I’ve realized recently that within the mixology world there are two tribes: The professionals who work at a bar and passionate amateurs, the “home bartenders”. Most experience with spirits and technique are shared by both tribes. I’m firmly on the home bartender side but I can converse with expert bartenders about many topics. When it comes to creating drinks at scale however, thinks are very different. A professional bartender needs to quickly make many drinks quickly, so the bar is set up for that. Ice is an arm’s length away, ingredients such as fresh lime juice are prepped beforehand and in easy-pour bottles, and dedicated rinsing devices speed up the turnaround time on each cocktail.
When I watch my professional friends behind the bar I wish I had those sort of conveniences. However, without dedicating a fairly large amount of space and money, I know it’s not feasible in my home bar. The space I have is roughly six feet by five feet, but I’ve packed in a few essential “power tools” which raise my cocktail making ability several notches above the guy with an ice cube tray, a lime and a couple of tumblers.
The Essential Power Tools
Many types of drinks, especially Tiki work best with fresh ice. The ice melts faster and provides more dilution in stronger drinks. Plus crushed ice just looks cool and inviting. Who doesn’t love cocktails where the crushed ice tempts you as it rises just a bit above the top of the glass? If you really crave the old-school ways you could use a Lewis Bag and a mallet, which is fun exactly once. We recently spent a week at a cottage in Hawaii, and while I was able to procure the basic Tiki recipe essentials, my crushed ice came from a kitchen towel that I beat senseless with a wooden spoon. I longed for my ice crusher all week.
There are a number of inexpensive home ice crusher options including hand cranked versions. I recommend spending just a tiny bit more (about $80) to get the Waring Pro Ice Crusher. It’s somewhat large but because it’s tall and relatively narrow it doesn’t take up a big footprint on your bar counter. I can make enough ice for four Tiki drinks in about a minute. The hopper design is great because I can fill it with several scoops of ice and let it grind away while I do other things. The opening at the bottom of the shoot where ice funnels through is a little narrow so sometimes it stops up, but a quick poke with my scoop handle gets things moving again. Bonus points because guests love to feed the ice crusher so I don’t have to monitor it.
If I’m just making cocktails for Mrs. Cocktail Wonk and myself I’ll just use a hand press for my lemons/limes/grapefruit. On occasion I’ve deputized guests as “bar-back” to squeeze citrus but that trick only works a few times. If I know I’ll be needing more than four or five limes pressed over the course of an evening, or if I’m making punch or cocktail batches, I go to my motorized juicer.
There’s a huge number of juicer choices, some as little as $20. However for $40 the Epica Citrus juicer gets good reviews and has a 70 watt motor, substantially more than most of cheaper models. It also has two separate reamers – A smaller one for limes, and a larger one for lemons and grapefruits. Once cut in half, I can squeeze both side of a lime in 15 seconds or less. While there’s a coarse strainer in the juicer to keep out seeds and larger pulp, I still run the final batch of juice through a fine strainer. Cleanup is fairly easy with the Epica as everything but the base pops off to be hand washed or run though the dishwasher.
Numerous cocktail recipes call for egg white, which adds a nice texture to the drink and often creates a fun foamy effect, such as obtained when pouring soda water into a Ramos Gin Fizz. The challenge of using egg whites effectively is that it requires intense shaking for a minute or more. Enter the battery powered frother – Throw your egg whites in the mixing tin and go to it with the frother. Given enough time you can practically make a meringue out of the whites, although not generally advised.
Important note – Get the right frother. I have the BonJour Battery-Powered Cafe Latte Frother. I first came across the BonJour at Knee High Stocking Company in Seattle where they use it numerou times per night to make their Cup of Awesome, a personal favorite which I’ve written about previously. This isn’t one of those $5 with the tiny spiral whisk. No, the BonJour has a solid milkshake maker blade and powered is powered by four AA batteries. There are smaller versions but they’ll only bring sadness. At $15-$20 the BonJour is a steal. You need as much power as possible to keep a high speed while working through thick egg whites.
OK, a label maker is a stretch to call a power tool, but it is battery powered and has a small motor. If you’ve read this far, you’re likely serious about making cocktails at home and that often means making your own ingredients like shrubs, infusions, falernum, and so forth. I use mason jars to hold my homemade ingredients and after a while it can get hard to keep them straight, so I whip out a quick label for them. Sure, I could use masking tape and hand write a label, but the label maker is quick and it just looks much more professional, especially if you keep your jars where guests can see them. I have the Brother PT-D200, about $25 at Amazon. It runs off 6 AAA batteries so it’s portable.