New York City does drinks fancy. At the first bar I visited there this summer, I spent an unreasonable amount of money on a tequila cocktail made with clarified peach juice. It was poured over a two-and-a-half-inch ice cube made from distilled water. To date, it remains one of the most delicious and interesting things I’ve tasted, but I cannot recreate it. Why? The bar (Booker and Dax, if you’re interested) used a centrifuge to clarify the peach juice. They chilled the drink with liquid nitrogen. I have none of those items at my disposal, and my ice tray makes only normal-sized cubes.
Luckily, mixing delicious drinks at home does not require a trip to the new science center. All you need is some knowledge, decent ingredients and an inexpensive set of basic bar tools. Forgo the lazy college-kid combination of cheap booze and whatever mixer is on hand, and make something classy and impressive. What follows is a list of tools you should consider investing in to quickly and easily bring your next party to a higher level.
The first tool is, of course, your cocktail shaker. There are a few variations on the market, but my vote goes to the Boston Shaker style, which comprises a mixing tin (basically a tall metal cup) and a pint glass — and that’s it. Just build your drink in the glass, put the tin on top and shake. It’s less intuitive than other models, but there are plenty of tutorials on the Internet. You don’t need to buy them in a set; just find a tin and a pint glass that fits with it. The total cost will be no more than $10.
Now that you have a shaking tool, you need a stirring tool. It seems like a regular spoon will do the trick (it might, in a pinch), but a regular spoon is too large and has too flat a handle to make it practical for stirring in a narrow cup. What you need is a bar spoon, which has a small bowl and a round, spiraling handle. Aside from being extremely useful, a bar spoon simply looks professional and fancy. I recently purchased one for less than $5.
Next, you’ll need something to measure your ingredients. Drink recipes usually use ounces, so your typical measuring cups will be less than ideal. Luckily, there’s a useful tool called a jigger, which resembles two metal cones of different sizes fused together on their bottoms. Jiggers are great because they’re compact and easy to use, and you get two measurements from one tool. You can usually find these in two and one-ounce or one and a half and three-quarters-ounce combinations, but pick up a bunch of different ones if you’re feeling ambitious (I think I own four or five), since they cost about $3 apiece.
When you pour drinks, you’ll need to strain out any solids you used, like ice or mint. There are two types of strainers, the Hawthorne and the Julep. The Hawthorne strainer uses a spring to catch solids, while the Julep strainer uses small holes. Choose whichever feels best — or get both, since they’re less than $5 each.
Finally, you can put your finely crafted drinks into something more presentable than a red cup. Most drinks will be fine in a traditional stemmed cocktail glass with a wide rim. If you make something fizzy, however, opt for a tumbler glass to keep the drink bubbly. If you like whiskey, use a wide, short old-fashioned glass.
That’s enough to get you started. There are, of course, other tools for the more dedicated among us, such as uniform pouring spouts, soda machines and special ice cube trays to make gigantic ice cubes. But you can go pretty far with this simple set of tools. Some extra creativity or slightly better-quality liquor than you might find at a typical party will improve your drinks more than a fancy new gadget.
Preston Mui is a senior in the College. BURLEITH BARTENDER appears every other Friday in the guide.