Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Setting up a Bar at Home: Part 2 – Bar None Barware

Bravo! You have a devoted a corner of your living space to the art of home entertainment. Maybe it is a slice of Polynesia or a refined oak paneled decor; in any case you are making progress toward living the home bar experience. The lighting is just right, bar is in place, stools dusted off, and the Hi-Fi (err I mean Ipod Sound dock!) is filling the room with lounge worthy melodies. Now all you need is booze and guests, but wait let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

The second step to cocktail heaven is not a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin; you need to acquire the right tools to make your daring drinks. A professional set of bar ware tools can transform mixing a drink into a proper cocktail party. A chilled shaker combining ingredients for perfect drink distribution, a garnish tray filled with lemon twists, olives, pearl onions, and brandy soaked cherries, the perfect pour using a bar strainer, all these elements make for better cocktails and a lot more fun. 
Cocktail Shaker - Currently, stainless steel shakers are popular because the trend is cocktails shaken not stirred. Connoisseurs claim that this makes cocktails cold as the Klondike. Purists poo-poo this claim and insist that stirred not shaken is the real deal. Regardless of what side of this argument you support, you will need a cocktail shaker of some sort.

The standard shaker comes in three pieces: the cap, the straining lid, and the body. However, there are dozens of varieties of glass, chrome, and stainless steel cocktail shakers on the market. Vintage shakers can vary in style and material depending on the time period of production. Art Deco silver and steel shakers were used a lot during the Roaring 1920s. Decanters and drink pitchers enjoyed widespread appeal in the 1930s and1940s. Glass shakers often decorated with colorful and kitsch cocktail recipes gained popularity in the Atomic age 1950s-early 60s. James Bond brought back the metal shaker by insisting on his Vodka Martinis shaken. All of these types of cocktail shakers can be used to enhance your home bar. As a fan of late 50s Italian design, my favorite is the 17 oz. Alessi 1957 Design Polished Cocktail Shaker.

I have an extensive vintage collection of cocktail shakers. However, I rarely employ them for concocting drinks. Instead, I suggest using a 17 oz. Alessi for personal drinks or a 16 oz. stainless steel bar shaker and a no frills pint glass when making multiple cocktails. Granted my way isn’t as glamorous or dramatic as shaking a cocktail a la James Bond, but it is more efficient and can be used for making drinks that are shaken or stirred. The main advantage is the lack of shaker cap/top. During a rigorous mixing session the caps and tops can become stuck due to the vacuum created or the stickiness of the liquor.

Condiment Dispenser – Purchase a four-piece or six-piece stainless steel or Rubbermaid condiment holder at a restaurant supplies store. Foodservice Direct has great deals, dispensers ranging from $10-35. The small glass or steel bowls may also be used if you don’t have a lot of room. . The main objective is to keep your cocktail garnish within easy reach. I bought a Cinzano brand professional 6-piece condiment dispenser on Ebay for under $20.00. However, it took months of diligent searching and being out bid on other brands like Campari and Beefeater before I landed this find. The aspiring home bartender can do it my way of the easy way.

Double Jigger/Measure – Professional bartenders can judge a jigger worth of booze just by the pour. If you really must use a jigger to measure the proper allocation of alcohol, then buy a double jigger. Pedrini makes an excellent double jigger that measures drinks by 3/4 ounce (1/2 jigger) for the lightweights to the standard pour of 1 1/2 ounces (1 jigger). 

Bar spoon/stirrer - A long bar stirring spoon is used to measure small amounts of mixer and stir drinks.

Muddler - to crush mint and sugar in Old Fashions or Juleps.

Hawthorne and Julep Strainers – Stainless steel strainers to keep ice and extraneous ingredients from overflowing into your cocktails.

Bottle Opener – you’ll need to open up beer bottles and cans of juice mixer so pick up bottle opener that can make holes in a can too.

Paring Knife – is useful for cutting up garnishes and making citrus slices. Also get a Zester for citrus twists.

Waiter’s Corkscrew – is easy to use and less cumbersome than a traditional wine corkscrew.

Ice Bucket with Tongs or Scooper – Ice is a key ingredient for any successful cocktail. A medium sized ice bucket and tongs or a scooper should be kept next to the mixing area for easy access.

Small Cutting Board – is needed to dice up garnishes.

Swizzle Sticks – are used in mixed drinks like Gin and Tonics or Rum and Cokes. They are used to mix the drink and are a handsome decoration.

Blender – for making frozen drinks like margaritas and daiquiris. I suggest the Kitchen Aid or Waring blenders for their high quality and retro style.

Bar Napkin Holder – for cocktail napkins and your swizzle sticks. A professional bar napkin holder has side panels to hold swizzle sticks and other stirring tools.

Bar Towel – the quicker picker upper, a bar towel is a must have tool for wiping down the bar and

The amount of glassware one needs depends on how many guests are expected. I suggest buying dozen of each type of glass in order to cover any occasion. The basics in glassware:

Highball glass - There are many types of Hi-Ball glasses. I prefer the Double Rocks 12-ounce variety. It is tall with straight sides and used to make mixed drinks.

Martini Glasses – martini glasses make me so happy I break into song. The ultimate Cocktail glass, the martini glass can hold up to 8 ounces of lascivious liquid.

Collins glass – for making tall drinks like Juleps or the eponymous Tom Collins.

Old-fashioned glass - Shorter cousin to the High Ball, the old-fashioned is typically used for Scotch and other liquor that are imbibed neat.

Snifter - Ports, brandy, cognac, Sambuca and other cordials should be served in a small to medium sized bell shaped snifter glass.

The Flute - Tall and slim, the champagne flute holds just over 7 ounces. Besides champagne, the flute can be used for Sparkling wine, Bellinis, Kir Royale, and Prosecco.

Wine Glasses - Large, stemmed, bulbous holding around 10 fluid ounces? Maybe if you have the room, I like the stemless Riedel O collection glasses for easy storage and entertaining, this glass is for serving fine red wines as well as some fruit-based drinks.

Miscellaneous glassware – having a Tiki Party? Don’t forget to buy ceramic Tiki Mugs for Mai-Tai mayhem, Umbrellas, and punch bowls.

Once you obtain the essential bar ware and glassware you will be ready to serve drinks like a professional. Below are some helpful links to bar supply wholesalers. I also suggest Crate and Barrel if you need bar equipment that is reasonably priced and stylish.

Enjoy creating a bar at home and drink responsibly.

- Fredo

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