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Making Cocktails: Home Bar Basics

A good home bar does not need all sorts of gadgets to be functional. Just a few basic tools allows you to make most all cocktails at home.

My love of cruising reignited a love of cocktails. Not just drinking them, but learning how to make them. Of course, my first instinct was to read all the books on mixology and then get every tool mentioned.

But then a bartender onboard one cruise ship laughed at me and said 'you don't need all that stuff.' And she was absolutely correct and led me down the path of just outfitting my bar with the basics and nothing but the basics that you see in this video. Links to all the products are at the bottom of the page below the transcript.

Full transcript, apologies for any typos.

0:00 Hey folks, welcome back to Where's Walter and today let's talk about the basics of a home bar. 0:13 One of the cool things about cruising is I got a renewed interest in cocktails, not just drinking them, but learning how to make them. And when we, especially when we go on the longer cruises, like 10 and 14 days, I start to know the bartenders, and what I learned from them was, I don't need a whole lot of stuff to have a really nice functional bar. So these are the basics of what I have in my bar. 0:35 Now I'm going to start over here. This is just a simple juicer. You put your half a lemon or half a lime in here, you squeeze it and you get nice fresh juice. Easier to me than a reamer, cleaner because you can just squeeze, pop out the the fruit, pop a new one in and keep on going because that's just a little juicer right there. 0:55 A Hawthorne strainer. There are actually a bunch of different types of strainers, you got your juleps strainers, you've got other strainers. But the Hawthorne is the basic one that you're going to use the most. And if you're just going to have one, this is the one to have. 1:11 Now with the jiggers, I used to be that person that had like, you know, three or four different sizes of jiggers. And a person on one of the cruise ships laughed at me, the bartender, she said, all you need, you need one ounce on one side and two ounces on the other side. That's all you're ever going to need. And then it has some markings inside to show you, you know, a half an ounce or a one ounce on this side. So that's literally all you need. And she is absolutely correct, one jigger one ounce on one to two ounce on the other side, and you're done. 1:39 Now, some people will laugh at me because I have you know, just a standard cocktail shaker. When you go to a bar, they'll have the Boston Shaker which is a two piece, the big glass on one side. I just find that a little bit of a pain to deal with and plus this I can just go ahead and shake it with one hand. I find this real easy for the home bar. Now the downside to these is that they do have a small strainer, which can clog up and that's why I have the Hawthorne. So when I'm done shaking my cocktail shaker, just pop the Hawthorn right on there and now I can strain and get a really good pour off of it. So those of you who, you know, have your big time home bars and you're gonna laugh at this, well that's why I have it. It's nice and easy. It's easy to rinse out, I don't have to worry about glass breaking. If you know me, I can be klutzy sometimes, so the less glass I have in the bar, the better. 2:26 This is a mixing pitcher. I love this. I use this all the time for making old fashions, there's a lot of drinks that will tell you to put the ice in the glass. Go ahead and mix the ingredient and then just mix it in the glass but sometimes you know the glass is a little bit tight because I like to use the really large cubes. So I'll put the ice and all of the ingredients in here. And then once again, I will go ahead and use my little Hawthorne strainer right on top of this pitcher and just pour the drink out. So mixing pitcher, definitely a handy dandy thing to have. 2:59 You notice all of this is actually sitting on top of a bar mat. This is really wonderful, especially when you have a bunch of folks over and you're making a bunch of drinks. So you know, you'll make the drink, you'll dump it in the sink, rinse this out, then just put this right back down here. And it keeps all the water from just building up on your bar. So these little bar mats are fantastic. Highly recommend you get one of those just to keep your work area clean. And then when it starts to get full of water, just pick it up and just dump it right in the sink, rinse it off and just bring it back, keep on going. 3:29 The next thing you really need, you really do need one of these bar spoons. They seem kind of silly, but they're really easy to spin in your fingers, which is really important when you're stirring especially in a pitcher like this. 3:41 Now for the muddler, you know a lot of times you have to muddle something, say like mint in a drink. And I actually got this little guy from Oxo which has a nice handle on it. It's got some good little feet on the bottom of it so we can really grab the item and plus you know, you get this good grip on here. So a little Oxo muddler is nice, but I'm going to show you my secret weapon for muddling, which is this tiny little mortar and pestle. I love this thing because it has the grooves down here, so we can really grab on to whatever it is. So when I've got a muddle mint, for example, I'll put the mint in here. I'll grind it down a little bit in the mortar and pestle. And then if I have to do say, an ounce of rum in the drink, I'll put the rum right in here, swirl it around, and then pour it out. And I can pick up a lot more of whatever flavor it is that I'm muddling than just using this guy. This guy I'll use if I'm doing like sugar or something in a glass with some other thing. But if it's just muddling mint or just muddling, you know, one thing, I'll muddle it in here and then rinse it out with with the alcohol. It works really, really well. I've used this thing for years. 