Here it is folks, the one you’ve been waiting for: The Hardware you need for a respectable home bar. The tools of the trade!
I’m going to go under the assumption that you’re just starting out here. As such, some of you may think I’m talking too simply. If you think that, just skim. Otherwise, welcome to the lecture hall!
Before I dive into what you need to start, here’s a quick note on what you DON’T need when starting out:
- You don’t need a shaker that breaks into 5 pieces.
- You don’t need an ice bucket with 6 different tools attached.
- You don’t need a zester.
- You don’t need a mortar & pestle.
You need the basics. You can branch out later.
Ready? Here we go!
#1: The Boston Shaker
The Boston Shaker is overlooked, and it shouldn’t be. Any cocktail shaker that breaks into 3 or more pieces will leak. Guaranteed!
You need a shaker that has already stood the test of time and will continue to serve you. That means: Boston Shaker. One glass, one steel shaker. Done.
Head to your local bar and watch the bartender there handle a Boston Shaker. Learn the techniques and emulate. Also note how long that shaker stays in motion. When trying this feat at home, it’s likely you’ll feel like your hands will freeze off. Get used to that feeling. Just when you think you can’t stand it any longer, shake for another 10 seconds. Trust me. Then tip the shaker so it’s metal container down and remove the glass. Always strain from the metal side. Why? Less spillage.
#2: The Hawthorne Strainer
See that strainer pictured with the Boston Shaker above? That is a Hawthorne Strainer. Anytime you’re shaking a drink with lots of ice or chunky ingredients, you’ll want to strain all of that out. The Hawthorne Strainer is how you do that. And yes, it is VERY necessary.
#3: Measuring Glass
Those old two sided jiggers are dinosaurs. I find that I need to measure out more precisely than just 3/4 of an ounce and 1 1/4 of an ounce at a time.
So, I use an antique cough syrup glass. The measurements are all debossed in the glass and won’t ever wear off. And, it measures in tiny increments up to two tablespoons/one ounce. If you can’t find one (check eBay) I have friends who use the OXO Good Grips 1/4 cup angled measuring cup. It does the job very well, is readily available, and is easy to read while it sits on the counter. Handy indeed.
#4: Knife & Cutting Board
What’s the easiest way to cut yourself with a knife? Force it. So, instead of forcing a bad, dull knife to do your will, buy something that will last and keep it sharp!
My bar knife is either a Laguiole Single-Blade Pocket Knife a Wustoff Paring Knife. No, they are not cheap. However, they hold an edge as well as my grandad held his Martini. They are properly weighted and have good handles. Hand wash your knife IMMEDIATELY after ever use, dry it and put it away.
I strongly recommend a maple cutting board. No? Ok, a bamboo cutting board. Plastic should be a last resort. Never, EVER cut on glass or stone. Glass and stone will KILL your expensive knife and greatly increase the risk of slipping and cutting yourself.
Want the best corkscrew in the word? Again: Laguiole. I’ve had mine for nearly two decades and it looks and works like new. If you can’t afford one or don’t have the hand strength for it, a Rabbit will work. Heck, even one of those old wing-type corkscrews will do in a pinch!
#6: Bar Spoon, Muddler, Reamer
A bar spoon has a very long handle; allowing you to reach the bottom of a tall glass and stir. A muddler allows you to bruise or even mash fruit and aromatics for tasty drinks. A reamer allows you get all of the juice out of those fresh lemons you’ll always keep on hand.
#7: The Bar Towel
A few hand-towel-sized towels for mopping up spills and drying hardware. Make sure they are cotton and don’t throw off lint.
No. Do not buy huge margarita glasses or oversized cocktail glasses. You don’t need them and they’re ridiculous to start with. Yes, you need:
- Cocktail glass – The “martini” glass. Get something in the 4 ounce range. I prefer old champagne coupes, but then: I’m weird.
- Tumbler – The lowball. For G&T’s and Martini’s on the rocks, amongst others. Get something with heavy glass. Very important glassware!
- Tall, Slender glass – The highball. For Screwdrivers, Sunrises, Bloody Marys and more. Again, heavy glass. If possible, weighted at the bottom.
- Champagne Flute – Again, I prefer the Champagne Coupe, but for things like the French 75 and Black Velvets, the presentation is important.
- If you must: The Shot Glass. Your choices are varied, but the most versatile is the English Shot Glass: a tall, slender 2-ounce shot glass.
Not hardware, not booze, but VERY important:
- Ice Cubes (and the ability to crush them)
- Simple Syrup*
*Simple Syrup is very easy to make and you SHOULD make your own. Resist the urge to use turbinado or dark sugar; these will darken your syrup and alter the flavor dramatically. Use granulated white can sugar.
Most recipes call for 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. A simple Bar Syrup calls for a 1 to 1 ratio. Personally, I take the middle ground:
- Add one & a half cups white cane sugar and one cup water to a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil. Stir constantly until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Once the sugar granules disappear, remove from heat immediately.
- Let it cool. To preserve it, add one tablespoon of vodka.
- Transfer to a nice squeeze bottle and store in a cool, dry place.
This should launch you into a solid start at setting up your own home bar. You can start adding to it once you have these basics.