Home bars, like their professional counterparts, come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re trying to build your own speakeasy or just looking to upgrade your corner of the kitchen, a few easy hacks can step up your cocktail game in no time at all.
Nothing ruins the visual appeal of, well, anything on the rocks as much as cruddy ice. Happily, the fixes are quite simple. Freeze It Yourself
Fear not: You don’t need to break the bank on a Kold-Draft ice machine. For less than the price of a fancy cocktail, you can freeze your own king-sized ice squares, which are perfect for sipping Scotch. If you’re throwing a party and need to chill down a large punch—or just want to hand crack from a large block—fill up a large, sealable container with water ahead of time. Then throw it in freezer. Heat It Up
Once you have the size right, the next step is clarity. You could go full nerd and spend a lot of money and time getting a completely clear sphere. Frankly, that’s more trouble than it’s worth for most home bartenders. A quick and easy solution is to just boil the water before you place it in the ice tray. Note: There are a variety of approaches to this—everything from a quick boil of tap water to double boiling Evian—but we say, experiment and see what works for you. Then you can get back to what matters: the drink.
Simple syrup is just what the name implies: a simple 50/50 mix of sugar and water. And while a lot of great cocktails find their balance with simple (as the pros call it), the liquid is a great platform to build on and explore. Try new sweeteners. For example, use vegan-friendly agave syrup in a refreshing Margarita, rich maple syrup in the easy-going Autumn Rickey or a honey-sweetened classic, the Brown Derby. Infuse: Go ahead, color outside the lines! Steep spices, herbs, citrus rinds, flower petals and even, yes, tea in your simple, and enjoy a custom take on any drink.
If you’ve already got a Yarai mixing glass and gold cocktail picks, you can skip this step. For everyone else just starting your committed drinking: Invest in tools. You don’t need to go crazy with accessories, but it’s worth shelling out a bit on the basics. Even with regular use, quality tools will last you a lifetime. With that in mind, please stop using a novelty shot glass as a jigger, a fork as a strainer and an old jam jar as a shaker. To get you started, here are five must-have bar tools:
This might seem like a no-brainer, but enough people are still buying over-sweetened, over-the-counter grapefruit, orange and lemon juice that it begs repeating: Go fresh. There’s a reason the best cocktail bars in the country spend hours every day leading up to opening juicing. The pre-bottled variety just can’t compete. Another benefit is that staying with the seasonally available will make you more creative with your recipes. Whether you’re using an electric juicer, hand-squeezing or even just muddling in the shaker, there’s a range of bold, colorful new recipes to try, such as the Blood Orange Margarita or the Rhubarb Fix. Use this handy chart to see what’s in season and available.
By now, you’ve likely seen house “aged” Manhattans or Negronis at your local cocktail bar. While it might seem gimmicky, even a short aging can bring out new and interesting notes between the ingredients. On a very practical level, it’s also a nice gift to future You. Some day soon, you’ll come home from a long day of work and, lo, what will be waiting for you, but a ready-made cocktail. Find a mirror and raise a cheers to yourself. Want more flexibility? You can infuse specific spirits instead of entire cocktails. Try adding lemon peels to that bottom-shelf vodka, or fresh sliced ginger to whiskey for an eye-opening Old-Fashioned. Ever wanted to make your own Fireball? It’s easier than you think.
Not all the tricks happen behind the bar. Sometimes the hack is the bar itself. Of course it would be nice to have a 10-foot, walnut bar with vintage back mirror in your apartment. No argument here. If that’s within your means and your lease, build it. Also, please invite us over. For everyone else, the game is using creativity, elbow grease and (probably) power tools to maximize your bar for your budget and space. IkeaHackers has some great, wallet-friendly ideas to get you started.
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.