4:50 Another cool little thing to have in your bar. This is from a company called Vinturi. This is an aerator for red wine. So red wine when you pop it open, you're supposed to let it sit for, I don't know, 30 minutes, something like that. But with this, you can go ahead, open the red wine and pour it immediately just pour the wine right through here. It adds a bunch of air to it and it comes out into the glass. So little red wine aerator is kind of cool. 5:16 Now for a wine opener, I mean, you can go nuts. But you know, the classic works. Nice simple corkscrew with a little paper cutter to cut the paper on the top of the wine. That's all you need for your bar. Don't go nuts. 5:28 In terms of like bitters and some of the things to have around. Everybody should have, you know, your standard Angostura bitters, obviously, but then I also keep, I've got orange. I've got mint, and then I've got Aztec chocolate. I love making old fashions with the Aztec chocolate and it goes into a few other drinks as well. So that's what I always have on hand. 5:51 And of course, I always have simple syrup. My wife and I actually make our own syrups as well. We'll make a ginger syrup, we'll make a mint syrup. I make panella syrup, which is a unrefined brown sugar, that's absolutely amazing in an old fashioned. I'll put some of those recipes down below. 6:08 Now here's something that, you know, you see all these really cool ice buckets and things like that. And you know what the ice buckets do, the ice melts, really fast, and then you're constantly refilling it. Just a simple styrofoam cooler. This thing it's not the prettiest thing in the world, but the ice will stay frozen in here literally overnight. I've had parties where I have ice in here and I come out the next day and the ice is still in there. So if you're having a party, you can be making a lot of drinks, just invest in a cheap, styrofoam cooler, a double walled one. And you will have ice. Yeah, it ain't look pretty but you will have ice for the entire party. 6:45 Now in terms of glasses, there's really three glasses that you want to have. One is an old fashioned glass like this. Most of my drinks actually go into a glass like this, whether it's an old fashion or anything else. You can get the cut crystal ones, they're pretty. They're relatively inexpensive. You're gonna want a martini glass, probably, you're probably going to experiment with some martinis at some point. We got these at IKEA. You know, IKEA is always a great place to get stuff, right? And then a highball glass. Now, highball glasses are usually a little bit larger, these are narrower than your typical, but pretty much you can make your drinks in any of these, you will see all kinds of different types of glasses in the recipes and whatnot. But you don't necessarily need to serve them in those specific glasses. These are probably the three glasses that you absolutely want to have. 7:38 Now, I do recommend that you go ahead and invest in ice molds. This is a mold called Peak, makes four very large molds. And what this does, when you have a bunch of ice cube in the drink, they melt faster because there's more surface area, but when you have a larger cube like this, it'll melt much slower. So I highly recommend you go ahead and get something like this with these molds you can see silicone, it just pops right out, no problem. You can get the square ones like this, or you can get the round molds like this. This makes those really cool spheres, which are a little bit of a pain to open. But they're really, really cool when they come out. 8:16 Talk amongst yourselves. There we go. And there we go. 8:26 Look at that. And that only took me about 10 seconds to get it out. But you know a little you get the little spheres, which are a lot of fun in the drinks. So I'll put the links to this mold as well. But I definitely recommend that you do that because these cubes will melt a lot slower, which means less water getting into your drink. And especially if you'd like to, you know, have a conversation, you want to talk for a while. If you have a whole bunch of cubes in there, they're going to melt really quick and water your drink down. So definitely invest in in the larger cubes. 8:54 Now if you're just getting started, a really good book is 11,000 Drinks, how many drinks do you really need? Right? I bought this a couple years ago when I was really just getting started. And there's not a whole lot of bartending or mixology in this. It's literally just recipes. So I can explore, I can experiment and see what I like and what I don't like. And then as I figured it out, I started stocking up my bar. So I can make the types of drinks that I like, and I've got your rum, your vodka, your tequila, your bourbon, I don't have scotch because I don't happen to drink scotch. But I've got those four basics. And then I've got a bunch of mixers under here to make the types of drinks that I know I like. And I found that out because of this book. So if you're just getting started, get a book like 11,000 drinks or something like that, and just start making drinks. You don't know what you like until you actually try it. 9:44 You know, I didn't really like bourbon for the longest time. And then I started making old fashions. I started drinking old fashions. I was like, Oh, this is bourbon. I like this. And then I found that I can make an old fashion with rum as well. 9:57 So that's a look at what I have in my bar. I hope that was helpful for you. If you like what we're doing here, please subscribe and click that little bell icon. We've got all kinds of recipes and cocktails and cruise things and travel things, things that I don't even know about yet. So please subscribe. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.


These are mostly what I showed you in the video. There are MANY variations of all of these products.

We are not affiliated with or compensated by any of these companies, we’re providing this list of items we actually use in our bar or something similar for your convenience.

Oxo Good Grips Citrus Squeezer

Hathorne Strainer

Mesh strainers (sometimes used in combination with the Hawthorne to catch little bits of ice)

Double Cocktail Jigger, 1 and 2oz.

Oxo Steel Cocktail Shaker

17oz Mixing Glass (or pitcher)

Bar Mat. These come in many sizes, mine is 18x12

Bar Spoons

Oxo Non-Slip Muddler

Small Mortar and Pestle Set

Vinturi Red Wine Aerator

Corkscrew and Foil Cutter Set

Angostura Bitters

Fee Brothers Orange Bitters

Fee Brothers Mint Bitters

Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

DuraTherm Styrofoam Cooler

Small Styrofoam Cooler on Amazon

Old Fashioned Glass, set of four.

Martini Glass, set of four

Highball Glass, set of six

W&P Peak Silicone Extra Large Ice Cube Mold

Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds

11,000 Drinks book by Paul Knorr


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