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Thursday Roundup: Essentials for the Basic Home Bar

Thursday Roundup: Essentials for the Basic Home Bar

You find yourself entranced by the sheer beauty of the cocktail above. You’re just dying to know how to make it at home. When you do you want it to be absolutely perfect… Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. I live it everyday because I’ve got the cocktail bug. Maybe you have it too. I can spend hours perusing recipes, reading about spirits, and trying to come up with things on my own. I love sitting at a bar where it’s abundantly clear that the bartender has an incredible passion for making

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Thursday Roundup: Glassware!!

Thursday Roundup: Glassware!!

At this point I think we’ve all come to understand that in order to make a really good cocktail we need great ingredients and impeccable technique. Throw in a decent garnish and we’re good to go, right? Almost. One of the most important factors that can get overlooked, especially at home, is the importance of the right glassware. We could make the most beautiful cocktail ever, but if we serve it in a Solo cup no one will ever know just how perfect it is. Not only is it a matter of how the drink looks, but the right glass also has an impact on things like temperature and aroma, 2 factors that directly contribute to how much or how little the drink will be enjoyed. Today I’m going to cover the 7 glasses that have become essential to the Thirsty Camel home bar.

First up on the list is the Old-Fashioned or single rocks glass which you see pictured above. It has straight sides and a heavy bottom (for crushing a sugar cube) and it should be able to accommodate 1 large ice cube. This glass is perfect for the many variations of stirred drinks like this Scrooge & Marley, as well as single spirits that are served neat or on the rocks. I purchased a set of these vintage glasses on eBay and they never fail to make an impact whenever I serve a drink in them.

The double rocks glass is larger than than the single, and I like to use them for smashes like Into Your Comfort Zone, where there’s juice, ice, and sometimes even pieces of fruit involved. It should also have a heavy bottom just the like single rocks glass. In addition to being great for muddling, that weighted bottom will help to keep the glass cold if you chill it in the freezer first. These were also an eBay find and I won them in a fight-to-the-death bidding war which I thoroughly enjoyed!

The classic V glass is used for cocktails that are meant to be served up, or without ice, like this Shot to the Heart, my variation of an Espresso Martini. Although you could certainly put something like a Manhatten in a glass like this, I find myself using mine almost exclusively for Martinis. The stem keeps your hand away from the body of the glass which helps to keep the drink from getting warm too quickly. Since Martinis are meant to be served very cold, this becomes extremely important. The V also shape provides a lot of surface area for the drink, so that you will catch its aroma the minute you take your first sip. Size matters a lot here. I prefer smaller Martini glasses rather than larger ones, because I think the big gulps force you to either drink too quickly or end up with a warm Martini, neither of which is a good thing.

The classic cocktail coupe is said to have been molded in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s left breast, but since it was invented in England in 1663, this is simply not possible. You can go on believing it if it makes you feel better. The coupe was originally a champagne glass, until someone determined that champagne loses it’s carbonation too quickly in this glass, again because of surface area. I use mine for any drink that is to be served up, like this Persephone cocktail pictured above. The stem serves the same purpose as it did in the Martini glass; it prevents your hands from making the drink warm up too quickly. Vintage cocktail coupes can be especially beautiful; at the moment I don’t have any, but I am definitely on the hunt for them.

My favorite glass of all is the Nick & Nora, named after a 1930s fictional cocktail-loving couple in the Dashiell Hammet novel, The Thin Man. It can be used for just about any drink that can go in a coupe glass, like this Bijou Blanc, and  its tulip shape helps to direct the cocktail’s aroma right up to your nose. Death & Co. particularly recommends the Nick & Nora for cocktails that have a more elaborate garnish.

The Champagne flute is essential for serving sparkling wines, obviously, but it is also a must-have for all variations of the Champagne cocktail. The tall shape keeps the effervescence trapped, allowing the drink to keep its carbonation for longer periods. It’s also a very pretty sight to see the bubbles rising from  the bottom of a Champagne cocktail, like the Champagne Elderfower Cocktail shown above.

Finally, the highball glass is used for most drinks that are served over ice with fruit juices and shrubs, with mixers often poured on top. The Tom Collins is the classic example, and for this reason the glass is often referred to as a Collins glass. For today’s cocktail, pictured above, I’ve created something that is a kind of a modern riff on a traditional Pina Colada served in a vintage Philadelphia Electric glass I found in a local thrift store.

