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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.

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1 comment:

  1. For preparing absinthe, you may also want to have a dripper or fountain. The ritual of absinthe preparation plays a critical role in the final taste of the absinthe. The water must be added very slowly and should be ice cold. If you add the water to quickly, your drink will not taste its best.