Welcome back to the Bar Code’s Home Bar series! Hope you’ve enjoyed the first two weeks, which have guided you in assembling a roster of a few basic spirits and turning them into some of the most iconic cocktails. (That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve followed my advice; if you haven’t, I can’t be blamed for any mishaps.)
Now let’s talk about the tools of the trade. First, measurements are essential in making a drink properly. There are several different types of jiggers on the market, and while the classic two-ended metal one- or two-ounce jigger is somewhat useful, I prefer to use plastic or metal jiggers with measurement marks on them—this offers you much more versatility than just two sizes.
Glasses: While there are practical reasons to own different types of glasses, let’s be honest: The real reason is that it’s cool to have the right glass for the right drink.
For making cocktails, I recommend a few solidly built pint glasses—excellent vessels to build a cocktail in, as you can easily stir or shake it. They’re also a perfectly fine way to serve drinks on the rocks, especially if you like a slightly larger margarita or mojito.
A Boston shaker fits neatly over the top of a pint glass, and is the quickest, easiest, and cleanest way to shake a cocktail. Slip it over the top and tap the bottom of the shaker firmly to secure it, then shake away. To remove the shaker, use the flat of your palm to hit the shaker 90 degrees from where the glass and metal touch; it should loosen relatively cleanly. If you shake your drink too long and get the metal too cold, it might be more difficult, in which case you’ll have to run hot water over the shaker. It’s better to be too gentle than to end up with shards of glass embedded in your hand, as most veteran bartenders can tell you, often in gory detail.
For serving drinks, here’s what’s essential: martini glasses, lowball or rocks glasses, highball or Collins glasses, white- and red-wine glasses, and champagne flutes. A coupe is a nice addition, but a bit more of a luxury item. For those unfamiliar with the terminology: A lowball glass is relatively wide and squat—great for Old Fashioneds, gin and tonics, and other drinks served on the rocks. A Collins or highball glass is tall and narrow—nice for drinks where you want to really show off the internal components. It’s what I’d serve that sexy mojito you made in, because you’ll be able to see the mint leaves swirling around as you sip.
Wine glasses are of course great for wine, but are also cool for cocktails: a housemade sangria, a kir, even a white-wine spritzer. Champagne flutes are a must for any cocktail that involves sparkling wine: that French 75 we made last week, and a few variants we’ll cover soon. Coupes are wide-rimmed, shallow glasses that sit on a stem—an interesting alternative to martini glasses because they’re a bit larger, so there’s less risk of sloshing. They can also be used for drinks with sparkling wine in them, and they’re just a neat visual option.
Tools: My suggestions are easy to find and won’t break the bank. A bar spoon is long and has a spiraled shaft; it’s the easiest way to stir a cocktail. As I mentioned last week, stirring a drink is about chilling it without agitating it or watering it down too much, so be gentle. A muddler can be either wooden or metal, but again, be delicate: If you have to take out your rage on something, don’t let it be your drink. Most muddled ingredients will turn bitter if you’re too harsh with them.
You can squeeze citrus directly into your glass, but you run the risk of letting in seeds and pulp. Instead, use a citrus juicer to reserve it in a second glass and transfer it from there into the drink, using a mesh strainer if you really want to limit the pulp. Cocktail strainers are a great way to separate your drink from the ice you used to chill it, and they’ll fit both a pint glass and a Boston-shaker rim.
A channel knife is what you use to get those thin ribbons of citrus peel we bartenders call twists, and you can find them at a restaurant-supply or kitchen store. They take a bit of practice, but after trashing a few lemons, you should be able to pull a nice, long strip. The down side to channel knives is that they tend to take a fair amount of pith, which can lead to a slightly bitter drink. A fun alternative is to use a vegetable peeler to take a wider but thinner slice of peel, which you can then twist into the drink the same way—this is something you’ll see at many of Seattle’s finer cocktail bars.
We’ll wrap up the Home Bar series next week with a look at a few spirits that can add diversity to your cocktail roster, and at a few variants on the drinks you’ve already learned. Until then, happy drink-making!