The Pina Un-Colada

1½ oz white rum (I used Bacardi superior)
½ oz ginger liqueur (I used Domaine de Canton)
½ oz Velvet Falernum
2 oz Element Shrub Pineapple Turmeric
1 oz coconut water
1 dash DRAM Hair of the Dog bitters
3 pineapple chunks

Muddle the pineapple chunks in the bottom half of shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients along with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a candied ginger cube on a cocktail pick. Enjoy!

A few last notes on glassware:

  • When at all possible, try to chill your glassware ahead of time  for 20-30 minutes in the freezer so that your drinks will remain cold for longer.
  • Modern glassware is beautiful and functional, but vintage glassware is so much fun. eBay is a great resource, as are thrift and antique stores. Keep any vintage glassware out of the dishwasher.
  • If you’re shopping for a large quantity of glasses, restaurant supply stores are often your best bet. They are durable and reasonable, especially if you catch a closeout sale.


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The Juicer: The all-important cocktail tool that no home bar should be without!

The Juicer: The all-important cocktail tool that no home bar should be without!

I had a friend who absolutely loved lemon drops. The shots, not the martinis. I’d be at her house for a casual get-together or a full-blown party playing bartender, and the inevitable request would come my way. “Can you make some lemon drops?” Of course I can. One of the first times she asked me I began searching the kitchen for a juicer, only to learn that she didn’t have one. Wait, what?? So there I was squeezing a huge bag of lemons by hand so that I could make lemon drops for 20 people. And, of course, 1 lemon drop shot is never enough… The next day I promptly went on Amazon and ordered juicers to be delivered to her house. No good home beverage program should be without them!

When it comes to juicers, there are many different choices. Pictured above are a few examples of the one we’re probably all most familiar with: just your average tabletop juicer. There are a seemingly infinite number of varieties of this type in different sizes and materials, from ceramic, to plastic, to stainless steel. These will do an adequate job of extracting juice, but there is one drawback to take into consideration. When a cocktail recipe calls for citrus juice there are really two components to it: the first is the juice itself, and the second is the oils that come from the skin of the fruit. With this type of juicer none of those oils make it into the drink, and that’s unfortunate because they really are necessary.

The type of juicer that you see above is affectionately known as a Mexican Elbow. No one seems to really know why. It’s the one I use most often at home, and the one I sent to my lemon-drop-loving friend. It comes in different sizes to accommodate different fruits, and is also made in pretty much the same materials as the tabletop juicers above. The lime and lemon juicers are solid plastic and the orange is ceramic coated metal. There are also stainless steel options available; Cocktail Kingdom‘s are among the best you can buy in this material. When using the Mexican Elbow you place the cut side of the citrus fruit against the slots or holes, and then the other side of the juicer presses against the rind side as you squeeze, essentially turning the fruit inside out. Because there’s contact with the skin, the citrus oils do find their way into the juice, and that’s a very good thing.

Mexican Elbows do a great job of juicing fruit fairly quickly, but if you’re making lots of cocktails all that squeezing can become tiring and time-consuming. A motorized citrus press is the way to go if you find that you’re making cocktails in batch, or if you want to juice a lot of citrus for making individual drinks for a party. It works in much the same way as the tabletop version, except that there’s no twisting, and it’s much faster and easier, of course. Because you’re pressing against the rind as you push the handle down, you are once again extracting the oils into the juice. There is also a manual citrus press that is not quite as quick as the electric one, but it is certainly less expensive than the motorized option, and definitely less tiring than the Mexican Elbow style. There are many motorized presses to choose from in a wide range of prices. Some comparative shopping on Amazon will give you a good idea of what’s available. Mine is made by Breville and I’m very happy with it.

To illustrate the importance of juicing, I decided to go with a smash cocktail today since they typically feature some type of citrus juice as a main component. This particular drink is a Bourbon Smash from a blog called Just A Little Bit of Bacon that I modified slightly. I made this cocktail last spring for the first time and since then it’s become quite the favorite at my house. It’s very easy to make in batch, but remember to cut the amount of citrus by 1/4 or it will end up overwhelming the drink. It’s outstanding with blood oranges or Cara Cara, but if they’re not available then regular oranges will work too. We’re muddling again here and it’s basil, so be very gentle. The club soda is optional. You’ll find it to be smoother without it, and lighter and bubbly with it. Your call!

