Cocktail Basics

What equipment do I need to make cocktails?
The most important ingredient for cocktails is ice. Ollie and I may make more cocktails than the average household (I wish that had been a question in the recent census) but we go through around 4 kilos (2 bags) of ice a week. The large amount of ice we go through is not because we drink a massive amount of cocktails, it’s because ice is vital. You will need ice to pre-chill the glass, you will also need some for the shaker, and lastly some cocktails require ice in the finished drink either cubed or crushed!

Ok, ok. Ice is important, but apart from ice. What equipment do I need to make cocktails?
Just below is a list of equipment to make cocktails properly. However, as long as you have the correct ingredients, and a way to measure them (see extra tips), all you really need is ice and something to shake them in. A friend of ours suggests using a jam jar instead of a shaker, and then to pour the cocktail through a tea-strainer!! Necessity is the mother of all invention.

A Shaker – preferably a Boston shaker (see below), but anything that you can seal tightly and shake will do.
Shot Measure – cocktail-making is similar to baking, to get it right you have to be precise. You can always use a measuring jug!
Strainer – the traditional one is a Hawthorn strainer – a spring wrapped around a metal circle with a handle – you can always use a sieve (or tea-strainer).
A Sharp Knife – you can’t cut or peel your garnish without it.
A Chopping Board – I suppose this is technically optional but the idea of worktops and tables being scratched, not to mention the knives being ruined, because I didn’t suggest it was too much to bear!!
Muddler – I’ve always found the end of a rolling pin does a great job, however anything that will crush the juice out of your preferred fruit or herb will do.
Cocktail Spoon – Used for stirring, and layering cocktails, it also normally has a flat end for muddling. Whilst stirring is essential, I find layering a little too much in a home bar. It’s bad enough that I subject my guests to a 5 minute wait if they request a cocktail, without adding to their pain by delaying the drink because I have to keep the colours separate.


What is and how do I use a Boston shaker?
A Boston shaker looks like a pint glass and a metal container. It is the standard shaker that you will see being used in bars. The reason for this is that it’s easy to clean, can fit more ingredients in, and looks better. The idea is to mix all of the ingredients into the pint glass, add the ice and then add the metal part – preferably at a slight angle (for ease of removal). Give it a good shake (with a hand on each part of the shaker) and once the metal base is almost freezing to touch, stop shaking. At this point make sure the metal container is on the bottom and tap the metal to release the glass. Whatever you do, don’t tap the glass or try to dislodge by yanking it left and right. The metal is flexible and can take a hard hit, the glass will just shatter – ruining the shaker and more importantly your cocktail!!!

What are the basic spirits I need for a bar?
Gin, white rum, dark rum, bourbon, brandy, vodka, bitters (there are lots out there, but Angostura bitters are a great all rounder).

What other ingredients do I need?
Sugar syrup (Sirop de Gomme) is vital. It is cheap to buy and easy to make (external link to recipes). You can even make flavoured ones, by putting your chosen flavouring inside the bottle and leaving it to macerate for a day. It is also worth always having limes and mint around.

What glassware do I need?
Ideally, you need at least a few martini glasses,  some old fashioned and highball glasses. However, as long as you can fit the whole drink in the glass – including ice if needed – the taste is more important than the look. Though being able to serve the correct drink in the right glass is always nice – that’s why the best bars get away with £11 a cocktail – if it looks good, it’ll probably taste good.

Cocktail Glasses

From Left to Right: Martini, Old Fashioned, Highball

Any extra tips?
The most important thing with cocktails, and the main reason Ollie’s cocktails taste better, is to measure accurately. If you follow a recipe to the millimetre it should taste good.

Pre-chill the glass that you are going to serve your cocktail in. Another important component is to have your garnish prepared before you start making your cocktail. If you start making your garnish after or during the cocktail making you risk diluting the drink. Straws can add a nice touch and help get through any ice.

One way to make not only a good impression, but to add to the overall taste of your cocktail is to flame your citrus twist. Once you have made your citrus twist (by carefully removing the peel, and making sure that there is no white skin left on the peel, it’s wrong to take the pith) light your match (or lighter) and squeeze the peel over the drink through the flame. It takes a bit of practise but once you get it right, it not only improves your drink with a caramelised citrus flavour, but also looks cool. Always make sure that you don’t have any zest on your hand as it will also be set alight, also don’t put the lighter over the drink as it will make the cocktail taste burnt.