In my last blog update I talked about the ‘drinking experience’ and how, when all the right elements come together, sipping a cocktail at the bar can be more than simply ‘having a drink’. That led me to think about drinking at home and the small details that can make that experience richer too. For me there is a great joy to be found in making myself, or my friends and family a cocktail, which is enhanced by using the right tools and the right glassware.
Looking around the b&t office (or the drinking room as my friends seem to call it) I realise that I really have become a cocktail geek. There are shelves of antique cocktails books, a bookcase dedicated to antique glassware and cocktail shakers, two drinks cabinets loaded with everything from tequila to Swedish punsch, not to mention a shelf dedicated to bitters and homemade syrups.
Surely I don’t NEED all this stuff just to have the occasional drink at home? I got by for ages shaking daiquiris in an old boston shaker I’d pinched from Alphabet and serving them in an inexpensive martini glasses I picked up from Pages. The drinks certainly tasted just as good back then, but perhaps over time I have come to realise that the joy in drinking cocktails comes from the process of making them and the way they are presented as much as from the liquid itself. My daiquiris may still taste the same, but I enjoy them more when they are sipped from a Victorian coupe having been poured from a 3-piece shaker!
DOING IT ON A BUDGET
Of course there’s no reason not to start your home cocktail making career on a shoe-string. Buying a basic boston shaker, barspoon, hawthorn strainer, fine strainer, jigger and muddler you’ll probably just about get change back from £25 throw in a box of inexpensive cocktail glasses and you’ll be all set for under £40. The rest can be improvised with what you have at home.
Even with just the basic tools you can still create fantastic drinks. As far as I’m concerned making the actual cocktail well is the most important thing, and with these tools and a bit of practice at mixing and tasting, that shouldn’t be a problem. As for enhancing the experience, just doing a few small things such as chilling your glasses, taking care to prepare good looking garnishes and using the right glass for the right drink, will make them all the more enjoyable.
If you want to take it a step further then having the best possible ice will also make a difference. Personally I can’t afford to have a huge block of crystal clear ice delivered to my house every time I want a drink, and even if I could, I suspect I would lose most of my fingers trying to carve off chunks to make drinks with. Simply buying a fishing tackle box with removable partitions allows me to freeze nice blocks of solid clear ice that can be cracked (simply bash it with a muddler) for stirred drinks or when serving a drink ‘on the rocks’. To make the ice use boiled, filtered water and for best results freeze the blocks once, and then allow them to defrost before re-freezing (this gets all the bubbles out and gives you nice solid, clear ice).
One of the most important aspects for me when making a drink at home is to present them in the best possible way. Always chill your glassware, even if it is just for a couple of minutes in the freezer. Garnish the drink right too; so often a garnish is there for more than simply window dressing, it can add aromas that set up the flavours that will follow or maybe has a flavour that compliments the drink itself. Every time I order a drink in a bar I watch how the bartender prepares my drink and especially how they prepare the garnish, that’s the best possible way to pick up the tricks of the trade!
TAKING IT UP A NOTCH
Of course if you really love your cocktails and plan on making them on a regular basis, then spending a little more money on getting just the right tools for the job makes sense. For me this is something that has happened gradually, and I have added glassware and tools as and when either I find them or have a few spare pounds to play with.
Over the past couple of years I have amassed a mixture of antique and modern barware to suit my needs and tastes. I’m lucky that I have the excuse of shooting a lot of photography for the website, as it allows me to indulge in buying more glasses and shakers, but actually most of them get used on a reasonably regular basis, simply for pleasure. Buying a few good bar tools and then slowly picking up glassware here and there needn’t be too expensive and the investment pays off when you experience the pleasure of making your drink and being able to serve it in a way that does it justice.
When it comes to new bar tools I’ve become slightly addicted to The Mixing Glass
as they have a fantastic selection of Japanese style barware as well as the amazingly practical and virtually indestructible Uber bartools. The joy I get in preparing a Remember the Maine in my crystal mixing glass, slowly stirring it with my 420mm Japanese barspoon before straining into a chilled coupe that has had a few dashes of absinthe splashed into it using the small ‘bitters’ bottle, whets my appetite before a drop of liquid has even reached my lips! If you check out their website please bare in mind that the prices are in Danish Kronor so need to be divided by 9 to give you approximate UK
These well made, elegant and stylish bartools make preparing cocktails a ceremony as opposed to a chore, and as a bonus I challenge any guests not to be impressed when their drinks a made using these tools… even I look like I know what I’m doing when I use them. These are the same tools that, when I see them in top bars, make me feel like I am about to enjoy a great drinking experience as generally speaking bars don’t invest in great tools unless there is a skilled bartender around to use them!
On the other hand when it comes to glassware I tend to favour old over new. I have a secret supplier of antique glassware who buys job-lots of glasses at auction and sells the odd ones cheaply, saving the full sets and more expensive stuff for the glass dealers. That being said I have also found plenty of bargain glasses in antique shops where once you can pick up a bargain if they are not a complete set.
Sipping a cocktail from a hand etched Victorian champagne coupe may make you feel like a million dollars but often doesn’t have to cost more than a few pounds. Personally I like having a strange selection of glasses, 2 of this type, 1 of those and 3 of another, I find having a selection that I haven’t paid a fortune for much more enjoyable than having one complete set of glasses that broke the bank to buy. I don’t think there is a glass in my house that cost more than about £8 and yet many of them are from the early 1800’s and are as elegant a glass as you will ever have a drink served in.
TOO MUCH HASSLE?
I know that in the last 3 or 4 decades making cocktails at home has fallen out of fashion, and that freezing your own ice and preparing delicate garnishes may sound like a lot of effort to go to for a drink, but trust me, preparing a cocktail for your guests before or after dinner is well worth the effort. I can’t tell you how many people have been surprised and delighted when offered a cocktail instead of the usual wine or beer when coming over for dinner. For most people having a cocktail is a rare treat and having one in the comfort of your home is even rarer!
Presenting a guest with a frosted glass full of delicious liquid that they have watched you make just for them (using your fantastic bar tools from themixingglass.com
), garnished with a delicate spiral of citrus peel, adds to the atmosphere of an evening. I’m not entirely sure why the cocktail party and the home bar fell out of favour, but I think it’s high time they came back into fashion. In fact I may just have to start ‘dressing for dinner’ and sipping martinis in my tux from now on!