Upgrading your cocktail game is one thing. But stepping up your bartending toolkit? That's a task best left to the pros. We polled pourers from Los Angeles to Miami on the tools and tinctures that make their nights (and cocktails) go off without a hitch. Read on and drink up.
Bar Tip: A few drops can add depth and complexity to even the most basic cocktails or neat brown liquors.
Pro Tip: New York City beverage director and cocktail blogger Naren Young swears by Angostura Bitters for balancing dozens of drinks. "They're the salt and pepper of my world," says Young, who helms bar programs at Empellon and Saxon & Parole.
Navarro Carr (of Atlanta's the Sound Table) is partial to Bitter Truth's blends, which range from chocolate-flavored to Creole. "I can get by without a lot of tools, but it's hard to find a replacement for bitters on the spot," Carr says.
$16 and up; astorwines.com
Ice Ball Maker
Bar Tip: Single, larger cubes keep your drink cold without diluting it like lots of smaller chips would.
Pro Tip: "It's a rare treat to have a cocktail with the big cubes and even rarer to have a perfect sphere," says Aaron Ranf, a bartender at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica, California. "Aesthetically, it's pretty, and I like the way it rolls around in the glass."
Bar Tip: Rose's Lime and bottled mixes may be fine in a pinch, but professionals know better (as in, not to use them).
Pro Tip: "Fresh juices lend a clean and bright flavor to a cocktail as opposed to tasting like corn syrup and chemicals," says Patrick Smith of the famed Chicago speakeasy the Violet Hour.
Bar Spoon With Muddler
Bar Tip: Take sugar-crushing and stirring down to a single (and very cool-looking) step.
Pro Tip: "It's the only way to make the perfect Negroni cocktail," agrees Elad Zvi, a partner at Freehand Miami's Broken Shaker. Rustic Canyon's Ranf adds, "This one looks particularly nice because it has some decent weight and sturdiness."
Bar Tip: Freehand pours are nice . . . if you never want to nail a recipe. These proportion-based vessels will keep classic and new-to-you pours in check.
Pro Tip: "Balance is the law that governs all cocktails, and the jigger is the scale that helps us maintain order," Carr says.
$7 and up; cocktailkingdom.com
(An Excellent) Knife
Bar Tip: There's nothing worse than hacking apart a lemon in the middle of an otherwise dignified happy hour.
Pro Tip: "I don't understand why people skimp here," says Ivy Mix, a bartender at Brooklyn's Clover Club and founder of the charitable bartending competition Speed Rack. "A beautiful knife makes your garnish nicer—and your job easier."
Bar Tip: A high-quality peeler is ideal for infusing just a hint of lemon, orange, or grapefruit peel—or whittling off a beautifully burnt sliver.
Pro Tip: "Citrus oil is an excellent way to add complexity and flavor to a cocktail without adding any syrup," adds Smith.
Show us your bartending essentials on Instagram at @detailsmag #ObjectsofDesire.
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Top photo credits:
1. Vintage coaster, $15; moodindigonewyork.com 2. Jacobsen slide-tin salt, $3; jacobsensalt.com 3. Yarai mixing glass, $40; cocktailkingdom.com 4. Bloody Mary Spice Master Collection mix, $45 for a set of three; theingredientfinder.com 5. Bonzer bar spoon and muddler, $13; whiskeyandwineoff69.com 6. Kuhn Rikon julienne peeler, $20; surlatable.com 7. Picholine green olives, $12.50; oliviersandco.com 8. Luxardo maraschino cherries, $20; williams-sonoma.com 9. Strip Tea/He matches, $3.95; fishseddy.com 10. Stainless-steel Japanese jigger, $10; whisknyc.com 11. Q club soda, $35 for 24; foodservicedirect.com 12. Laguiole en Aubrac brown horn corkscrew, $180; winevine-imports.com 13. Ralph Lauren Montgomery cocktail shaker, $195; ralphlauren.com 14. Govino stemless wineglass, $13 for a set of four; cb2.com 15. Daneson Lemon 11 toothpicks, $20; daneson.com 16. High West barrel-aged Manhattan, $55; boweryandvine.com 17. Ice from Tovolo King Cube trays, $8; amazon.com.
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