How to set up a home bar

It is easier than you think.
cane home bar trolley on staircase landingPhotographer: Lisa Cohen

Homemade cocktails are the latest way to relax and entertain your guests with a little big-city style at home. Take things next level and add a little sophistication to your lives with a home bar – a most welcome addition to any home.

Harking back to the cinched waistlines, carefully coiffed hairstyles and speakeasy style of yesteryear, we look to Sasha Petraske – the late, great pioneer of modern bartending and founder of New York bar, Milk & Honey.  This excerpt from the book Regarding Cocktails by Georgette Moger-Petraske teaches everything you need to know to set up your own home bar.

Whilst Petraske’s philosophy around serving cocktails cites the essential ingredient of care as paramount, there are a few extra tools and supplies you’ll need to have on hand at your home bar or bar cart to follow this credo. “The professional bartender relies on only a few basic tools to make outstanding drinks,” says Theo Lieberman in this cocktail bible.

home bar vignette vj panelled walls
(Credit: Mindi Cooke)

Here’s what you need for a home bar

1. Jiggers

Jiggers are the best and fastest tool for measuring drinks.

Look for a two-sided jigger with 1- and 2-ounce (30 and 60 ml) measures. Ideally, that jigger will also have inner markings for other measurements.

2. Bar spoon

A bar spoon with a wide bowl, ideally with a disk on the top end for cracking ice, is the best. Hold the spoon in your dominant hand and the ice in the other, and tap away. This will splinter the ice. Use larger pieces for shaking drinks and smaller pieces for stirred drinks. If you’re planning a party, this can be done ahead of time. A general rule of thumb is one-third to half of a bag of ice per person.

3. Mixing glasses

A mixing glass doesn’t have to be expensive— a standard pint glass will do just fine. The most important thing to make a proper stirred up cocktail is to make sure both the mixing glass and cocktail glass are frozen. Then build your cocktail. When adding ice to a mixing glass, always use a larger piece first, as this will help you achieve the water content you are looking for with ease. Then add smaller pieces on top until the mixing glass is full.

Everything you need to set up a home bar
(Credit: Chris Warnes)

4. Cocktail strainers

There are two main types. A julep strainer should only be used for stirred drinks, whereas a Hawthorne strainer will work for both stirred and shaken cocktails. The key to a good strainer is not the shape or the material—but rather the coil. The tighter it is, the better the strainer. Never strain a cocktail with a tea strainer, as it will strain out too much of the drink. A small amount of citrus pulp and some fine ice crystals are what makes a cocktail look alive.

 5. Cocktail shakers

The right shaker is a personal preference.

A cobbler shaker is great for a home bartender, as it is a three-piece shaker with the strainer built into the top. However, for best results, get a Boston shaker. When selecting a Boston shaker, make sure both the top and bottom pieces are metal. Cocktails should never be shaken in glass, as it won’t get the drinks as cold as metal will. Also, the glass can shatter when you try to separate the metal shaker from it.

 6. Juices and garnishes

A proper cocktail should be juiced and garnished to order. A hand juicer is best for a home bartender, as a citrus reamer won’t yield as much juice and also releases too much pulp.

Garnishes should follow the same rules as juices, so they are as fresh as possible. Cut off the tips from lemons, but not from limes. The same protocol applies for prepping lemons and limes: Cut them lengthwise in half, then make a small slit on the inside about one third from the top. A garnish should never have the slice in the middle; it should appear as a flag on the side of the glass.

When it comes to oranges, cut off the tips as you would a lemon. Then place the orange on its side and cut a half inch out of its centre

Citrus twists must always be done to order as their oils are subject to oxidation.

Cucumbers may be sliced ahead of time at home, although in a good cocktail bar, it’s best done to order. When muddling cucumbers, remember that too much force will bruise the vegetable, and it can become bitter.

bar cart

This cane bar cart was designed by Maine House Interiors, who created the interior design for this Hamptons home on the Mornington Peninsula.

(Credit: Photography: Lisa Cohen)

7. Glassware

The two most important things to keep in mind are the size of the glass and the temperature. Serving a cocktail in a warm glass means you don’t care. If you can’t find room in your freezer to chill your glasses, fill each one with ice and water to cool. If you are struggling for freezer space, anything that will be built in the glass (e.g., Old Fashioned, Negroni, etc.) can go into a room-temperature glass.

Note: this excerpt has been edited with permission of some of the finer points of cocktail making. For the full essay consult ‘Regarding the Home Bar’ by Theo Lieberman published in Sasha Petraske Regarding Cocktails, Phaidon.

How to set up a home bar
(Credit: Image from Sasha Petraske Regarding Cocktails with Georgette Moger-Petraske, Phaidon)

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