Some pieces of equipment, such as shakers and decent glasses, are vital for any cocktail party, while others, like ice buckets, can be obtained later if needed. Below is a wish-list for anyone who wants to make cocktails regularly.
The most obvious piece of equipment is a cocktail shaker. There are two basic types, European and Boston. The basic difference between the two is that the European shaker has an integral strainer, while the Boston shaker does not. One half of the Boston shaker may be made of glass and have measurements etched into it. When mixing different cocktails, it is vital that the shaker and other equipment be cleaned thoroughly and dried between cocktails. Imagine what a trace of coconut milk from a Pina Colada would do to the taste of a Vodka Martini ...
If you are using a Boston shaker, you will need something to strain the cocktails through. Although a small sieve would work, a proper cocktail strainer looks far more stylish. Some drinks require double-straining for extra smoothness.
Getting the balance of flavors right is important for all cocktails, so the different ingredients need to be measured accurately. A set of measures makes this much easier. It is also far easier to make layered drinks by pouring the liqueurs from a measure than when trying to hold a heavy bottle steady.
As so many drinks contain, or are decorated with, fruit, a good, sharp knife and chopping board are essential. You will also need spoons for stirring and muddling drinks, and for when floating one liqueur over another in layered drinks. A long-handled bar spoon is perfect for this. Try to get one with a spiral handle as this will make creating citrus-rind spirals much easier. Although these can be made with a small, sharp knife, a fruit parer makes this job easier. Tongs or a small scoop for ice are useful and an ice bucket may be helpful. A machine for crushing ice might be a boon if you are making cocktails regularly, but otherwise a clean tea towel, a plastic bag and a wooden rolling pin will suffice. A good corkscrew is a must and while a fork can be used to whisk egg whites, using a small whisk is quicker.
Many drinks are decorated with fruit impaled on cocktail sticks and these are available in wood, plastic or glass. Exotic drinks may be prettified with a paper umbrella and several long drinks are served with straws or swizzle sticks.
In order to serve cocktails, it is important to have good-quality glasses that are appropriate to the drinks. Cheap glasses will spoil both the look and the taste of your drinks, so making your efforts a waste of time.
Nowadays, cocktails are divided into several groups, loosely characterized by the type of glass in which they are served.
Classic cocktails, such as Manhattans, are, naturally enough, served in longstemmed cocktail glasses. They are mostly either stirred or shaken with ice - in the case of the Martini, whether to shake or stir has been a subject of debate for years and then strained into a glass. Margaritas are served in their own glasses, while Daiquiris can be served in either type.
Long drinks, such as Gin Fizz and Cuba Libre, are generally served in highball glasses, although you could also buy sling, hurricane and Collins glasses. Long drinks are usually a combination of spirits and a mixer such as fruit juice or soda water. Most are served over ice. They are often decorated with fruit.
Short drinks, such as Mai Tai, Negroni and Screwdriver, usually consist of a mixture of two spirits or one spirit and a small amount of mixer. They are served in heavy-bottomed, old-fashioned glasses - also known as rocks or lowball glasses - although some can be served in cocktail glasses. Like long drinks, these are meant for sipping slowly, and many are served with copious amounts of crushed ice.
Sour glasses can probably wait until later.
Champagne cocktails, such as Bellini and Black Velvet, and those made with other sparkling wines are served in tall Champagne flutes or wide Champagne saucers.
Punches are served from a large bowl into individual glasses. Shots are extra-short drinks, designed to be drunk in one go. Some, like the Tequila Slammer, consist of a single spirit, although others, like Slippery Nipple, are layered.
It would be impossible to stock the ingredients necessary for every conceivable cocktail, so it is best to think about what you are planning to do. If you are going to serve a few select cocktails, you can limit what you buy, but if you are planning to do it in style, you will need a larger selection. The best idea in this case is to buy the ingredients for several of the most popular cocktail and gradually add to them. No one will be surpried if your cocktail bar is not stocked like Dean Martin's. However, if you known your guests has a favorite cocktal, make sure you have ingredients needed. You can also suit the drinks to the occasion: people will probably want different drinks before an alfresco summer lunch than they do at an evening cocktail party in winter.
