11 Home Bartending Problems, Solved

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Should your martini be shaken or stirred? Wonder no more.

In honor of May Cocktail Month here at Wine Enthusiast—as if we really needed an excuse to celebrate cocktails—we’ve asked our social media friends and followers to share their at-home bar problems so we can solve them once and for all.

If your question isn’t answered below, don’t worry. Tweet us @WineEnthusiast using #WEshakeit, and we’ll do our best to help you out.

Problem #1

“Of the dozens of spirits available at liquor stores, which are essentials for building an at-home bar?”

Solution: Start with just three: gin, Bourbon, and Campari. You’d be surprised how many drinks you can make with just these bottles. Once you have these basics, you can expand your bar with a bottle of rum or Tequila. Good Scotch and orange liqueur are great next-level goodies.

Buy: Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey; $55, 96 points, Tanqueray No. Ten; $42, 96 points, Campari; $25, 96 points

Problem #2

“I’m used to measuring ingredients in tablespoons and cups, and in cocktails it’s all ounces. How do I weigh a cocktail?”

Solution: You don’t. You invest in a jigger, which measures fluid ounces. They come in various sizes, but the most common one has a double measure: one ounce on the small side, two ounces on the large side. In a pinch, use a spoon: Two tablespoons equals one ounce.

Buy: This stainless Metrokane VIP Bar Tool set includes a double-jigger measure, strainer and citrus knife, among other items every at-home bartender should have.

Problem #3

“When do I stir vs. shake a drink?”

Solution: A drink containing only liquors should always be stirred, while those containing juice, egg or cream should be shaken to best integrate the various ingredients. Note: Don’t shake fizzy ingredients like Champagne. Top the finished drink with them. Trust us.

Buy: For stirred cocktails, the Boulevard Cut Crystal Pitcher and Stirrer is mouth blown by artisans in Slovenia and individually cut and polished by hand. It’s effective and oh-so-pretty.

Problem #4

“True or false: Shaking a gin cocktail bruises it.”

Solution: False. We blame James Bond for this one. You can’t bruise gin. Shake away!

Buy: For shaken drinks, this Cocktail Kingdom Shaken bar-tool kit features everything you need to make an excellent shaken drink, including tins, a juicer, muddler and cube mold.

Problem #5

“Bartenders always seem to have fancy techniques for shaking a drink. Is there a ‘right’ way?”

Solution: The short answer is no. If your shaking method gets your drink nicely mixed and cold, you’re doing just fine.

Buy: Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, with More than 500 Recipes (Ten Speed Press, $29) offers ninja shaking tips like how to properly grasp the shaker “like a football.” It’ll have you looking and feeling like an expert in no time.

Problem #6

“I’m throwing a party and I’m worried about running out of ice. Help!”

Solution: You can never have too much ice, says Kelley Swenson, bartender at Angel Face in Portland, Oregon. He abides by this simple formula: For every standard bottle of liquor, you need 7 pounds of ice.

Buy: The Colossal Ice Cube and Sphere Ice Mold set. It features leak-free, dishwasher-safe molds that perfectly match with cocktails. The resulting ice is slow to melt, so you can enjoy a cold, undiluted drink.

Problem #7

“What do I do if I run out of liquor during a party?”

Solution: You have two choices: One, keep a liquor store with reliable delivery service on your speed-dial, or two, just smile sweetly and point guests toward a different drink.

Buy: Extra supplies. Seriously.

Problem #8

“After I make drinks for friends, it looks like a tornado hit my home.”

Solution: We’re with you. Nobody likes a messy kitchen. Before you make drinks, do what the world’s best bartenders do. Set up for a busy evening by squeezing the citrus in advance, placing glassware within easy reach and confirming you have enough booze and ice. Also make sure your set-up includes a trash bin, and if a sink isn’t nearby, provide a “wet” bin to dispose of used ice and other liquids. This will make post-party cleanup mush less painful, we promise.

Buy: A watertight plastic tub that can hold ice, leftovers from guests’s drinks and other liquids until you can get to a sink to dump the contents.

Problem #9

“I’m trying to make a recipe I found online, but it calls for weird ingredients I don’t have.”

Solution: The key is to find a substitute. For example, if a drink calls for an obscure liqueur, use Cointreau. If you need an apéritif wines, you can substitute with vermouth. Whiskies can easily be swapped for one another, and for most amaros or bitter liqueurs, use any amaro you have.

Buy: Cointreau; $32, 92 points, Dewar’s 18; $80, 96 points, Amaro Montenegro; $29, 97 points

Problem #10

“My drink tastes funny.”

Solution: Vermouth is often the culprit because it’s made from wine and can go bad if left open and unrefrigerated for long periods of time. Refrigerated, vermouth will keep for about a month. Other tricks include using fresh lemons instead of bottled lemon juice, and sniffing at bottles of liquor to detect any “off” aromas. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. We know of one bartender who trains his staff to add the least expensive ingredients to the mixing glass first, to avoid ruining pricey liqueurs if say, the lemon juice is sub-par. That seems like a lot of trouble, but it may be worth a try.

Buy: This delicious white Vermouth will go a long way: Carpano Bianco; $21/1 liter, 94 points

Problem #11

“My garnishes never look as fancy as the ones in bars.”

Solution: They don’t have to! The point of a garnish is to add a touch of contrasting color, particularly if the drink is brown. It also can add an aromatic touch to the drink. A simple orange peel can go a long way. Draped over the edge of a glass, it adds a pleasing pop of color. Twisted over the top of the drink, the aromatic oils add heavenly fragrance.

Buy: Try experimenting with flaming an orange peel, or making rosettes or stars if you’re feeling super fancy. Consider it the crowning glory to a drink well made.

Published on May 7, 2015
Topics: Bartending How-ToCocktailsSpirits Trends