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Building out your home bar

As I began writing this piece, I recalled a quote from a roaster at Blue Bottle coffee. It was a simple tip he had for better coffee at home that went something like this,

"The first step in having better coffee is to get a grinder.

The second step is to get a great grinder."

The point he was trying to drive home, is grinding your coffee fresh by almost any means will yield better flavor. However, when you're ready to level up, the quality of the grinder makes a notable difference.

During cocktail classes, people often ask what equipment I use at home, or are inspecting the tools at use in class. While the following piece covers a comprehensive set of bar tools, I’ll tell you that where most people can likely improve their setup is via their shaker, jigger, and strainer.

A lot of people, whether it’s from their college days, a deal online, or a wedding gift, have a cocktail shaker set at home. It might be proudly displayed on their bar or lost in an unmarked box in the basement. Most look like this.

The great news about a set like the above one, is you've taken the first step. This is the entry-level grinder. Having a set enables you to make cocktails, which is better than having none at all 😉. But when you're ready to upgrade, what you'll find are better-crafted materials. They won't feel flimsy and in the case of the shaker, won't be prone to fuse when it gets cold.

By the way, if you live in St. Louis, you can buy any of these or a great substitute at Intoxicology.

Cocktail shaker: the great news in this category, is the Koriko shaker set from Cocktail Kingdom is beloved across the industry and is affordable. Compared to the shaker pictured above, this style is called a Boston shaker or "tin on tin". The above shaker is called a cobbler. There are many great quality cobblers and if you prefer a style like that, keep on using it.

Jigger: Measuring is the first line of defense to ensure drink quality. There are many great jiggers out there, but for me, you can't beat Oxos angled jigger. It provides a large area for pouring and has easy-to-read numbers.

When it comes to a Hawthorne strainer, I also use Oxos. Other than good engineering, the main reason I like it is unlike many, it doesn’t have a long handle. For me, the handle is cumbersome.

If you’re seriously shaking cocktails, and you should be, the ice is going to shatter. For a cleaner-tasting drink and better texture, most bars double strain drinks, using a Hawthorne and a fine-mesh strainer. Here is one offered by Cocktail Kingdom. You can probably find one cheaper if you look around.

When it comes to stirring a drink, the equipment is more forgiving. Bartender Jim Meehan once said to me, "you can stir a drink in a pint glass with a chopstick if you feel like it". The key to stirring is to avoid sloshing the drink around, which will aerate it.

If you're not taking Jim's advice and using a chopstick, beware the evil red

knobbed spoon. You want one that is more tightly wound than these. I'll admit that you'll be ok stirring a drink or two with it, but if you're having an Old Fashioned or Martini party, stirring multiple, it will start to hurt your fingers. Williams and Sonoma's spoon comes with “training wheels”. You hold the spoon in your hand and it rotates for you. For a more traditional spoon, you can again find one that is a few dollars cheaper than this one from Cocktail Kingdom, but it's great.

A standard pint glass works well for stirring cocktails. But if you want to upgrade for aesthetic purposes, Japanese mixing glasses are beautiful.

Recommended but not needed

Having a citrus press will make your life easier. If you like throwing big parties, a countertop press is a wonderful investment. This will be overkill for most people but if you throw an annual party where you make a gallon of margaritas and are squeezing limes for what feels like forever, this will change your life. "I guarantee it", in my Men's Wearhouse voice.

Ice easily picks up aroma from circulating air in your freezer, a great step to take to protect your cocktails is trays that have a lid/container.

You can use a knife for citrus peels but having a "y-peeler" like this one is helpful.

When you’re making lots of drinks, you’re bound to spill juice, booze, and syrup on your counter. Laying down a towel is a simple solution but if you want to level up, get a bar mat.

Speed pourers help you regulate the flow of booze, making your pouring more accurate and less sloppy. If you’re going to buy these, it can be tricky. There are many crappy ones and some cost a pretty penny. Buy these from Barfly. You’ll pay more than some of the prices but trust me, it's worth it to avoid leaky ones.

If you're juicing in mass for a party, having plastic squeeze bottles is clutch.

What did I miss? Any questions?


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