Primed and ready for action. PATRICK LECLEZIO gets to grips with stocking the right spirituous gear.
First published in Prestige Magazine (August 2016 edition).
I don’t consider myself to be a materialistic. I don’t covet for the sake of it. I’m not a shiny new toy type of person. I do subscribe though to the philosophy that I must have what I need for what I want to do. There is a certain comfort, a fulfilment, a confidence in being properly equipped. Maybe it’s a lingering impetus from Boy Scout times – Be prepared! – or maybe it’s a harking back to that first-day-of-school, new-uniform-and-stationery (full set!), ready-to-face-the-world feeling that made such a deep impression, or maybe it’s just an innate striving for completeness. It just is – and if attended to it makes the endeavour more enjoyable. When I’m out running on a cold and wet Cape winter morning, I find that it’s more agreeable if I’m wearing my dedicated rain jacket, rather than trying to get by with something makeshift. If you’re going to do something, be ready to do it properly – this goes for drinking and entertaining, like anything else. Here’s how you go about it.
Your personal repertoire will dictate what you need, but I’m going to steer a course suited to the well-rounded, gregarious bon vivant.
You’ll want to be able to serve beers and ciders, wines, sparkling wines, fortified wines, a range of spirits, and a few cocktails. Our focus here will be on what you need for spirits, but I mention the others because there’s no point in being well fortified (no pun intended…well maybe a little bit) over here, and leaving your defences gaping over there. Your equipment requirements will need to cover bar tools and glassware, and, whilst not equipment in the strict sense of it, the drinks and their ingredients shouldn’t be overlooked.
Even if you’re a free pour type of person you’ll need this for controlling proportions when mixing up a cocktail. You might also find that the occasional guest will want regulated portions, especially in these days of heightened awareness about drink driving. I recommend the version with both single and double measure combined – it’ll save time and hassle with continued use. In bar speak these things are known as jiggers.
There are two common types: the regular three-part Cobbler shaker and the two-part Boston shaker. The latter is more theatrical but also more messy and difficult to use – especially as intended without a strainer. The third option for cocktail preparations is a mixer, where you would use a large, robust glass (effectively one half of the Boston shaker), a spoon, and a strainer. I favour the latter option, the stirred-not-shaken style of cocktail execution, particularly for my favoured drinks: there’s less risk of over-dilution or aeration (i.e. lots of bubbles on the surface).
The typical bar spoon is of an extended length, to enable you to easily reach to the bottom of a cocktail shaker or a tall glass. This can make it cumbersome to wash and store. I would recommend a telescopic spoon, which can be extended to the desired length for any conceivable purpose, and then contracted to store easily.
If you like ice with your spirits then this is an essential bit of kit. One of the problems with ice is that it introduces uncontrolled dilution into a drink, which is stronger when the ice is added, and gradually weaker as the ice melts. Crushed ice allows the addition of a measured volume of ice (conveniently using a measuring spoon), and it melts far quicker than cubed ice, giving a more consistent drinking experience.
Optional, depending on what cocktails you’ll be making. I’m contracting myself (as far as the use of makeshift equipment goes), but for occasional use you can get away with a heavy spoon in its absence.
Also optional, if your concoctions call for lemon or lime juice in particular, the former being better fresh, the latter being almost impossible to find.
You’ll need two sizes: a small one for dispensing ice, and a large one for chilling a bottle (wine of course, but also useful for vodka and tequila).
Two sizes also needed here: a small one for dispensing water for spirits, and a large one to mix cocktails in party batches.
These are the basic requirements: tumbler, highball or zombie (tall glass), and nosing, balloon, and shot glasses, and optionally martini and margarita glasses. It’s all in the mind of course but it just feels better to be drinking the right drink from the right glass. If you’re a GnT fan you may also want to consider copa de balon glasses (the Spanish style balloon glass on a long stem).
I have two sets of martini glasses: one that’s from one of the local homeware stores, undoubtedly of Chinese provenance, perfectly serviceable but uninspiring, and one that’s made by the German manufacturer Schott Zwiesel. I remarked the other day than unless I’m hosting a large gathering the former remains unused. I just unconsciously gravitate towards the other. The shape, the balance, the surface texture and the general glass quality are all superior, and it makes a difference to my enjoyment of the drinking experience. I’ve subsequently bought their wine and whisky glasses, with similar results in satisfaction. You don’t need labour-intensive crystal necessarily, unless that’s your thing, but it’s worth investing in quality glassware.
Drinks and ingredients
The stocking principle which I’d advise is to achieve a good balance between choice and excess. You should try to have at least two options of all the major spirits, but a depth of selection for at least two types, specifically those where flavour diversity is expected – such as whisky and gin. Over and above I’d also suggest you also have a few exotic spirits available – cassis, amaretto, calvados, and cachaça for instance are both intriguing and delicious.
You’ll almost certainly need tonic, soda and cola, and obviously others may be required depending on your particular taste and that of your guests. I’d recommend keeping a supply of tomato juice (bloody mary / virgin mary), ginger ale (versatile for brown spirits), lemonade (rock shandy), and bottled water (unchlorinated water for adding to brown spirits) at hand.
The last considerations are garnishes and cocktail ingredients. The most versatile garnishes are lemon and lime, which can be used in drinks ranging from a GnT and a martini to a cuba libre and a tequila shooter. So they’re critical. The rest will be driven by the cocktails that you intend to mix and offer. You should specialise in a few cocktails, which will come to represent your own particular signature style. My personal favourites are the martini (vermouth and olives or lemon needed) and the margarita (triple sec, sea salt and lime), but I’m also partial to the odd caiparinha (sugar and lime) and mohito (mint, lime and sugar). Let the fun begin.