"The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch."W.C. Fields
Here's a list of what you need to make sure you can make professional quality drinks and serve them in style. For some drink ideas, visit my drink recipes pages.
Jigger/measuring shot glass. You needs one at least 1.5 ounce capacity, that's a full jigger. But it must also have a marking for 1 ounce, a pony. Sadly, the numbers wash off many of the glass measures so the tried and true metal two sided jigger from reliable Oxo withmeasurement etched into the stainless steel and a non-slip grip is the best choice. It's the same kind the pros use. One side measures a 1.5 ounces with 3/4 ounce and 1/3 ounce increments. The other side measures 1/4 ounce, 1/2 ounce and 1 ounce increments. Dishwasher safe.
Cocktail shaker. There are scores of designs of cocktail shakers . My fave is this one from Libbey. There is a 20 ounce glass mixing glass, a stainless steel shaker, and a stainless steel Hawthorn-style cocktail strainer. It is dishwasher safe, although hand washing is recommended. Beware of any glass with painted on letters. Machine washing will eventually fade or remove them. But handwashing doesn't damage them at all.
Hawthorn-style cocktail strainer. The Hawthorn-style cocktail strainer from OXO is like so many of their other products, thoughtfully designed. It fits over the top of a cocktail shaker and keeps ice and seeds out of your drink. It has a short handle so it doesn't take up a lot of space in the junk drawer, and a slightly raised lip to make pouring easier with less spillage. There is a thumb rest and it is dishwasher safe. It can also be used for making real lemonade.
Bar spoon. A bar spoon is a handy tool with a long twisted handle for stirring drinks.
Citrus Juicer. There all kind of fancy gizmos designed to get the juice out of citrus including one that looks like a giant garlic press. It works fine, but you've gotta be strong. Nothing works better for me than an old fashioned juicer with a little built-in bowl and a strainer like grandma used. I bought a nice glass one at an antique store. Check this stainless unit out: Stainless Steel Citrus Juicer.
Muddler. Many classic drinks such as mint juleps and mojitos use fresh mint leaves. More modern drink recipes use herbs such as basil. To extract their flavors they are placed in the shaker or glass and crushed with a mini-baseball bat called a mddler.
Wine decanter. You want a wine decanter with a wide mouth, large capacity, steady base, and a good pouring lip. Like this. They can be used to aerate young wines or for pouring old reds off the sediment that forms with age. There are many beautiful designs, but frankly, a cheap one is all you need.
Collins glasses & rocks glasses. Here's a link to a 16 piece set of my favorites. They're heavy and clunky, but hard to break, and I love the cool retro look.
Martini glasses. Martini glasses have become an artform. Some are quite elegant, whimsical, even spectacular. I have about 20, no two alike, so people can sit them down and remember which is theirs. No need to hang those little necklaces around them.
One of my favorites is The Peppermint Lounge "Let's Twist Again" Martini Glass. The "Pep," on West 45th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York City, was the site where youth culture crossed generational and social boundaries in the early 1960s. Tennessee Williams, Merle Oberon and NoÔl Coward were regulars. Norman Mailer, Judy Garland, Elsa Maxwell, and Greta Garbo mingled with a young crowd from New Jersey. They did the Twist, the dance craze, to the music of the house band, Joey Dee and the Starliters, who had a number one record " Peppermint Twist" and starred in the movie "Hey, Let's Twist." The dance inspired a tall, 9 1/4 ounce martini glass, made thick and sturdy to survive the rigors of a Twist Party. They sell two per set.
