In major North American cities, we’re pretty spoiled these days; from craft beer to micro-roasted coffee and all nature of culinary fusion there are almost too many options. Depending on how much money you make, indulging your penchant for seven-dollar single origin Ethiopian coffees at hipster cafés and the finest vintages of Syrah at the nearest wine bar can be extremely hard on your bank account. A great thing about living in a big city is that you have access to specialty shops as well. By investing in the tools you need to make the food and drinks you love at home, you save money and develop a greater appreciation for the work that goes into making these things.
Once you’ve bought a shaker, a strainer, a bar spoon and some stainless steel measuring cups, you’ll be ready to start shaking up boozy treats as if you were Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Another super cool, but by no means necessary item is a rubber tray that makes giant ice cubes. Big cubes keep the drinks cold for longer and have a great aesthetic effect as well – you can find these trays in a variety of colours for a reasonable price.
When you shop for liquor, to it’s good be discerning and to focus on what’s going to make you happy. Rather than buy one of everything and then realize that you find Ouzo disgusting (a very common experience), imagine your perfect cocktail and then play around with variations on that. A personal favourite is the negroni: a traditional Italian cocktail made with gin and red vermouth that can be tooled around with endlessly. One variation is a boulevardier, which is made with rye whiskey. Another variation is a white negroni, which is simply made with clear vermouth rather than red.
By specializing in what you like, and maybe keeping a few crowd pleasers like a Manhattan or an old fashioned in your back pocket, you’ll be able to hone your skills more quickly and reap the delicious fruits of mixology.
Make your own coffee at home, but buying an espresso machine is a pretty serious commitment; it can be messy, expensive and it takes up a lot of space. A simple way to make really good coffee is with a scale, a gooseneck kettle, a great grinder and a ton of technique. By comparison, picking up the tools to make craft cocktails is reasonably cheap. Storage, as well, is less of an issue as cocktail making tools are small and easy to clean and rinse. Keep it simple and stock your bar tool-kit with only the essentials. If you want to get some ideas from the experts, head over to Bartendo.ca.
Once you’ve established yourself as a reasonably competent barista and bartender, you might want to go a little bit further down the rabbit hole and get into making your own liquid sugar and bitters — and even infusing your liquor with different flavours. This is where culinary and cocktail worlds combine: you can start messing around with egg-whites and blueberry infused gin drinks so that the texture and flavours of your drinks are lovingly customized. Take a tip from me: don’t try brewing beer in your bathtub, and keep the two grand you were planning on spending on that new espresso machine. Buy yourself some cocktail gear and get to work!