Having a well-stocked home bar cart is perfect for when you want to whip up cocktails on demand for yourself or friends and family. Like any hobby, setting up a home bar cart is an easy thing to dump cash into since there are plenty of gizmos vying for our attention. But the reality is making great cocktails requires very little equipment and it doesn't cost a whole lot.
Today we are going to geek out about gear with Editorial Director J.M. Hirsch as he goes over the essential items every bar cart needs. So consider this your quick crash course on how to how to build the basic bar. Watch the video to see J.M.'s favorite tools (which we've also outlined below) and techniques, and stay until the end to get a great cocktail recipe for Aperol Spritz, a classic Italian cocktail that's all the rage.
And for more ideas on how to use these essentials to make amazing cocktails, sign up for our livestream class on March 24, Build The Perfect Bar Cart with Brian Hoefling. In this class, you'll learn how to pull off impressive feats of bartending with a shockingly short list of ingredients as well as essential bartending techniques, like sweetening, bittering and aromatizing.
1. Cocktail Shaker
First of all, most cocktails are shaken. There are a variety of styles of cocktail shakers, but the one you're going to see most often in professional bars is called a Boston shaker, which is essentially two inverted cups. They're really hard to use for homemade cocktails, so we opt for the cobbler style shaker, which has a built in strainer. Our favorite is the cleverly designed cocktail shaker from Elevated Craft which includes upgraded features that solve common problems for a home bartender—while keeping you from making a mess. With double-walled stainless steel and vacuum insulation, this shaker will make the drink ice cold while protecting your hands and keeping condensation at a minimum. Its high-capacity measuring top, with both ounces and milliliters, brings an element of precision to craft cocktails, and the screw-on lid is secured with gaskets to prevent leaks (or total spills for the accident-prone) while shaking. A strainer built into the pour spout keeps seeds, ice and other large items out of the glass.
2. Measuring-Cup Jigger
Now that are you making cocktails, you need to measure—well, okay you don't need to measure, but sometimes it's a good idea. At the bar, most bartenders use jiggers. However, at home, these can be difficult to use and easy to spill. An easier alternative is a measuring cup style jigger, which has clear indications of what you're measuring. It's much easier and, as you can see in the video, J.M. has quite a collection of this handy measuring tool. It's okay though, you can never have enough as far as we're concerned.
3. Stirring Glass (or Mixing Glass) & Cocktail Spoon
Not all cocktails are made in a shaker—some are stirred, and for that a stirring glass, also known as a mixing glass, is a nice touch. While you could get away with a two cup liquid measuring cup, a stirring glass has bit of panache to it and can be a piece of barware that separates you from a novice home bartender. For a unique stirring glass, our favorite is the Wine Punts Measuring Cup, which is made out of recycled wine bottles with a dedication to sustainable living. Each Wine Punts product has its own personality, from slight variations in diameter and hue to the patterned ridges on the bottom. Made with sturdy non-porous glass, these beaker-like stirring cups hold a 2-cup capacity and show cup and ounce equivalents and are great component of a basic bar. Don't forget to get a cocktail spoon to help you get into the nether regions of the stirring glass!
4. Hawthorne Strainer
Stirred cocktails need to be strained as well, because usually you don't keep the ice that you stir a cocktail with. For that, a Hawthorne style cocktail strainer pops right on top of a stirring glass and lets you strain it right out all right.
Sometimes, you're going to need to use herbs and fruit, and that's going to be an important flavoring in your cocktail. When you do, you need to bruise them (or muddle them). When muddling, you could get away with the end of a wooden spoon, or you can buy a muddler. We love a wooden muddler as it has a nice long handle easy to use and has a lot of heft to it. For a showstopping addition to your home bar cart, we recommend the Crookedwood Hand-Sculpted Muddler which are from an artisan in Wisconsin who individually sculpts each by hand to ensure a high-quality, durable and unique product. The detailed contours of the handle make the muddler not only comfortable and easy to use but also beautiful for displaying on a bar cart.
6. Mesh Cocktail Strainer
Once you've used a muddler to gently bruise the things that you're adding to your cocktail, you'll get lots of seeds, debris and bits of herbs that you don't necessarily want in your finished cocktail. For that you need a mesh cocktail strainer to double strain your cocktails. Neither the Hawthorne nor the cobbler-style shaker strainer is sufficient to get all those little bits and pieces out, so to double strain you hold your mesh cocktail strainer over your serving glass and pour through. Very simple, very easy, and very essential to that perfect cocktail without all the fuss.
7. Crushed Ice
When making cocktails at home, sometimes you need crushed ice. Crushed ice isn't just, for fancy (or not fancy, as the case may be for blender drinks) refreshments. Crushed ice adds an important texture to a lot of cocktails. It also changes the viscosity and dilution of the cocktail so it can be a crucial—but often overlooked—element in home bartending. For crushed ice, there are a few options: getting crushed ice from your freezer ice-maker, crushing ice in a plastic bag, or for something functional, durable, and stylish, there's also J.M's favorite—the Lewis bag and mallet. For the last option, you add ice to the bag, close it up and smash it for equal parts great therapy and great crushed ice.
We're not big believers of buying multiple juicers for multiple fruit. You can buy individual juicers for every single citrus, but that tends to do nothing more than clutter up your drawers. Instead, for a basic—but sturdy—juicer, we recommend all-purpose juicers like the Zulay Kitchen Metal Manual Citrus Press Juicer. Made from durable, industrial-grade aluminum, the Zulay’s unique dual-cup design can easily accommodate both lemons and limes. It also inverts the citrus as it juices, accessing spots inside the fruit that other juicers can’t quite reach and catching large pulp pieces and stray seeds along the way. Plus, it directs the juice stream downward, so no more splatter on countertops and clothing.
9. Y-Style Peeler and/or Channel Knife
Last—but certainly not least—if you're looking to show off your cocktail creation prowess, you're going to want to garnish your cocktails. This often means taking bits of citrus zest, and for that a Y-style peeler will give you a nice coin or strip with which you can rim your glass. If you want to really elevate your cocktail aesthetics, what you want is a channel knife which lets you take off nice long thin strips of citrus peel in whatever shape you like. After this, you can take your cocktail spoon if you want to get really fancy and wrap it around until it's a nice tight bundled zest strip (J.M.'s tutorial for this technique is at 4:39 in the video above).
So that is the essential gear that you need to make great cocktails! To get a recipe for a 'gearless' cocktail you can make in the meantime (while you're curating your bar cart essentials, of course), continue watching the video for J.M.'s classic Italian Aperol Spritz cocktail recipe. This summertime favorite combines Aperol, a bitter sweet Italian liqueur, with orange bitters and Prosecco.
For more home bar recipes, join our livestream class on March 24, Build The Perfect Bar Cart with Brian Hoefling. This class expands into the next facet of at-home bartending: the basic bar cart ingredients you need, essential bartending techniques, and recipes for must-know cocktails including Old Fashioned and a classic martini.
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