Equipping your Essential Home Bar

Welcome back to the wonderful world of cocktails!

Now that you’ve started thinking about your liquor purchases, and perhaps taken the shopping list from the last post to the liquor store, its time to start thinking about the basic equipment that will make your life easier when mixing cocktails , and some of the basic things to have on hand in your kitchen.

A basic bar kit will help you shake, measure, stir and generally start creating some awesome cocktails.

The basics include:

  • 1 mixing glass
  • 1 metal shaker tin  (the two together are called a Boston Shaker)
  • 1 long-handled barspoon
  • 1 muddler
  • 1 Hawthorne strainer (this has springs and fits into both the mixing glass and the shaker tin)
  • 1 jigger or small measuring cup.

All of these can be found readily in most kitchen supply stores, or in a pinch, at your restaurant supply store (yes, they do sell to the general public!)

In addition to these basics, I also have a handheld citrus juicer which I use regularly, BUT it is not imperative, as you can also use the tines of a fork, or might already have a juicer in your kitchen.

The other thing that will help get you on your way to making classic cocktails is a bottle of Angostura bitters.  These have been made in Trinidad for generations, and can be purchased in pretty much any grocery store in the soft drinks section.  Most bottles sit around gathering dust for decades, but, I guarantee that once you start using bitters, you’ll become a convert!  (You can also use them in cooking!!!)

  • Garnish for some of these drinks makes a big difference – an orange or lemon twist contains essential oils, which when squeezed over the drink, impart flavour.  The easiest way to get a lemon or orange twist ready is to use a vegetable peeler, peel off a strip of the outer zest, trim it up and roll it into a twist over top of the drink.  If you want to get really fancy, you can also rub it around the rim of the glass.
  • These cocktail may look smaller than some of the “Martini” type drinks you have had, but  cocktails from “back in the day” tend to be smaller in size.  Be warned though, they still pack a punch!  The average cocktail is around  4-5 ounces in total, and stays chilled best in smaller-sized cocktail glasses.

As you get started, its also important to take stock in the kitchen – a few essentials there will help set your cocktails apart from everyone else on the block!

  • Simple syrup – used as a sweetener rather than sugar, because it is already dissolved in water.  I like to use 1 cup sugar + ½ cup water, heated in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave until the sugar is dissolved.  Store in a mason jar or squeeze bottle at room temperature
  • Lemons, Limes, Oranges and Grapefruits – Using fresh squeezed juice will make one of THE biggest differences in your drinks.  I use a handheld citrus juicer, which is really efficient, but in a pinch, a fork will do (cut your citrus in half, stick the tines of the fork in the flesh with one hand while squeezing with the other.
  • Grenadine syrup – you can buy the red stuff, or make it – just make simple syrup with POM  juice from your supermarket and you have grenadine!  Keep it in your fridge.
  • If you are interested in making tiki drinks such as the Mai Tai (one delicious drink by the way!), invest in a bottle of Orgeat.  This is an almond – orange flower water flavoured syrup that you can sometimes find at liquor stores or gourmet specialty stores, and there really is no substitute for it.   I have also found it readily at many Italian or Portuguese delis  — better flavour and half the price of Orgeat made by many if the cocktail supply companies.

How to Mix your Cocktails

1.       Drinks with all clear ingredients such as Martinis and Manhattans are best stirred with ice (in the mixing glass with the barspoon) rather than shaken.  Part of the beauty of these drinks is their crystal clear appearance, and shaking with ice makes them cloudy and speckled with tiny ice shards.

2.       Most cocktails with one or more cloudy ingredients are shaken.  Measure your ingredients into the mixing glass, use the shaker tin to measure the ice, pour the ice into the glass and pop the shaker tin on top to seal – shake away and strain into your cocktail glass.

3.       Occasionally, you will find a recipe such as the Bloody Mary that tells you to “roll” your drink to mix it.  This involves putting all the ingredients into the mixing glass including the ice, and pouring gently into the mixing tin, and back again into the mixing glass.  Doing this a few times will mix the ingredients and little more gently than shaking, but still chill the cocktail down.

Allright, enough with the background you say, when are we going to mix some drinks!!!  We’re getting to the interactive part of the post, with a Moscow Mule coming up, and over the coming weeks, we’ll be mixing up some of the 39 classic cocktails in the following list – ALL of which you can make with the 9 bottles of spirits and the basic bar kit.

Brandy Cocktails

  • Between the Sheets
  • Brandy Smash
  • Sidecar

Rum Cocktails

  • Caipirissima
  • Cuba Libre
  • Daiquiri
  • El Presidente
  • Mai Tai
  • Mojito

Tequila Cocktails

  • Margarita
  • Mexican Mule
  • Mexican Manhattan
  • Paloma
  • Tequila Sour

Gin Cocktails

  • Bronx Cocktail
  • Classic Martini (dry)
  • Classic Martini (sweet)
  • Clover Club
  • Extra dry Martini
  • Gibson
  • Gimlet
  • Gin Buck
  • Gin Fizz
  • Gin Ricky
  • Gin and It
  • Orange Blossom
  • Pink Gin
  • Tom Collins

Vodka Cocktails

  • Bloody Mary
  • Caesar
  • Caipiroska
  • Moscow Mule
  • Vodka Collins
  • Vodka Martini

Rye Whisky Cocktails

  • Algonquin Cocktail
  • Manhattan
  • Old Fashioned
  • Ward Eight cocktail
  • Whisky Sour

Stay tuned over the next few weeks.  I’ll be talking a little bit about “families” of cocktails and what some of them have in common.  I’ll also be talking a little bit about some of the origins of these cocktails and the possible variations.

This week, I ‘d like to leave you with the Moscow Mule – a vodka cocktail that harks back to a time when vodka was not at all popular in North America.  It originated in 1941, and was the brainchild of a spirits distributor with a surplus of vodka who was keen to shift people from gin to vodka, and a ginger beer producer who was looking for new ways to market his product.  The two together, hit upon the Moscow Mule and served them in fancy copper cups, and by 1942, the cocktail was the toast of Hollywood!  It is a simple cocktail, and while it is refreshing, the ginger beer adds a spicy note that will be sure to go down well at your holiday gatherings.

Moscow Mule

  • 60 ml vodka
  • 30 ml lime juice
  • 90 ml ginger beer

Build this drink in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass, starting with the vodka and lime juice, and topping with the ginger beer

Garnish: lime wedge or lime wheel


From Victoria, British Columbia

Janice Mansfield is a personal chef living and working in Victoria, B.C. She began Real Food Made Easy, to provide personal chef, catering and gluten-free baking services, after working for 18 years in government as an economist. In her business, she brings a love of growing and preparing food, with an insatiable desire to fully research as many aspects of food production and preparation as humanly possible! A core philosophy in everything she does is that Real Food, when made from scratch with fresh, local ingredients, is not only better for us, but infinitely more delicious! Through her blog, she shares experiments in gluten-free cooking, as well as tips on creating casual "real food" dinners that can be recreated in your home kitchen.

Janice also has a passion for classic cocktails, and hopes to bring an appreciation of well-balanced and carefully crafted cocktails to anyone who enjoys imbibing. She recently began a second component of her business, House Made, to create artisanal cocktail bitters and syrups, and to help teach people how to create classic style cocktails for themselves.

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1 Response

  1. Citron says:

    I was just thinking that it was time for me to start making fancy cocktails for my guests. I love entertaining, and do so on a regular basis, but unfortunately, until now, I’ve only been serving wine, beer, the odd kir or ice wine or some special coffee. Thanks for introducing me to the science of cocktail making!n

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