is important for cocktails, and you will want to have some available on your bar. While you can get by with a large bowl; your ice will melt faster. You will eventually want to get an ice bucket unless you are well-enough off to have an ice maker.

Ice Scoop – To get your ice out of your ice bucket (or bowl), it’s nice to have a perforated ice scoop to drain any water from the ice before you put it in your shaker or glass. Avoid using your hands, which just plain looks tacky.

Knives – Always use a sharp knife when cutting limes – even for juicing; dull knives just aren’t safe and can result in messing looking cuts. You can use your old kitchen paring knife, but remember that cocktails are all about presentation. If your bar looks tacky, your cocktails won’t seem to taste as good. Get a nice looking knife as soon as you can afford one. I use a cool looking, black ceramic knife for slicing limes and lemons.

Mallet – If you need to crush your own ice, you’ll need a mallet and a clean canvas bag to crush it in. The advantage of the canvas bag is that it soaks up any water that is released as you beat on the ice. If you have a high quality blender, you can probably use it to crush ice. I’m lucky enough to have an ice crusher built into my fridge.

Measures – The most basic measure for cocktails is a shot glass. The standard shot glass holds 1.5 ounces and, knowing that, you should be able to eye-ball most measures. Plus you can buy them as vacation souvenirs, so you might have a collection already. I have a couple of smaller, graduated measures that I use. Some measures have a sloping, white surface with the volumes marked so that you can read them from above, which makes them very easy to use.

Muddler – One thing you may need sooner than you think is a muddler. Again, there are possible substitutions floating around your kitchen in case you need one and don’t have one, but you will want to buy one eventually. I use a stainless-steel Muddler I bought several years ago.

Pourers – You don’t need to have pourers, but they will make your pouring look more professional. If you buy some, fill an empty bottle with water and practice using one. Pourers should pour ½ ounce/second. Practice pouring into a graduated container while counting “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three” to pour 1 ½ ounces. Practice until you get the right rhythm to get an accurate pour on a couple of different days, then you will pour like a pro and have to use Measures less.

Shakers – You can probably get by without a shaker for quite a while. You can stir instead, just stir your cocktails with ice in a small pitcher or a large glass, and then strain into the glass you are serving the cocktail in. Shakers do, however, look cool and will impress your friends, so you will want to get one eventually. See my in-depth discussion on shakers here.

Spoons – You will eventually want to get a bartender’s spoon (they’re not very expensive), but you can get by with an iced-tea spoon or any long-handled spoon small enough to fit into your mixing glass, but long enough to reach the bottom.

Strainers – Strainers are almost a requirement for Boston Shakers (the shakers your normally see in bars); there is a way to strain without a strainer by dribbling the cocktail out of the Boston while holding the two pieces almost together, but using a strainer is a lot easier. Don’t substitute any kitchen implement that looks too tacky, and never, ever use your fingers. Strainers are not very expensive, so you may want to get one before you get a shaker.

Zester – A zester is used to cut very thin strips from food; in your bar you would usually use it on lemons and oranges. You might be able to use a kitchen grater, but they usually make larger strips. Zesters may have an extra blade on them that can be used to make twists of citrus peels, but I usually just make them using a knife. I would put this item low on your list of things to buy unless you really need one. On the upside, they’re not very expensive.

Need Barware? Check out my store.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cool Cocktails for Memorial Day

Summer is almost upon us.  We’ve already had ninety degree temperatures in Salt Lake City.  I wanted to post a short list of summer cocktails in time for the Memorial Day week-end.  I plan to post a longer list of my top ten favorite summer cocktails within the next few weeks.  For now, I have identified three rum-based drinks that will be just what you need for your holiday cook-out.

For my first summer cocktail I selected an old stand-by from the tropics: the Mai Tai. For the second, I chose the more trendy, but still venerable, Mojito.  The third is the under-rated, but ever popular, Rum and Coke.  All are classic cocktails that you’re sure to enjoy.  I first got hooked on Mai Tais years ago, sitting in a semi-private tea room at Kiyo’s Japanese Restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago.  Kiyo’s served their Mai Tais in ceramic crocks filled with crushed ice.  The presentation was exquisite, and garnishes included mandarin orange slices, a pineapple wedge, fresh mint leaves, thin slices of lemon and lime, and a maraschino cherry.  Beautiful and powerful.  My recipe doesn’t take the garnishes nearly that far, but if you decide to become a Mai Tai connoisseur, give them a try.  Do try to use two kinds of fruit juice to add some complexity to the taste.

