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Cocktail 101: Tools You Do Not Need

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Professional at work. Don't try this at home! [Photograph: MIchael Dietsch]

We've spent the past few weeks talking about what you need to have on hand at home to make great cocktails. We've talked about knives, measuring devices, shakers, bar spoons, strainers, and glassware.

Today, I'm going to tell you what you don't need, at least not for a home bar.

Now, don't misunderstand me, some of these tools are very cool. Some of them are beautiful, or they're fun to collect, or they're enjoyable to use. I mean, I own over a dozen bar spoons; I can't judge anyone who collects bar tools. I'm just trying to separate what's truly necessary from what's merely supremely cool.

Some of these tools are invaluable for professional bartenders, so I don't want anyone to think I'm disparaging their use in a craft-cocktail bar. Far from it. I simply think fancy tools can get in the way of making good drinks at home.

Fancy Ice: Who Needs It?

First, let's honk off the icemen. Across the country, a number of bars and bartenders are moving past the Kold-Draft revolution and developing custom ice programs. In some New York City bars, the ice is shipped in from ice companies from Queens and cut to spec for individual cocktails. Bartenders hand-carve spheres of ice for chilling down an Old Fashioned, chip off spears of ice to cool a highball, and chisel smaller chunks for shaking drinks. I've even seen YouTube videos of bartenders carving gigantic slabs of ice down to size with a chainsaw.


And on balance, this is a lovely development. It lends an extra element of theatricality to drink-making, and when it's done well, it enhances the temperature, flavor, and texture of finished drinks.

But if such ice programs have led you, the home bartender, to decide you need fancier ice at home, let me dissuade you. What do you absolutely need at home for great ice?

  • A well-tuned freezer
  • Ice cube trays
  • A blender

What's helpful to have for parties and such?

  • Ice bucket
  • Ice tongs
  • A standard ice pick, of the type your parents had

Take these off your Amazon wishlist; you don't need them:

  • Electric ice crusher
  • Ice chisel
  • Ice prongs
  • Ice molds—Yes, I said it. I have silicone molds for large cubes that I use often, so maybe hang on to those. But molds that make spheres and other shapes are nice to have if you already have a well-stocked bar, but are otherwise unnecessary.
  • Chain saw

Crystal Mixing Glasses

Aside from all sorts of ice tools, you may find yourself tempted by other bits of bar swag. Maybe they'll make drink-making more expedient, or maybe they'll just make you look cool. Resist the urge. Employ someone to hide your credit card, if necessary.

A top culprit is the fancy mixing glass. Maybe you've seen them; the gorgeous cut-crystal, beaker-shaped glasses, usually from Japan. In a professional bar, they provide some true advantages: they're sturdier and harder to break than pint glasses, and they hold a chill longer.

I've seen bartenders, though, for whom they're a shortcut, an affectation that makes them appear "serious," like funny mustaches, suspenders, and sleeve garters. If you don't know your craft, a Japanese cut-crystal mixing glass isn't going to stir up a stunning martini for you.

For home bartenders, especially for the beginner, a pint glass will more than suffice. Anything fancier is nice to have, but not necessary.

Atomizer

Argh, for the love of Jerry Thomas, no. If you feel the need to make an extra-dry martini by spritzing some vermouth over the surface of the cocktail just prior to service, try this trick instead, for something called an In-and-Out Martini:

  1. Fill a mixing glass two thirds full of ice.
  2. Measure 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of vermouth.
  3. Pour vermouth over ice and stir briefly to coat ice.
  4. Strain vermouth down the drain.
  5. Add gin to ice; stir and strain as normal. Only the vermouth that clung to the ice will make its way into your drink.

Another alternative is to rinse the glass with vermouth and discard, prior to straining your martini into the glass. (Or try a "wetter" ratio of gin to vermouth; it's delicious and less "proofy" than an extra-dry version, which means you can drink more of them!)

Go Acoustic

Shun the electrics. Unless you already drink fresh-squeezed juices for breakfast, there's no need to buy an electric juicer for your bar. They can be handy for parties, of course, when you're juicing dozens of lemons or limes, for punches or margaritas. But if you're like me, such a device would live in storage 51 weeks out of the year, emerging only for party prep. Unless you're sure you'll need it, save your money. For daily juicing, a hand-held juicer will work.

And please, please, please, no electric shakers. Yes, they exist. Don't make me hate you.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and cocktail curmudgeon. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.

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