In the two-plus years since Mike’s Mix began I’ve been fortunate to get to know, and introduce you to, scores of talented local bartenders and mixologists. Most of what they’ve shared with me – about recipes, liquors, and techniques – has made it on the air. Some of it just hasn’t fit, though; like, offhand conversations about favorite books or bar tools.
That’s why this holiday season I’m publishing the Mike’s Mix Holiday Gift Guide, featuring items that I’ve picked up for my home bar, based on recommendations from the pros I’ve met. Any home bar or amateur bartender would benefit from any of these items, so be generous! I’ve posted links where you can purchase them, but be sure to shop around a bit; most are priced at $25 or less, but a few cost up to $50.
Measuring jigger: the most basic of all will do, but if you’re interested in getting the one that many pro bartenders covet, check out the stainless-steel Leopold Jigger from Cocktail Kingdom ($18.95)
Koriko shaker tins: these interlocking small and large stainless-steel tins are what most bars shake their cocktails in; they’re unbreakable and a lot safer than shaking with a pint glass ($7.95 to $8.95 each)
Strainers: this Oxo Hawthorne strainer is cheap, reliable and popular ($6)
Some speakeasy-style bartenders prefer this Premium Julep Strainer from Cocktail Kingdom ($10.95)
Bar Spoon: for stirred cocktails you’ll want one of these long barspoons; also aids in measuring for certain drinks that call of “a barspoon of” an ingredient. They’re available in many stores for a few dollars, but I really like this weighted barspoon I found for $10 at Martin Patrick 3 in Minneapolis
Citrus juicer: fresh-squeezed juices are a necessity for building any quality cocktail. A lot of hand squeezers are a lot of work and/or spray juice across the room. The Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer is the absolute best I’ve used, is durable, and dishwasher safe ($21.95)
Citrus peeler: While not a necessity, fresh citrus garnish does more than just look pretty; often, it infuses a cocktail with essential oils that elevate the taste. If you’re going through the trouble of making a cocktail from scratch, you might as well go all the way, and make it as tasty as possible. The Titan Peeler and Julienne Tool is a workhorse that doesn’t need sharpening, and is easy to wield ($15)
Pour spouts can make pouring from liquor bottles easier, and allows for more experienced bartenders to use a ‘pour count’ instead of a jigger to measure. You can pick these up at any restaurant supply store – like Hockenberg’s in Eagan, for example – or online (around $1 each)
Ice molds: standard ice cubes will get the job done, but if you want to make the large square of spherical ice cubes that many craft cocktail bars use (because they provide more cooling power with less melting and dilution), then look consider this 2” square mold ($6.95 for a 6-cube mold) http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/2in-square-ice-cube-tray
Or this set of 4 spherical molds ($6.95)
Moscow mule mugs: Serve the classic vodka and ginger beer refresher in the classic copper mug ($10 each)
Bittercube bitters variety pack: You’ll see their bitters at bars nationwide, but they’re based in the Twin Cities; this sample pack contains 6 1-oz bottles of their most popular flavors ($54)
Available at many local retailers, or at http://bittercube.com/product/variety-pack/
Easy & Oskey Make-Your-Own Bitters kit: For those who want to make their own (many flavors available, $45 each)
Available at many local retailers, or at http://easyandoskey.com/
Brandied Cocktail Cherries: For making a stellar Manhattan, try St. Paul-made cocktail cherries from Dashfire Bitters ($15). Try substituting their Vintage No.1 Barrel Aged Orange bitters ($16), Dry Wermut ($26), or Cherry Liqueur ($24) into your favorite Manhattan recipe for an added local and custom feel
Purchase information for all items at http://www.11wells.com/#!where/ctzx
Blue Henn Artisan Tonic syrup: You don’t know what you’ve been missing until you ditch the store-brand tonic, and use this tonic syrup developed in a Minneapolis kitchen; it elevates the flavor of any gin-and-tonic or vodka-tonic
Available statewide: http://www.bluehenn.com/findus/
Imbibe Magazine: Bi-monthly magazine dedicated to all beverages; wine, beer, cocktails, coffee, etc. Articles and recipes. ($20 for 6 issues/yr)
The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique (Jeffrey Morgenthaler): From the basics of bartending – like how to shake a cocktail – to more advanced techniques – like how to make a mint syrup – and cocktail recipes; a widely read bible within the industry (MSRP: $30)
Available at many local bookstores.
The Drunken Botanist (Amy Stewart): Combines biology, chemistry, history, etymology, and mixology, with more than fifty drink recipes and growing tips for gardeners (MSRP: $20)
Available at many local bookstores.