I had my first Mojito at The Beach House hotel in Miami.  It was expensive, but oh so good.  Fresh mint leaves are an absolute requirement for a good Mojito.  Accept no substitutes.  You should be able to get them in the produce department of your grocery store if you’re not lucky enough to have some growing in your yard.  I once unsuccessfully experimented with using minute amounts of mint extract in a fruitless attempt to make a Mojito without ever coming up with an acceptable result.  Bacardi® has a great video of making a Mojito here.

The experience of my first Rum and Coke, around 40 years ago, is lost in the mist of time.  One thing I do know about this classic cocktail is that whenever I have one on an airplane, I’m surprised by how good it tastes… and that’s mixed with plain old Barcardi Superior® rum, a pinch of lime (if you’re lucky), and not too much care.  When mixed in a tall glass and served with a wedge of lime, Rum and Coke make a great summer cooler.  For me a Rum and Coke with lime is a Rum and Coke, not a Cuba Libre.  Rum and Cokes should always come with lime.  I don’t use my best sipping rum in my Rum and Cokes, but any good mixing rum you have in your bar will make a great one.  As usual, I suggest that you experiment to get just the taste you want.

Mai Tai

1 oz gold Rum (or dark)

1 oz light Rum

½ oz Amaretto almond liqueur

1 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)

2 oz Guava juice (you may substitute Orange juice)

3 oz Pineapple juice

½ oz Gosling’s Black Seal® dark rum

1 lime wedge

Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a shaker.  Shake well while thinking about the dancers at the old Intercontinental hotel in Wailea, Maui.  Strain into a Collins glass full of ice.  Garnish with a wedge of pineapple (or orange) and a maraschino cherry.  Float just enough dark rum to cover the top of the glass, finish it with a squeeze of fresh juice from the lime wedge, drop it in, and enjoy. 



2 oz light Rum

fresh squeezed juice of ½ Lime (½ oz )

1 tsp bar sugar

6-8 mint leaves

soda water

Put the mint leaves and sugar into an Old Fashion glass.  Squeeze the lime juice into the glass.  Muddle well to bring out the smell and flavor of the mint.  Add the rum and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Fill the glass with ice, then top off with soda water and stir.  Garnish with a sprig of mint and serve with a straw.  Vary the mint to suit your taste.


Rum and Coke

2 oz Rum of your choice

5-6 oz Coke™ (or Diet Coke™)

1 lime wedge

Fill a Collins or Highball glass ¾ full of ice cubes.  Add the rum.  Cut an angled slit across the lime wedge down to the peel, fit the slit in the wedge onto the lip of the glass, and run the wedge all the way around the rim.  Fill the glass with Coke, drop in a straw, and wonder why you don’t do this more often.

 Mojito Photograph ©, Photographs © J. Mathews

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Twitter Humor

I keep scanning all the Tweets that contain the word “Cocktail” that my search in TweetDeck can find.  On many days, this is a fruitless task.  The only good thing is that I have developed an ability to recognize and bypass a useless Tweet pretty quickly.  In the meantime, I’m working on a short list of summer cocktails to post in time for the Memorial Day week-end, with a longer list of my top ten favorite summer cocktails to follow.

By the way, have you heard about the Beer Tax?  Check it out here.

Palm Springs. I have noticed in resort communities most of the adults travel to the restaurant with a to go cup of their favorite cocktail.” @FoodWineMarcy 4/18/9 (Obviously dementia is not a problem in Palm Springs. – UM)

“i need a cocktail like a donkey needs hay” @lainiemac 4/28/9 (Some days are like that. – UM)

“using your make-up brush to stir your cocktail... = PRICELESS” @KWittington 5/2/9 (Now that’s dedication… but what does it do to the taste? –  UM)

“Nicholas and Alexandra Cocktail - More than two and you see tsars” @Lellyjenn 5/3/9 (I liked this even if she only mentioned one tsar. – UM)

“Life handed me a lemon, so I said screw the lemonade and used it to garnish a big old cocktail instead. I am a fricking genius. Maybe.” @EmeraldAce 5/21/9 (I say: when life gives you lemons, make margaritas! – UM)


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just an old fashioned Old Fashioned

In my last post of humorous Tweets from the Twitterverse, I mentioned the Old Fashioned cocktail.  As I did so, I realized that it had been quite a while since I had had an Old Fashioned.  In fact, it had been so long that I couldn’t remember the last time (that happens when you get old…).  And so I set off on a quest for the perfect Old Fashioned.  I always thought that an Old Fashioned is made with Bourbon, but it turns out it can also be made with Rye.  As a matter of fact, according to the Savoy Cocktail Book, you can make an Old Fashioned with Canadian Club, Brandy, Gin, or Rum.  Old Harry Craddock doesn’t even mention Bourbon, but it can probably be squeezed in under his “etc.”  In other words, you can make an Old Fashioned with just about any good sipping liquor you like.  You could even throw an Old Fashioned based cocktail party, where you serve a variety of Old Fashioneds as a signature cocktail made with each guest’s favorite liquor.  We’re having friends over next week-end, and I plan on doing just that.

