Ever felt inclined to whip up a cocktail only to find the cupboards empty? Having great cocktails at home is easy, but first there are some essentials to keep on hand. It’s not just the tools of the trade that make cocktail-making easy, it’s also ensuring you have good all-rounder ingredients to make the most out of your DIY cocktail sessions.
Have a muddling stick handy. You use this to squish citrus and sugar and various other goodies into the bottom of your glass. These are, in essence, miniature baseball bats, so if you have a wooden spoon with a slender handle, this can be a good back up. You want something that is hard, but also something that easily fits inside your glassware.
Ice. Make sure you have lots of ice. Most home ice makers (those plastic trays) make small ice cubes which can melt quickly in drinks. If you want to supersize your ice, use a muffin tray for big, fat, slow-melting ice blocks. For crushed ice, you’ll need a sturdy hand blender, or if you prefer you can get an ice crusher for a fluffier texture.
A citrus juicer is a good idea if you like citrus, and there are so many great cocktails that warrant it. These look like big garlic crushers and make juicing citrus a breeze.
Sugar syrup, sometimes called simple syrup. This is water and sugar, and it’s very easy to make yourself, but you can also buy it. Sugar syrup is used to sweeten cocktails and balance out the acid or citrus based drinks. This is essential in any home bar.
A Boston shaker, or three piece shaker. This will not only give you buff forearms; it will show your guests you mean business. Shaking a cocktail helps make the drink colder, and the shaking also gives the drink a frothier, silkier texture.
A strainer. This is self-explanatory - it will strain out all the little bits from your drinks, both fruit bits and ice chips.
A jigger. This is more important that you think. A jigger is another name for a shot measure. Cocktails are mini recipes and if you guess your measures your cocktails can be totally unbalanced and not taste as they should. Buy a jigger that allows for a single measure of 30ml and a double measure.
Pourers. If you don’t have a steady hand, stick a pourer into the neck of the bottle. It helps pour smaller amounts of liquid more accurately. Don’t forget to give them a rinse in water every so often.
That pretty well covers the toolkit for making the cocktails with finesse and professionalism, so now let’s look at some ‘go to’ spirits to keep on the shelves. These basic building blocks will allow you to start experimenting with the classics, as well as giving you some flexibility to play around with the ingredients and get a little creative along the way – adding in a citrus note here, or a dash of bitterness there. It’s kids play for adults.
Vodka is a necessity as its anonymous character gives it remarkable flexibility in a host of drinks.
Crème de Cacoa. I love this addition because it tastes like chocolate but it’s clear, so you don’t end up with lots of brown looking cocktails. I like to add it to darker spirits like rum and cognac and whisky to fill out the palate and give the drinks some sweetness with a chocolate note.
A good quality gin. You can’t make a traditional martini without gin, so do some light research and find one you like. There are a host of local gins on the market at the moment so you’re bound to find one you love.
Vermouth is essential for martini creation, so buy a sweet one and a dry one. Sweet Vermouth is key to making Negroni, the world’s second-most simple cocktail.
Campari is a great bitter drink. It has lots of sweetness too, but it is masked by lovely bitter notes that cut through. Campari, along with gin, is the other Negroni bedfellow. It also works wonderfully with Prosecco or just soda.
Find a good rum, both dark and white for maximum flexibility, and don’t forget a Reposado tequila for margaritas.
At the end of the day, your favourite mixed drinks will determine the stock in your bar, but these are some solid basics that will help you get started when you next have friends over to show off your mixologists skills.