Start off with those commonly used in cocktails: gin, whisky, rum, vodka, brandy and tequila, as well as sparkling wines and Champagne. Added to this, you will want to have to hand all the basic mixers, such as soda water, tonic water, cola, lemonade and fruit juices, as well as commonly used flavourings, syrups and other ingredients. Dry and sweet vermouth occur in quite a few gin- and vodkabased cocktails, so are good staples.
For shots, it may be best to concentrate on the ingredients for a few popular ones - there is little point in buying expensive ingredients that will just sit on a shelf untouched.
Make sure you have other ingredients that you might need such as cream, cocoa power, coconut milk, salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce and eggs.
Ice is an integral part of making all but a few cocktails, so you need plenty of this. If you have an ice-maker in your refrigerator, make sure you empty it regularly over the preceding few days so you have a good stock of ice. Otherwise, buy a couple of bags of ice cubes the day before and put them in the freezer. When drinks are served with ice, always put as much ice in as the recipe calls for. Although you might think that more ice would dilute the drink, in fact it has the opposite effect. With more ice in, the drink stays chilled for longer so the ice does not melt.
Lemons, limes and oranges are musts, as are olives and cocktail cherries. Other fruit that it is good to have to hand are apples, pineapple and bananas. Mint appears as a decoration or flavouring in so many cocktails that it is a good idea to have a packet in the refrigerator. Try to use the fruits mentioned for decorations, although these can be substituted when a particular fruit is not in season. However, if a particular fruit is an integral part of the drink, it is best not to experiment.
Although watching an experienced barman juggling a cocktail shaker round the bar can be enjoyable, it is not actually necessary to do this in order to mix a cocktail well, although that does not mean you cannot have fun practicing.
Always make sure that the glasses and cocktail shaker are cold. Glasses can be put into the freezer for an hour or so before use. If washing up the shaker between mixing drinks, run it under cold water before drying it off. Serve drinks as soon as possible after they are finished, in order to prevent them warming up.
There are two methods of doing this, shaking and stirring. The first incorporates the various liquids used in a drink thoroughly and chills them. It is important to shake the ingredients really thoroughly to mix them and cool them down. When flavourings such as berries are used, shaking extracts their flavours. Drinks are stirred in the glass when the ingredients combine easily. Always stir gently, to avoid incorporating air or breaking the ice cubes.
Muddling is used in such drinks as Mint Julep. It means to crush the ingredients in the bottom of a glass to extract their flavour before the alcohol is added.
This technique, used in shots, and such drinks as Irish Coffee takes time to master. Pour the first ingredient into the glass and then add the second by pouring it gently over the back of a bar spoon held just above the first ingredient. It is important to add the liqueurs in the order specified in the recipe, that is, heaviest liqueur first, otherwise a heavier liquid will simply sink through a lighter one below and spoil the effect.
Fruit wedges are a popular addition to many cocktails and are simple to make. They can be perched on the side of the glass, or dropped or squeezed in. Citrus wedges can be done in advance if you wish, but apples, pineapple and bananas are best done at the last moment. Small clusters of berries, such as redcurrants, can be draped over the rim of a glass, while cocktail cherries, berries such has raspberries and blackberries and wedges of larger fruit can be speared on cocktail sticks and balanced on the rim or dropped into a short glass.
Citrus rind can be formed into twists or spirals to dangle over the edge of a glass. Spirals are cut with a parer or small sharp knife, while twists are wider and so better cut with a vegetable peeler. For a twist, wrap the cut length round the handle of a bar spoon, or a straw or swizzle stick. Hold it for a few minutes and as its essential oils evaporate, it will dry into a spiral. Try squeezing the juice from a citrus twist onto the top of the drink for extra zing. To flame a citrus twist, then hold a piece of rind with no pith attached skin-side down about 10 em ( 4 in) above the drink in one hand with a long lighted match in the other. Pinch the rind firmly so that the oils spray into the flame and ignite onto the drink.
This technique, best known in the Margarita, is worth mastering. The rim of the glass is dipped into a shallow dish of beaten egg white, water or citrus juice and then rolled in, for example salt, sugar or cocoa powder.