Tuesday, April 7, 2020

One for the Road... Bar Equipment Essentials

In "One for the Road", us three take a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This time, we're finally covering what equipment we each use for the benefit of Pablo's nephew, a soon-to-be productive member of society. These are affiliate links below so buy everything! 

In the coming months I have another nephew graduating college and venturing into the big, wide open world--although in light of current events there won't be a graduation ceremony, he's still done it. He has a job lined up and knows where he is planning to live. In acknowledgement of him achieving this academic feat combined with his birthday, I asked him what would be helpful in terms of presents. I couldn't be prouder of his response--he said he should move beyond the college era and would like a starter kit of barware and glassware as well recipes and any other advice related to mixing drinks. While I am no pro, I'm always happy to help. I put together a collection of things that I already had on hand to get him started--there are some nice, vintage pieces and other things that while utilitarian aren't the prettiest. But one day he will again need to "graduate" to not necessarily bigger but certainly better things.

And so I reached out to my fellow A&T-ers and asked them for their favorite pieces of equipment (we talked about books previously here). In general I think we all agree that while aesthetics are important, function of the tools is of the utmost concern. As we are not professional mixologists or bartenders we haven't had the opportunity to play with a huge variety tools. Still, we have opinions. So we've compiled our thoughts and wrote this to help him look towards what to one day get but also provide a resource of what we think is important. 

Shakers vs Mixing Glass: The general rule is if you're mixing something with juice (e.g. lemon juice) then you want to shake. Otherwise you can rely on a mixing glass. I've heard people stick to mixing glasses even when there's juice if it's just a little bit. 

John's been all over the place on this and has settled on tin-on-tin Boston shakers because they are so versatile, easy to use, and pretty much indestructible. Glass-on-tin Boston shakers can be a little dicey because we're always afraid of breaking the glass somehow. Gotta know your strengths and weaknesses. I think both David and I lean towards cobbler shakers like this one; avoid the ones that have a rubber or silicone ring on the inside as it's hard to get those to seal well.

As for mixing glasses, glass is elegant, but metal will cool faster. Also, don't buy too big. A 950ml mixing glass that can make 4-6 stirred drinks at a time is just a hair too big to comfortably pour while holding the strainer in place. Whenever I do use it, I either pour with two hands or spill stuff all over the place and risk dropping the mixer, neither of which is a good look.

mixing glass like this is sturdy, easily held in one hand, and looks great. A 550-700ml mixing glass will comfortably make two to four drinks once ice is added. 

Stirrer/Barspoon: Some are straight, some have a helix, some with forks, some without, some with flat tops to muddle or float drinks. Go for comfort--what feels smooth and good in your hand and helps naturally stir, always keeping the bottom of the bar spoon against the glass. Two good options: with a twist/helix is John's current favorite or this straight one is my daily workhorse.

Strainer: Essential for a mixing glass and there are all types--the OXO Hawthorne strainer is our standard but my other go-to is the Julep strainer from Crafthouse. 

Jigger: Measuring your ingredients is key. Both John and I like OXO's angled jigger--I like it so much I bought two. I also have the more traditional hourglass versions. John relies on Japanese style jiggers like this one and this one for speed when serving a large group with a fixed menu. 

When it comes to Glassware, variety is the spice of life. Old Fashioned glasses and coupes are key but this is a great opportunity to have fun. Thrift shops and antique shops have great finds but the price points and quality can vary. Avoid any with chips on the rim of the glass no matter how attractive it is. One bit of advice: the "classic" martini glass is for chumps who want to spill their drink all over the place. Use a coupe. Etsy has some great stuff but the price points can be all over the place--find something that's versatile and that you like; in particular check out Coupe du Jour run by our very own Pablo. 

Just don't use those bright red cherries
Cocktail picks: Go metal or go home. There are some great designs out there but a variety is nice to fit different glasses. 

Cherries (and/or other garnishes): Luxardo is the classic, but there are other options out there these days. Trader Joe's has great Amarena cherries. These fire and spiced cherries are fantastic, too; a little bit of heat, spice, and sweetness. If you have maraschino cherries that look radioactively red, throw them out immediately. I recommend always having at least one orange, lemon, and lime on hand for garnish and juicing. 

John's had this for four years now and loves it (muddling, smashing ice in a Lewis bag, etc.). It's starting to show some age, but is still holding up. I've had a couple but the wooden ones with flat bottom are my preferred ones.

Ditch the plastic, single use straws. These are perfect for John's highball glasses, but that's the trick. Make sure to buy straws that fit the glassware you have (you don't want the straw disappearing into the glass or sticking out like it's trying to hail a cab). Stainless steel are always great and copper look nice but either way, make sure you clean after use. 

Ice molds: Whatever you do, get silicone and read up on this. Start simple and get one tray of large cubes and one tray of medium/small cubes, then work your way up from there.

And this is just some of the stuff out there... nevermind bitters bottles, pourers, tweezers (ahem, David), and more... the great thing about the cocktail community is that people share information, ideas, and for the most part want to help and learn and not condescend so reach out with questions. Follow people, ask questions, but maybe not during peak bar hours...

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