In the recipe below, I went with the classic Bourbon Old Fashioned, paired with Angostura® Bitters; many of my favorite Bourbon cocktails use Angostura.  If you go with Rye, you might want to use Peychaud’s® Bitters, which are paired with Rye in another of my favorite cocktails, the Sazarac.  If you decide to go with a nice Rum, you should try orange bitters, perhaps Stirring’s® Blood Orange Bitters.   I would use either Angostura® or Peychaud’s® with Brandy, and either Stirring’s® Blood Orange or Angostura with Gin.  Have fun and experiment, especially if you have a good collection of bitters.  Be sure to use good quality liquor, since the liquor is the primary ingredient.  I highly recommend adding the optional orange wheel and cherry and eating them after you have finished the cocktail when they are infused with Bourbon.


Classic Old Fashioned

½  oz Simple syrup or 1 sugar cubes or ½ tsp. sugar (use brown sugar with rum)

2 ½ oz Jim Beam® Black Label Bourbon whiskey

2 dashes Angostura® Bitters

Put the simple syrup and bitters into a mixing glass.  Add the bourbon (if you’re using sugar, add ½ a teaspoon of water and stir until the sugar is dissolved).  Fill the mixing glass half full of ice, and stir until Carrie Prejean gets smart (or when you think it’s cold enough, whichever comes first).  Fill a chilled Old Fashioned glass ½ full of ice cubes.  Add a maraschino cherry and an orange wheel to the glass (optional).  Strain in the cocktail mixture.  Add more ice as necessary to fill the glass.  Garnish with a twist of lemon and serve.   


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail (No. 1)

As part of my continuing adventure with the Savoy Cocktail Book, I discovered the Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail (No. 1) on page 142.   As the number implies, there is also a Special Cocktail (No. 2).  The primary ingredients in the two cocktails are the same; they vary only in what is dashed into them and the garnish.  To get the recipe for No. 2, however, you will have to buy the book.  This recipe is accompanied by a little footnote about how the ninth earl of Savoy brought 83 rich and beautiful French girls to England as his wards and married them to (one would hope) a similar number of nobles.  Perhaps we live in more cynical times, but this story just does not ring true.  The beautiful part sounds plausible, but I have trouble believing the number of girls and their wealth.  Had the story attested to their virtue, I might have doubted that, too.

When I read this recipe, I thought this cocktail might be too much like a “not-quite-dry” martini, but the absinthe really made a difference. Be careful with the absinthe, though, too much will overpower the gin. I suggest that the better the gin, the smaller the dash of absinthe.  Experiment until you get the right mix for the gin you’re using.


Savoy Hotel Special Cocktail (No. 1) (Savoy Cocktail Book)

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

1 oz Noilly Prat® dry vermouth

1 dash Absinthe

2 dashes grenadine

Combine ingredients with ice in a shaker.  Shake while humming a few bars of “Stomping at the Savoy” and trying to visualize a flapper with bobbed hair.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Twist a piece of lemon peel over the glass and drop it in.

Image detail from "Where there's smoke there's fire" by Russell Patterson, 192?, Library of Congress.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Twitter Musings

I keep falling behind on my reports about the Twitterverse.  Today I thought I would present you a selection of some of the more humorous cocktail tweets I’ve come across in the last month or so.  They range from slightly unusual to very delusional, from poetic to frenetic, but all have some entertainment value.  And on a different type of cocktail related note, a surprising number of people appear to be getting screwed on the number of cherries they find in their fruit cocktail.