Bourbon Smash (adapted from Just A Little Bit of Bacon)

2 basil leaves
1½ oz bourbon (I used Rebel Yell)*
1½ oz blood orange juice (or Cara Cara, or regular)
½ oz real maple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lime and orange wheels for garnishing, 1 lime wedge to squeeze into the drink
2 oz club soda, optional

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the basil leaves very gently with the maple syrup. Add the bourbon, blood orange juice, and bitters. Add your ice and shake well. Double strain and pour over ice. Squeeze a lime wedge into the glass and then add the orange and lime wheels as a garnish. Top with soda water if desired. Enjoy!

*Rebel Yell also makes a Whiskey Ginger bourbon that I would love to try in this recipe!

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Muddling my way through Blue Monday…

Muddling my way through Blue Monday…

If you look up the word “muddle” in the dictionary, the first 4 meanings focus on mental confusion. It’s not until you read the 5th meaning that you come upon anything related to cocktail making. The interesting thing is there’s actually quite a bit of confusion as to how to properly muddle ingredients in a drink, so it seems fitting that the meanings overlap like this. Equally confusing is deciding on which muddler to buy, because there are a confounding number of choices that vary in terms of the material they’re made from, their size, and other factors. Watching a bartender muddle doesn’t always provide you with any clarity because their styles of muddling can can be so very different. Yet it’s an important technique that has to be done correctly in order for a cocktail to taste the way it should. Let’s see if we can clear this up a bit.

First of all, the main purpose of muddling is to release flavor and oils from herbs, fruits, and vegetables into a drink. Think for a minute about these 3 different ingredients. They vary in terms of their structure, right? Herbs are fairly fragile with pliable leaves and stems, fruit can be soft like blackberries, hard like apples, or somewhere in between like citrus, and vegetables can be extremely sturdy. This means that we need to apply pressure differently depending on which type of ingredient we’re actually muddling. Let’s start with herbs. I love the example that Death & Co. uses in their book to illustrate just how gentle you need to be. They recommend that you put a mint leaf in your mouth and press on it with your tongue. You’ll immediately taste its flavor. Then start to chew it and watch how quickly that flavor becomes bitter. The same is true with mudding. Be as gentle as possible with herbs, just pressing down and turning slightly, otherwise you’ll extract undesirable bitter components and they’ll end up in your cocktail. Also, I’ve found that most cocktail books recommend adding sweetener in (if a recipe calls for it) with herbs when muddling to extract as much flavor as possible. Citrus fruits will require a bit more pressure to extract their flavor, and firmer fruits and vegetables even more than that, but the purpose of muddling is still not to crush the ingredients into a pulverized mess.

Muddlers come in a variety of materials, but those made from PVC plastic are the most highly recommended by a multitude of sources. There are a number of reasons why. They won’t splinter or wear like wood, they’re easy to keep clean, and they have clearly defined edges that work well against the sides of shaker tins. Be sure to choose one that’s long enough; a muddler that’s too short for your shaker tin makes no sense at all. The muddler that I use is called the “Bad Ass” (yes, you are reading that correctly) and it’s made by Cocktail Kingdom.

Today’s drink is called Blue Monday after the fact the the 3rd Monday in January is considered by many people to be the gloomiest, most depressing day of the year. Dr. Cliff Arnall, formerly of Cardiff University in the UK was the first person to come up with this concept in 2005. He developed a formula based on things like the weather, Christmas bills, post-Christmas sadness, motivation, and unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions. This cocktail is a riff on a Cucumber Collins that uses Bluecoat gin, St. Germain, and Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth. My hope is that it’s a drink that will conjure up thoughts about warm weather and summer vacation, lifting our spirits, even if it’s just a little bit! This recipe will require muddling blackberries, cucumbers, and mint. When there are multiple ingredients like this, it’s best to stack them so that you’re able to apply pressure properly. In this case the mint would go on the bottom of the shaker tin with the simple syrup, the blackberries would be next, and the cucumber slices would go on the top. You can follow this general idea for any recipe: most fragile ingredients on the bottom, sturdiest on the top.

Blue Monday

2 oz Bluecoat gin
1/4 oz St. Germain
1/4 oz Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 dashes DRAM Citrus Medica bitters
2 oz club soda
6 blackberries, 6 thinly sliced cucumbers, 1 mint sprig for muddling
1 blackberry, 1 thick cucumber slice cut in half, and 1 mint sprig for garnishing

Muddle the mint, blackberries, and cucumber slices with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the garnishes) and fill with ice. Shake for 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with the club soda. Garnish with the cucumber, blackberry, and mint sprig. Enjoy!

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