Let’s face it. Many of us are imbibing more of late, and doing so in the comfort of our own apartments and houses. Here are some tips from the pros for taking your home bar—and your homemade cocktails—to the top shelf.
Get the Right Tools
“Make sure you get a proper Boston shaker and a jigger that measures two ounces on one side and one ounce on the other,” advises Luis Del Pozo, bar manager at Gracias Madre. While it’s not as decorative as a cobbler-style shaker, the Boston variety—essentially a tin with a pint-glass top—is preferred by bartenders for its effectiveness in creating perfectly icy, vigorously shaken margaritas and daiquiris. Meanwhile, a proper martini requires a stir (apologies to James Bond). “Equally as important as a shaker,” says Del Pozo, “is a good strainer, a bar spoon, and a mixing glass.”
Beyond the fundamental categories of booze—whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, cognac/brandy, rum—it’s essential to keep basic cocktail bitters (Angostura and Peychaud’s) and both sweet and dry vermouth on hand. Bitters will keep for years, while vermouth, once opened, is good for about a month in the fridge. Popular liqueurs like triple sec and St. Germain are also convenient to have around.
When it comes to mixers, forget that carton of Tropicana and grab your juicer. “Always use fresh limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits,” recommends Saeed House, until recently the head bartender at the Kimpton Everly Hotel. “Anything out of the bottle won’t taste nearly as good.”
The goal of any cocktail is a balance between spirit, sour, and sweet. For the last, simple syrup is often needed. Make your own by bringing a one-to-one ratio of sugar and water to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let the mixture cool. It will keep in the fridge for several months.
The line between amateur and professional often comes down to a good garnish. So load up on vibrant herbs and colorful swizzle sticks, and make sure you have a sharp paring knife for slicing fresh fruits. “Practice your cuts by looking up videos on YouTube,” advises Del Pozo. “Prep your herbs and keep them moist so they have vibrancy when you’re ready to use them. There’s a lot of visual help on the internet, but practice is always your best friend.”