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As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.
Today: Your bar cart is stocked with gin and bourbon, but now what? Our friends at New York's Death & Co are listing 7 items you'll want for building your alcohol tool kit.
Much like a cook who fanatically protects a coveted knife, we bartenders view our jiggers, mixing glasses, and strainers as vital to our technique. As we increasingly focus on making drinks better and faster, we’ve developed a deep appreciation for certain tools.
At Death & Co, we take the same approach to tools as we do technique: Everyone figures out what works best for them, including which tools allow them to make the best drinks they can as consistently as possible. We all have our favorite spoons, sentimental shakers, quirky gadgets, and random liquor-industry swag.
But we’re well aware that home bartenders have a different set of priorities than the pros. You don’t need to turn out hundreds of drinks each night, and you want tools that are economical, easy to clean, and easy on the eyes. Our advice for home bartenders is the same as for our own staff: Start simple, with gear that feels good, then build up your tool kit as you gain proficiency and hone your own style of making drinks.
Here are some of our favorite tools:
1. Vegetable peeler
This will give you perfect lemon, orange, and grapefruit twists every time. Partner it with a good bar knife to trim up the edges and you'll look even more pro. We use the OXO Y Peeler, which has a great grip and stays sharp. Make sure to properly wash and dry the blade after every drink-making session.
2. Citrus juicer
A simple citrus press makes quick work of both lemons and limes and is more than adequate for small groups. We prefer a solid cast aluminum one, such as the Mexican Queen Beehive Juicer. Avoid juicers with too many hinges -- they usually fall apart if you make as many cocktails as we do.
These come in many different types of beautiful wood varietals, shapes, and sizes. At Death & Co, we use a solid PVC cylinder, but for home use we suggest springing for one of these fancy numbers from PUG. Avoid muddlers with stained wood, as that can chip and end up in your tasty cocktail.
More: Six ways to step up your cocktail game, instantly.
4. Speed pourers
Even if you're not making cocktails in high volume, we find speed pourers -- which actually slow down the rate at which you pour, despite their name -- to be very helpful with accuracy (read: not wasting any of that precious booze). You can find them at almost any bar or kitchen supplier; we prefer the angled metal spouts with a plastic collar.
5. Measuring device (a.k.a. "jigger")
A cocktail is a delicate balance of aggressive flavors, so we always instruct folks to measure accurately -- even a touch too much simple syrup in a daiquiri can transform something delicious into a sickly sweet sugar bomb. For home use, we've found the OXO Steel Double Jigger to be the favorite choice if you're buying just one. It's well made with clear marks for 1/2-, 3/4-, 1/3-, 1/4-, 1/2-, and 1-ounce measures.
6. Microplane grater
It's fall, which means freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg over delicious seasonal drinks. Grab a fine Microplane grater made for spices to dust your drinks.
7. Hawthorne strainer
This is the most versatile strainer. Though it's used traditionally for straining shaken drinks, you can also toss a Hawthorne on top of your mixing glass to strain a martini. Our friends over at Cocktail Kingdom just designed one that lives up to their rigorous standards.
First and fifth photo by Mark Weinberg; all others by James Ransom