Be Your Own Bartender

Craft cocktails at home aren’t out of reach—if you have the right stuff.
cocktail tools
Photo by Mike Battey

Longtime bartender Chris Sinclair has made a lot of drinks in his time. Now, as the co owner of Good Bottle Shop in downtown Sacramento, he helps regular people like you and me set up their own bar so they can play mixologist in the comfort of their own home. Here, he shares his expertise on what you’ll need for the perfect cocktail setup.

Essential Equipment
You’re only as good as your tools. These are the ones to have.

BOSTON SHAKER—Absolutely indispensable for making drinks that include a mixer, such as a margarita, daiquiri or cosmopolitan. “Typically, we stir drinks that are booze only,” says Sinclair. “When you start adding juice, cream or eggs, you’re going to need a shaker.”

BAR SPOON—It can be long or short, with a handle that is smooth or spiraled. Look for something that feels good in your hand, Sinclair advises. “Using a spoon is fun and makes you look like you know what’re you’re doing.”

HAWTHORN STRAINER—This tool strains out ice and leaves such as mint or basil. It should fit snugly in the glass or tin, says Sinclair: “You want to make sure it has a nice, tight fit without being too tight.” Some professional bartenders prefer a fine tea strainer, which catches every little bit of schmutz for a super-clean drink.

JIGGER—This measuring implement comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and styles. Most are made of nonporous metal, which doesn’t absorb flavors. But it comes down to personal preference. “A shot glass is perfectly acceptable,” says Sinclair.

MIXING GLASS—This vessel, used for making spirits-only cocktails such as martinis and manhattans, allows you to mix liquids without introducing air and breaking the ice, so you end up with a viscous, richly textured drink. Typically made of clear glass or cut crystal, it also looks pretty on your bar.

KNIFE—Used for slicing citrus and other garnishes, a good knife is “irreplaceable,” says Sinclair. You can use a paring knife or a bird’s beak knife—just make sure to keep it sharp. Sinclair recommends shopping at Crocker Cutlery in East Sac. “It’s got really cool things.”

ICE MOLDS AND TRAYS—Nothing says “craft cocktail” like a large-format ice cube shaped like a cube or sphere. You can find silicone ice trays and molds in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sinclair prefers 1-inch cubes—“they’re more versatile than the big cubes,” he says. “Use clean water, and make sure your freezer is clean, so your ice doesn’t capture funky flavors.”

chris sinclair
Chris Sinclair

Beyond the Basics
Once you’ve bought your spirits (vodka, gin, whiskey, rum and tequila), you’ll want some “modifiers” that allow you to play around with different flavors: sweet, floral, herbaceous, bitter and so on. Here are Sinclair’s picks:

CAMPARI: Use this bitter liqueur for making Negronis and tiki drinks like the Jungle Bird.

APEROL: This zesty orange apéritif is the star ingredient in the popular Aperol spritz and can be used in other cocktails as well.

VERMOUTH: This is the foundation of an entire spectrum of cocktails, including the martini, manhattan and Martinez. “You’ve gotta have vermouth,” says Sinclair. “It’s delicious, and not enough Americans drink it.”

BITTERS: “Think of bitters as the bartender’s spice cabinet,” says Sinclair, who recommends three must-haves: orange, Peychaud’s and Angostura aromatic bitters.

LUXARDO MARASCHINO: This cherry liqueur is an essential ingredient in many pre- Prohibition cocktails, including the Martinez and the manhattan. It is both off-bitter and
sweet with a little bit of cherryness to it.