The Bar Essentials
Guest post – Kara Newman
For someone who’s not a bartender, I sure spend a lot of time with bar tools. I’m constantly tinkering with cocktail recipes, trying out ones I’ve read about, developing new ideas, or just plain old fixing myself a drink.
Just in time for the holiday entertaining season, here are the tools I can’t live without – everything but the booze you’ll need for making great cocktails at home!
Jigger. If you’re not accustomed to drink recipes, the most baffling part often is that the recipes use ounces, not cups and teaspoons. This nifty little tool measures ounces with ease; the small side holds one ounce, the large side holds two ounces.
Cocktail shaker. Most bar pros use a 2-piece Boston Shaker – which includes a glass mixing cup, plus a spring-loaded hawthorne strainer to strain drinks into the glass.
But I’m not a professional bartender: I’m an amateur and I’m a klutz, which means that I’m prone to broken mixing glasses and spilled drinks. So I prefer this three-piece cobbler shaker, which is indestructible and has the strainer built in. I have a few in various sizes. (I’m told that in Japan, the cobbler shaker is preferred by many bar pros. So if anyone asks, yeah, sure, that’s why I use it.)
Paring knife. Used for everything, from slicing lemons and limes to cutting fancy garnishes to opening stubborn liquor bottles. I love that this one comes with a cover, so I can travel with it.
A few other assorted tools. Arguably, you don’t really need these. But each has a function that improves the drink-making experience. From left to right:
--Lemon zester. Its main function is for garnishes; it creates long elegant lemon peels perfect for curling or twisting, and it does the job better (and more safely) than a standard paring knife.
--Bar spoon. The long handle dives right into cocktail shakers or tall glasses, making stirring or swizzling easy. (Swizzling is when the spoon handle is held between your palms, and you roll the spoon back and forth between them, as opposed to the circular motion of stirring).
--Muddler. Sure, I could use the back of a spoon to mash mint leaves. But this blunt instrument gets the job done much more easily and more efficiently. I own other, larger muddlers that look like sawed-off baseball bats, but I prefer this slim version, which gets right in the corners of a cocktail shaker to pulverize stray bits of sugar, herbs or fruit.
Bitters! I love bitters beyond reason, and they finish a drink with aromatics beyond compare. This is only part of my collection. From left to right, these are:
--The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Kit. A collection of miniature bottles. I especially like the Celery Bitters and the spicy Creole Bitters.
--Marilyn’s Simple Son Bitters, from Bitters, Old Men. Limited-edition brisket bitters, created just in time for Passover. No, they don’t taste like meat, but they give a nice little twist of umami. I love a couple of drops dashed into Bourbon.
--Regan’s Orange Bitters No.6.
--Fee Brothers Peach Bitters.
--Sriracha bitters, from Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters. Wicked spicy, and delicious!
--Bar Keep Baked Apple Bitters. They’re organic, and they smell like fresh apple pie.
--Angostura Aromatic Bitters. If you own only one bottle of bitters, this is the one.
Tide stain remover stick. A new addition to my bar kit, after learning the hard way that Angostura bitters will stain a freshly laundered white t-shirt. After that lesson, let’s just say I needed a drink.
Kara Newman writes about spirits and cocktails for Wine Enthusiast magazine and other publications. She’s currently working on her second cocktail book. Follow her on Twitter: @karanewman or visit her at http://karanewman.wordpress.com