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Building Your Humble Home Bar [Part I: Tools]

So you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re going to mix drinks at home. You already make a mean Jack & Coke, but you’re ready to take things up a notch. You’re going to mix cocktails. At home. And you’re going to do it well.

Nothing’s written in stone, and you can get by with improvisation, but these are the basic tools a bartender uses, whether he/she is mixing at home or behind the stick, for money.

1. Jigger. Used for measuring pours of alcohol and mixers. Never seen one before? That’s because you’ve been drinking at clubs and sports bars, my friend. These things ensure accuracy and can be used quickly after a bit of practice. I prefer 1 and 2 oz. cones, though jiggers come in a variety of sizes. Don’t fret if yours doesn’t have demarcated 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 oz. lines. Measure out these volumes with measuring spoons/cups, pour into your jigger and note the lines.

2. Mixing glass. 16 oz. pint glasses work best. This cheap one I grabbed at the discount store has flat edges, making stirring with a bar spoon a bit difficult. Shoot for a round edged, plain ol’ pint glass.

3. Boston Shaker. The king of utility, this guy is faster and more versatile than the three-part cobbler shakers, plus it looks tougher during usage. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so practice with ice and water. Lightly tap to form/break the seal, and make sure you’re exerting enough force to keep the mixing glass firmly enclosed by the shaker. I use a 28 oz. shaker.

4. Bar spoon. This pretentious-looking spoon is quite versatile thanks to its narrow head and twisted shaft (useful for twirling in crushed ice drinks, etc.), and is used primarily for stirring booze, mixers and ice in the mixing glass. Although cheap, these aren’t a must–a long chopstick is the fastest stirrer out there.

5. Juicer. This utilitarian device works for both lemons and limes, but you have a variety of options here, from squeezing with your hands to heavy-duty manual or electric juicers. Just make sure you strain your fruit juice, unless you or your guests really like pulp.

6. Muddler. This wooden muddler is cheap and effective, though a sturdy spoon or a flat-handled bar spoon works too.

7. Conical strainer. Used for straining juices, muddled concoctions, etc. Strainers come in a variety of sizes but this one looks pretty and fits over even the smallest glassware. When straining higher volumes of juices, infusions, etc., use a larger cooking strainer.

8. Fruit peeler. Used for peeling twists, this charming little guy gives you lots of control but can be subbed out for a pairing knife.

9. Julep strainer. This strainer is traditionally used in tandem with a mixing glass in stirred drinks. The Hawthorne strainer fits your mixing glass just fine, but unlike the Hawthorne, this guy doubles as an ice scoop. Muhaha.

10. Hawthorne strainer. Named after the inventor, not the author. This amazing tool just works, and they start cheap.

11. Pairing knife. Any somewhat sharp knife will do, large or small–you just might have to adjust your technique. Used for cutting twists and for slicing fruit.

12. Waiter’s corkscrew. From popping beer bottles to cutting packaging to unscrewing corks, this guy does it all.

This basic list of barware will bring you a long way. You’ll notice these supplies rest atop a bar mat, a worthwhile expenditure that allows for faster mixing by absorbing spills in the heat of the moment, hence postponing cleanup. Also not pictured here is a cutting board, which you’ll need unless you like chopping fruit in the palm of your hand. In which case you’ll also need a first aid kit.

Stay tuned for Part II: Bottles !!

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