James Bond famously likes his martinis shaken; Mad Men’s Don Draper prefers his old fashioneds well muddled; and the cast of Sex and the City simply ask that their cosmopolitans are plentiful. Cocktails have a storied relationship with the screen, and often influence what we choose to drink in our own spaces—but is it possible to recreate something as exciting at home? Yes, says Vlad Novikov, director of cocktails and culture at The Peninsula Chicago’s Z Bar. Here, he shares his tips for the perfect home bar setup, and how you can shake up (or stir) star-worthy cocktails of your own.
Personal and Practical
Building your home bar is a very personal process. Ignore any advice on specific bottles you feel you should have and focus instead on two or three cocktails—classic or modern—that you love. Start with the bottles you need for those, and then slowly expand, adding on ingredients for popular but classic drinks as you go if you do a lot of entertaining.
Organize your home bar so that your setup includes some counter space to do the actual drink preparation, and preferably near a sink whenever possible. And be sure to have ice, which is often overlooked in home bars. Be sure to use fresh ice, or store your ice cubes in sealed plastic bags so they don’t absorb aromas from your freezer and transfer them to your drink.
Many people don’t shake their cocktails hard enough. Shake hard and fast, and then strain your cocktails promptly
Invest in a good shaker. Most professionals use a two-piece tin-on-tin shaker, such as the weighted Koriko tins, but you can also use cobbler-style shakers, which have built in strainers.
Apart from your shaker, you’ll also need a classic Hawthorne strainer. Look out for one with a very tight coil than can actually filter ice chips and pulp. Many people will omit this item, and just strain through a small opening in the tins, but this affects the texture of the drink immensely.
For stirred cocktails such as old fashioneds, manhattans, and negronis, you’ll need not only a good bar spoon, but also a mixing glass. For a home bar setup, I would err on the side of elegance, but even a simple pint glass will suffice. When looking for a bar spoon it’s important that it is long, and that the neck has a square cross section with a tight twist.
The right accessories can make all the difference to your drink. For example, muddlers are great for making mojitos and caipirinhas, and can also be used to muddle fruit for your old fashioneds. When looking for muddlers I recommend a larger size for ease of use, and to avoid textured styles with teeth as they tend to tear up the fruit more than necessary. Muddling is more like pressing and less like crushing or shredding.
If you’re making cocktails with citrus such as daiquiris and lemon drops, I would highly recommend getting a hand juicer, such as the Chef’n, so that your citrus is as fresh as possible. Often omitted yet essential, you’ll need a small paring knife and cutting board too, to cut garnish. And keep a tea towel handy—even if you don’t spill anything there will be condensation on your tools after preparing the drinks.
In the Mix
When it comes to mixing, many people don’t shake their cocktails hard enough. Shake hard and fast, and then strain your cocktails promptly. If making manhattans and martinis, seal and refrigerate your vermouths after opening, and buy quality brands such as Dolin or Carpano.
And finally, people often ask me: martinis, shaken or stirred? My personal preference is to shake vodka martinis, and to stir gin martinis.
Banner image: Vlad Novikov mixes a Cucumber Blossom cocktail at the Z Bar. Grant Kessler Photography