It’s got something of a 1950s movie feel to it. You come home at 5pm after a long day at work, hang up your hat by the door, and declare it to be Cocktail Hour in your very own home. You loosen your tie or kick off your heels, and unscrew the bottle top of a finely selected bottle of liqueur. Ice cubes clink in a crystal tumbler. A bar spoon swizzles to the melody of your pleasing. Zest a lemon, sprinkle a fine herb, swirl the glass. Ahh… the home bar.
The home bar has a charm unlike many others. It is quite literally a bar in your very own home. A sweet corner to entertain guests, romance a date, or simply indulge in a lonely evening tipple, the home bar is becoming a staple in the apartment of the adult with style. Between a cleverly curated selection of spirits and some swanky glassware, your own private bar communicates an air of sophistication. You’ve got it together. You know how to master the Negroni (or could try, if you wanted to). You know your highballs from your coupes. And you’ve always got back-up should there be an emergency in which you spontaneously need to throw a party and have it be the best one of the year.
It’s true, a home bar is a lifestyle in itself. And be you an aspiring bartender or simply admiring other bartenders, we’ve put together the ultimate list of essentials you need to complete the look. We’re sure you’ve got the booze bit down, but here are the necessary tools for when you really want to impress – even if up until now your ‘home bar’ was merely a shelf with a bottle of Mezcal and Dad’s whiskey. Read on.
A mixing glass
First things first. You’re going to need a suitable space to mix your drinks, which is why a mixing glass is absolutely vital. It has something of a laboratory vibe about it, which not only makes the whole thing more fun (experimental cocktails, we hear ya), but also provides a very useful container for stirring cocktails. Be sure to get one made of thick glass and with a sprout, to ensure maximum efficiency in stirring and pouring. Granted, you could also use your Boston shaker instead, but a crystal-cut Japanese mixing glass is sure to give your home bar some beautiful aesthetic bonus points, too.
A bar spoon
The perfect companion for your mixing glass is a bar spoon. You’ve probably noted the long, elegant tool used by bartenders at good bars, and you’ve probably secretly always wanted one. Here is your calling. A bar spoon differs from a regular spoon because of its long spiral handle (to reach into tall glasses and twist between the ice), as well as its small, deep bowl spoon. It’s great for mixing drinks that are to be stirred and not shaken (think, Negroni, Martini, or Manhattan). They also make for a useful tool for layering drinks, if you’re enough of a pro.
This one is probably the most famous of the lot. Act out ‘bartender’ in a game of Charades and you’re likely to include a reenactment of using the shaker. There are two main types – cocktail/traditional or Boston – of which the Boston shaker tends to be the more popular. It’s comprised of a mixing glass and a flat-bottomed bar tin, and can be used to make all shaken drinks. For all those who love frothy and fizzy cocktails, this one’s essential. It’s also really, really fun to shake your heart out when using the thing.
What the bar spoon is to the mixing glass, the strainer is to the shaker. Again, there are various types of strainers, yet the ‘it’ strainer is definitely the Hawthorne. After shaking up your drink, the Hawthorne strainer is used to separate liquid from extra ice or solid ingredients, allowing for a smooth transition. It sits comfortably on the rim of your mixing glass, with a coil of wire to hold it in place. Admittedly, again, it also looks very snazzy, and like you really know what you’re doing.
Not just a funny word but a useful tool too, the jigger is necessary for all those who really want to get serious about making cocktails. It’s what you use to measure alcohol before pouring it into your mixing glass, and it’s what plays a vital role in getting the proportions right. The jigger is especially useful for cocktail recipes that only call for a few ingredients, as it becomes all the more important to get the balance of measurements right. After all, a rigid attention to detail is exactly what separates the amateurs from the professional bartenders.
If you like to get a little messy and like to crush stuff, you’ll definitely want a muddler in your home bar. The thick stick is used to smash ingredients to extract juices, oils, or essences, and is a bit like the mortar used to make Som Tam, but a lot lighter. It’s an essential tool for mixing Mojitos, Caipirinhas, or Old Fashioneds, where fruit and sugars are mashed together. However, whilst it may be exciting, definitely try not to muddle too hard, as the point is merely to release a bit of fluid. You could also use it to crush ice, if you’re really in the mood for a good muddling.
Chances are you will make a cocktail that requires a straw to sip at some point, and if you decide to use one, do as the leading Bangkok bars do, and use a metal straw. Not only are they reusable and far more environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts, but they also bring a stylishly sophisticated flair to your home bar. They’re easy to clean and are noted for retaining the temperature in iced drinks, allowing your guests to enjoy their cocktails longer. Metal straws also happen to double as handy swizzle sticks, ensuring your mixed drinks can stay mixed until the very last sip.
If you’re the kind of person who knows that there’s nothing like an iced drink after a long day, you’ll know that ice accessories are vital. Be it the one bold cube in an Old Fashioned or the crushed type in a Mai Tai, ice is a really important (though often neglected) component in a cocktail — largely because once melted, it can completely dilute and destroy a drink. Whilst you probably already have a freezer, consider getting an ice bucket to always have a cube on hand, as well as an ice scoop for handling and an ice pick for breaking it down. If you’re really looking to impress, you should also get a snazzy ice mould for dramatic ice spheres or heavy block cubes.
From tiki mugs to copper pineapples, glassware can be a little overwhelming. After all, at a time where Instagram-friendly cocktails are paramount, the presentation of your final concoction is a vital one. There are many different types of glasses, each suited to different types of drinks, but as a quick fix for a home bar, there are really only three main types of glassware that you may need: a stem glass (either coupe or v-shape), a rocks glass, and a highball glass. These will accommodate almost any drink you’ll make. If you want to go the extra mile, you could also get a double rocks, julep cup, flute, or hurricane glass (but only if you really want to show off).
A cocktail handbook
To complete the look for cocktail hour in your home bar, definitely stock up on some cocktail books. There are plenty of great ones on the market, but if you want to really look like you know what you’re talking about, get the Savoy Cocktail Book (THB 670). Published in 1930, it was written by one of the most legendary barmen of our time, Harry Craddock, from the iconic American Bar at London’s Savoy Hotel. The book features 750 of Craddock’s most famous cocktail recipes, from ‘Slings, Shrubs, and Smashes’ to ‘Fizzes, Fixes, and Flips’. As a charming teaser, take away this fun fact: when Harry Craddock was once asked how to best drink a cocktail, his answer was “Quickly – while it’s laughing at you!”
This article was originally published on 21 November 2018.