“lol join me for a cocktail, I am having a raz from bacardi never even knew that it had bats all over the bottle till i stared” @pepperjo68 3/29/9 (If you stare too long, the bats will flap their wings – UM)

“'God gave men brains larger than dogs so they wouldn't hump women's legs at cocktail parties.' - Ruth Libby.” @Krashenburn 4/25/9

“humpty dumpty sat on wall humpty dumpty had a great fall why did humpty have a great fall because humpty dumpty had a cocktail on that wall” @AlexdaKat 3/29/9 (This doesn’t scan well, but at least it demonstrates a good grasp of causality. – UM)

“@raincoaster I like matching panties to the cocktail for the evening haha” @erinmaher (You’ve got to like a woman that thinks this way… panties might be sandy if cocktail is Sex on the Beach, frumpy if cocktail is Old Fashioned, … OMG the possibilities – UM)

“Having leisurely lunch @ café claude. Gotta love a place that names a cocktail “zidane's coup de tête” ” @ivanski 4/15/9 (Had to include this for you football fans – UM) 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Margarita Olé! Festive Glass Rimming for Cinco de Mayo

Want to give your Margaritas a special flare for your Cinco de Mayo party this year?  This special glass rimming is just the thing you need to make your Margaritas memorable (well, some good tequila wouldn’t hurt either).  You will surprise and delight your guests when you rim your glasses in the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white, and green using this fairly simple technique. 

My wife is a great shopper, and she will often pick up rimming salts or sugars when she sees them on sale during her extensive shopping expeditions throughout the Salt Lake City area.  The result is that I have such a large collection that it can be hard to remember just what I have stuck away in the pantry (no room in the bar).  Last year I was looking at my white, green, and orange rimming salts when I realized that I almost had a match for the colors in the Mexican flag.  Hey, I thought, I can use all three at once to improve the presentation of my Margaritas.

There’s no need to buy three colors of rimming salt (I couldn’t find red salt, anyway); you can make your own.  Just take some regular white rimming salt (or other coarse salt) and put it in a small plastic container that has a lid.  Add a few drops of food coloring, put on the lid, and shake briskly.  Open the container and check the contents.  If there are clumps, you put in too much food coloring, add a little more salt and shake again.  If the color is too light, add another drop of food coloring and shake again.  Do this for any colors you need.

Once the colored salts are ready, take a rimming tray that’s large enough to fit your Margarita glasses (or you can use a saucer) and fill one third with green salt.  Moving clockwise, fill the next third with white salt and fill the final third with the red.  You don’t have to measure with geometric precision, just take a good guess and try not to mix the colors.  I usually spoon the salt in toward the middle of each third and carefully nudge it toward the boundaries.  I normally leave the salts in my rimming tray (covered with plastic wrap) between Margarita sessions and refill the salts as needed.

The best technique for actually rimming the glass is to rub a slice of lime around the rim to get it good and sticky.  Try to get more on the outside of the rim than on the inside so you don’t get too much salt in your Margarita.  Dip the glass into the salt, being careful not to twist it, and set it upright on your bar.  If any salt dislodges and falls into the glass, invert the glass to dump it out.  Garnish the glass with a lime wheel between the green and red salts, and your glass is ready for the Margarita. Have a great party.  Olé!


Friday, May 1, 2009

The Venerable Tom Collins

Wednesday night I attended a party to celebrate the 100th episode of Lost.  Nick Johnson was there making Tom Collins for the guests.  You may consider the venerable Tom Collins to be too pedestrian for your tastes, but when made correctly it can be quite a treat.  Nick sets his off by adding lime juice and some Blue Curaçao, which make a subtle difference to the flavor and ramp his recipe up to include three kinds of citrus.  All this in addition to coloring this Collins blue.  Apologies to Nick, but I cut the lemon juice in half on this one.  I found that when I used the juice of a whole lemon (approx. 2 oz) like Nick did; I couldn’t really taste the gin, which was a waste with the Sapphire; so I halved the lemon juice.   As usual, you should experiment until you get the taste you want, especially if you’re using cheaper gin.

A Collins is normally built in the glass you serve it in, but I like to shake my Collins so the ice in the glass lasts longer; again it’s your choice.  On a more important note, do yourself a favor and avoid using purchased Sour mix or Collins mix in this or any cocktail you make.  If you don’t like Collins, these mixes may be why; I’m convinced that they are the reason that the Tom Collins has fallen into disrepute.  The difference that fresh lemons and limes make in your cocktails is well worth the effort it takes to keep some around the house to squeeze into your shaker.


Tom Collins

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

½ oz Blue Curaçao

freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon (about 1 oz.)

freshly squeezed juice of ¼ lime (about ¼  oz.)

1 tsp fine sugar

3-4 oz club soda or soda water

Combine ingredients (except the club soda) in a shaker half full of ice and shake to the rhythm of a tom-tom.  Strain into a Collins glass half full of ice cubes and top off the glass with club soda.  Drop in a maraschino cherry.  Stir lightly (use the straw if you’re serving it with one).   Garnish with a slice of orange or a twist of lemon peel.