Build-A-Bar: The Basics

Categories: Booze, The Basics

Bar Tools.jpg
A few things you might need
I've been fooling around with my Roasted-Banana-Infused Treaty Oak Rum for a week or so, trying to tweak it into a cocktail recipe worthy of actually serving to someone. It's gone through quite a few iterations, bringing many disparate spirits, liqueurs, and bitters into play. As I was stirring together my most recent effort (1.5oz rum, 1.5oz rye, 2dashes orange bitters - shows promise), it occurred to me that it's only because I've made a conscious effort to stock my bar over the last year or so that I had the ingredients on hand to be able to take the rum in a variety of directions.

It's taken a decent investment in both time and money, but it's been worth it for the fun I've had experimenting with different ingredients, and for the knowledge I've gained in the process. I didn't go about it all at once. Dropping a month's pay at Spec's can be an easy thing to do if you decide you're going to go all out and just buy everything right now. Instead, I pick up a new ingredient every so often - say once a month - and experiment with that before moving on.

I got the ball rolling using a method recommended by Bobby Heugel of Anvil Bar and Refuge. Bobby suggests picking a drink you like and picking up the ingredients you need for that cocktail. It's a systematic approach that builds a solid base of spirits that have wide ranging use, plus a guided way to branch out into more specialized ingredients.

For this series, I'm going to take a similar, though slightly modified, approach. Each piece will focus on a particular ingredient, going into a bit of detail on its character and origin, and suggesting uses for it, including one spotlight cocktail.

Of course, in order to follow along, you're going to need some basic equipment. I suppose you could muddle through, MacGyvering various house-hold tools into service, and that's fine. I would recommend that you pick up at least a basic set of bar tools. They'll make everything simpler, and they're kind of cool to have. I would recommend the following:

  • Shaker: Of the two types, I prefer a Boston shaker, for both aesthetics and functionality. I find the three-piece cobbler shaker to be more cumbersome and less well-sealed.


  • Strainer: If you go with a Boston shaker, you're going to need something with which to strain your cocktails. Either a spoon-style Julep strainer or a pronged and coil-bound Hawthorn strainer will work just fine. A small, fine-mesh strainer is also useful when making cocktails that contain solid or semi-solid ingredients, like muddled herbs, fruit, or various purées.


  • Bar Spoon: The long, thin handle makes it useful in stirring and "swizzling" drinks, and many cocktail recipes use it as a unit of measure.


  • Measuring Tools: Speaking of measurement, a set of measuring tools is essential. Despite some common perceptions, free and generous pouring is not necessarily a good thing, especially when it comes to cocktails. A measured shot glass will work; a set of jiggers in various sizes is better; I prefer the mini angled measuring cup from OXO. It is incredibly easy to use, and measures from 1/4oz to 2 oz, in 1/4oz increments.


  • Muddler: You don't need anything fancy, here, just a small wooden bat-shaped tool for smashing and bruising ingredients like fruit and herbs.

  • There are certainly other things you can get to make your setup fancier, but if you have this small arsenal of tools, you've got what you need to make (just about) any drink there is. Next time, we'll move on to the good stuff. For now, check out your local bar or restaurant supply store, and get yourself some new toys.



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    11 comments
    Jeff
    Jeff

    Is the OXO thing glass?  I'd be hesitant to measure hard liquors in plastic.  Ethanol's an organic solvent.  I like glass and stainless.

    distance
    distance

    "Bobby suggests picking a drink you like and picking up the ingredients you need for that cocktail."

    Wow! What a revelation! I never would have known how to do this without the advice of an over-hyped master mixologist! Until hearing this sage recommendation, I kept trying to make a gin and tonic with tequila and seltzer! But could never figure out what I was doing wrong until now. Who knew!?

    herzoggity
    herzoggity

    "You don't need anything fancy here, just a small wooden bat-shaped tool for smashing and bruising ingredients like fruit and herbs."  There, fixed that for you.  Seriously, what's up with the super-weird comma usage?  Is this some mandated by some crazy HP house style guide?  I feel kind of shitty pointing this out, but it's been bothering me for a little bit now.  

    Nicholas L. Hall
    Nicholas L. Hall

    Mine is plastic, but OXO does make one in stainless, I believe.

    Nicholas L. Hall
    Nicholas L. Hall

    Right? And here I am, just trying to help them drink better. Ingrates.

    Nicholas L. Hall
    Nicholas L. Hall

    Also, dude, Bobby played no role in the creation of this piece. That's just a bit of advice I picked up while attending one of his monthly cocktail classes. I thought it was worthwhile, so I decided to pass it on, here. Chillax.

    Nicholas L. Hall
    Nicholas L. Hall

    I'm not really sure why you felt the sarcasm was warranted, distance, but I'll elaborate. The suggestion is that, instead of rushing out and trying to buy everything at once, you use a systematic approach. Take a drink you like, and buy the ingredients necessary to make that drink. A few weeks later, you do the same with another drink you like. In the process, you will be building your bar collection, both in terms of basic spirits, and the accompanying liqueurs etc. that fill out a drink's profile. Pretty soon, you'll find yourself looking at a recipe for a cocktail, and finding that you already have 3/4 of the ingredients required, having purchased them for other cocktails. Make sense? Good.

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