All purpose wine glasses. I buy wine glasses by the case. Nothing fancy, just a nice all purpose tulip wine glasses. My criteria are simple: An opening wide enough so your nose fits in when you sip and dishwasher safe with a stem that fits. I know the wine snobs will cringe, but I never bought into the need for white wine glasses, Burgundy glasses, Bordeaux glasses, German glassses, etc. And keep in mind, I was once the wine critic for the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune and published a magazine about wine. That said, you do need champagne flutes:
Champagne flutes. As with the martini glasses, I have about 20 Champagne flutes, no two alike, so people can tell them apart. Shallow bird bath shaped glasses give up their fizz too easily. Tall slender flutes retain the bubbles longer. Go for clear glass with a trumpet-shaped lip so the wine spills gently on your tongue. Sucking the wine out of straight-sided flutes pops the bubbles and makes lovely ladies belch. Don't get the ones with long hollow stems. It's impossible to clean them. If you can afford it, thin crystal make a lovely clink with the inevitable toast. Also, a lovely pair of only two flutes is my favorite gift for couples. Just two so only they use them. And they always remember who gave them.
Schrafft's Luncheonette-Style Glass with Holder (Gift Box Set of 2). Everybody went to Schrafft's. For decades the New York City-based chain offered home-style food in genteel surroundings to secretaries, errand boys, court clerks and others watchful of their wallets. Movie stars, politicians, even Presidents stopped in. James Beard admired "the precisely trimmed egg salad sandwiches." A young Jackie Bouvier went there after school with her schoolmates, for ice cream. A newcomer to the city, Helen Gurley Brown knew that "eating at Schrafft's was as New York as climbing to the top of the Empire State Building." Drinks were served in classic-shaped glass containers with metal holders (so ladies wouldn't stain their gloves). These nearly-forgotten glasses, supported by gleaming stainless-steel holders and accompanied by elegant, long-handled spoons, are perfect for milkshakes and ice cream sodas, or hot rum drinks.
Beer pint glasses. I like having a mug when I'm outdoors or in my workshop, but at the dinner table I prefer a nice pint glass, the kind you might be served in an Irish pub.
Heft a cold one in this 22 ounce ceramic stein with gold trim. We have designed a range of mugs that say "BBQ God", "Jeet?", "Got Ribs?", "iRibs", "Eat Me", and more. Dishwasher and microwave safe. There are coffee mugs and clothing with these fun captions. Made and sold by CafePress.com.
I have one with a team logo for watching my Gators, and one with a lid for when I am in my workshop to keep sawdust out, and for drinking outdoors to keep flies out.
DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks by Marcia Simmons & Jonas Halpren
Adams Media, 2011, $18.99, 228 pages, paperback, numerous color photos.
I own several bartending guides and I've seen many others, but I have never seen anything like this. In an era where bartenders are becoming "cocktail chefs", and mixed drinks are now made with weeds and meat extracts, Simmons & Halpren, DrinkOfTheWeek.com editors, have managed to not only concoct something creative and unique, but something really useful.
DIY Cocktails is based on categories and ratios so we can understand the concepts of what the elements of a balanced mix. Their motto is "ditch the recipe, use the ratio".
They break ingredients into these categories: Strong (spirits), sweet (sugars, syrups, liqueurs, and fruits), sour (tart things like citrus, and berries), aromatic (a subset of sour including vermouth, and bitters), weak (water, club soda, tonic), and mild (a subset of weak including milk and cream).
They give you guidelines for creating a recipe with ratios, so a typical tropical drink has a flavor profile of 4:3:1, 4 parts strong, 3 parts sweet, 1 part sour. At the core of the book are 10 foundation ratios, and then scores of recipes built on these foundations.
There is also a section called "Tools & Techniques Cheat Sheet" that discusses prep, glassware and drink sizes, chilling, muddling, measuring, and mixing. Along the way they teach us about ingredients, like how to make infused spirits. If you haven't noticed, spirits steeped with herbs, citrus rinds, fruits, peppers, and vegetables are all the rage in bars nowadays.
But don't worry, it is not all conceptual. There are scores of recipes ranging from the old standbys like the Old Fashioned, to surprisingly tasty treats like the Watermelon-Cucumber Refresher. Then they show you how to customize them. Just reading it significantly enhanced my bartending skills.