In a parallel universe, where I am somewhat recognizable and there is no need for mass social distancing, people stop me on the street all the time and ask "Hey, you're that Bartender! What do I need to make good drinks at home?" To which I answer, "Why don't we grab a couple of Bottlerocket's and I'll tell ya!" So over our sweet and spicy tequila highballs, I lay out the 10 most important things you need to elevate your cocktail game.
The bare necessities for a home bar: One bottle each of Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka, and Whiskey. Now within each one of those spirit categories, there is an endless amount of variation in flavour, colour, age, and style, not to mention branding. Our basic bar would have a London Dry Gin like Beefeater, a Dark Rum like Goslings, A Blanco Tequila like Casamigos, a classic Vodka like Ketel One, and a Bourbon like Wild Turkey. These 5 liquors will keep your taste buds entertained for years. You've had a great run with Mojitos and now you want to switch it up? Drop the Soda Water and swap out the Rum for some Gin and you've got a Southside (the superior cocktail). Drop the Gin from the Bee's Knees and pickup some Bourbon and you've got a Gold Rush. If you've got a handle on your base spirits and want to take it a step further, pick up an Italian Amaro like Campari or Nonino, or a fortified wine like a Brandy or a Vermouth, or even a flavoured modifier spirit like Cointreau or St. Germain.
The reason why restaurants all have massive, temperamental ice machines is that you can't make a good cocktail without a seemingly large amount of ice. Without a dedicated ice maker in your freezer, continue to dump your fully frozen cubes into bags and refill your ice trays or be prepared to go to make frequent corner store visits.
A cocktail shaker is more of a state-of-mind. Anything could be a cocktail shaker. A Nalgene, A Mason Jar, A well-sealed Pringles Can (don't do this...). As long as it's got a lid, can fit approximately 250ml of liquid, and a bunch of ice, it will be sufficient as a cocktail shaker.
Lemons and Limes will take you a long way in the world of mixology. But it's helpful to keep even more citrus, like Oranges and Grapefruits, around. Berries of any shape or size can flavour drinks, but also syrups (we will get to that soon...). And who isn't a sucker for sipping on a fresh Watermelon Smash?
5) Fork (or Citrus Juicer)
If you have a manual or electric citrus juicer of any kind, consider yourself lucky. For those of us that don't possess such luxuries, a fork is all you need to get the most out of your citrus. Simply cut through the middle of the fruit, stab the prongs into the cross-section, and twist. Pro tip: a regular-sized lemon will produce about 2oz of juice, while a standard lime will produce about 1oz.
6 & 7) Sugar & Hot Water
Now that we have our spirits and our citrus, we need to balance it out with a little sweetness. The most common cocktail sweetener is Simple Syrup, made by measuring equal parts white sugar and boiling water. An easy substitute for white sugar is honey or, best case scenario, demerara sugar. If you want to get crazy, muddle and strain some fresh berries into your syrup.
8) A Shot Glass
Most shot glasses (or fancy jiggers for that matter) are not an exact ounce anyway. But that doesn't matter because cocktail crafting is all about ratios. So as long as your base unit, your "1oz" measure, remains the same and you follow the recipe, the drink should be delicious.
9) Drinking Glassware
You'd have to be a real dummy to go to all this hard work and not have any glasses to drink your drink out of. Like everything else so far, it doesn't have to be fancy! Ikea glasses are affordable and unbreakable while your thrift store (if open) will have some funky options.
10) A Liver
Don't drink if you don't have a liver!
After our fourth Bottlerocket, we part ways. You are now dripping with all the knowledge you need to put your own Emergency Cocktail Bar together. Cheers!