If you ask ChatGPT what one needs to create a quality craft cocktail bar at home, the answer standard: Spirits, Mixers, Bitters, Glassware, Bar tools, and Garnishes. You can Google “How to create a craft cocktail bar at home”, but the actual answers will be vague or overly specific, and the task can seem daunting.
Here are our specific tips on how to best create the perfect craft cocktail at home.
1. PICK YOUR FAVORITE COCKTAIL
Our at home pick: The Southside
As restaurateurs and craft cocktail enthusiasts, the best advice we have for building your home craft cocktail bar is to start with your favorite craft cocktail and evolve and build your bar from there.
So often when we entertain, we try to determine what our guests prefer to drink and serve them a version of something they already know. We suggest sharing something you love with your guests even if it is something they may not normally drink. Guests are usually open to trying something new once!
In Summer, without fail, our favorite cocktail to share with our guests is the Southside.
2. SECURE THE INGREDIENTS & TOOLS YOU NEED TO CREATE YOUR SPECIFIC COCKTAIL
Securing the items you need to make one great cocktail will help you shake and serve with ease like a professional. You can expand your repertoire once you have mastered your first cocktail. As with any culinary effort, the higher quality ingredients, the better the cocktail. Get the best ingredients you can find.
Hendrik’s Gin – This is our Gin of choice. We recommend the highest quality, organic gin spirit you can find.
Fresh Lemon Juice – Fresh, organic lemons “squeezed” to order. If you need to prep ahead of time, the sooner the squeeze to service the better. The lemon juice can be stored in the refrigerator, sealed tightly for up to 24 hours.
Fresh Mint – Fresh, organic mint. Buy the bunch, chop off the bottom stems and store it in a small glass with a touch of water. Display it on your workstation. Aesthetically, it looks like a small green bouquet, smells even better, and is easily accessible when making drinks. The last time I made Southsides, my SIL surprised us with fresh mint from her garden!
Simple Syrup – One cup of boiling water mixed with one cup of sugar, stir until sugar is dissolved, chill, put into a bottle with a spout and store in the refrigerator.
Ice – No special ice needed but you will be surprised by how much ice you use even if you are just making cocktails for 2 to 4 people. Make sure you have extra ice.
Southside Bar tools:
Cutting Board – At home we use a large wooden cutting board, and we display all of our ingredients and tools on the same cutting board we use to slice lemons. It is a casual, practical way to create the craft cocktail bar vibe.
Knife – A small knife like a steak knife is often handy and easy to use to slice and squeeze the lemons.
Glass Bottles with Pour Spouts – These bottles are handy when you have ingredients like simple syrup and fresh lemon juice.
Jigger – The jigger is used to measure ingredients. The secret to a well-balanced cocktail is carefully measured proportions. Use a jigger with clear lines indicating ounces down to the quarter will make sure you are creating true to the recipe.
Cocktail Shaker – Start with the basic silver shaker. A commercial grade shaker will make it easier for the novice home mixologist to make multiple cocktails at one time. You want function over fancy here!
Fine Mesh Handheld Strainer – You will use the strainer from the cocktail shaker, but having a fine mesh strainer handy will elevate your straining efforts.
Coupe or Martini Glass – The Southside is traditionally served in a coupe glass, but a martini glass works just as well. If you are hosting a small group, we suggest investing in beautiful glassware.
3. HAVE THE RECIPE READY
Write out the recipe by hand on an index card. Having the recipe available for your guests to read while you are shaking will peak their interest. Staring at the proportions listed will help you stick to the recipe.
2 oz. Gin
¾ Fresh Lemon Juice
¾ Simple Syrup
5 Fresh Mint Leaves
4. PREPARE YOUR INGREDIENTS
A true mixologist knows the value of preparing the ingredients for craft cocktails ahead of time so when happy hour rolls around and your guests arrive, you simply need to pour, shake, and serve. Set yourself up for swift and easy service for your guests. The ingredients for the Southside are basic and require approximately 15-20 minutes of prep time.
Lemon Juice – Squeeze all contents of the lemons into a liquid measuring cup. Use a knife to work out all the juice. Pulp and seed are ok in the juice.
Glassware – Put martini glass or coupes in the freezer at least one hour before service.
Simple Syrup – Boil one cup of water with one cup of granulated sugar until all sugar is dissolved. Let chill and refrigerate in bottle with a spout.
Arrange all ingredients and tools nicely on the cutting board for aesthetics and ease of execution.
5. MAKE THE SOUTHSIDES!
Using a jigger to measure, fill the cocktail shaker with:
- ¾ full of ice.
- 2 oz. Gin
- ¾ oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- ¾ oz. Simple Syrup
- 5 large fresh Mint leaves
- Close the shaker and shake vigorously for 20 seconds or more.
- Remove the top part of the shaker and strain contents into a handheld mesh strainer over your chilled coupe glass. The cocktail should have a light green twinge to it, and it should smell minty!
- Take one large or small “sprout” of mint into your hand. Clap your hands with the mint leaf, and gently float as a garnish for your Southside.
- Present to your guest immediately, holding the stem of the glass only. The first sip is always the best!
BONUS TIP: BATCH & SHAKE FOR A LARGE GROUP
If you are hosting a gathering of six or more people, make a large batch of the gin, fresh lemon, and simple syrup and store in a large pitcher or vessel with a pour spout. You can simply shake your batched liquid, ice and mint per cocktail ordered. This will alleviate the measuring of each ingredient when under pressure. Just pour, shake, strain, garnish, and serve!
But what do the experts have to say? We asked some of our key craft cocktail contacts:
“What is the ONE ingredient you need to make excellent craft cocktails at home?”
Kevin Denson | General Manager- Fork Restaurant, Amateur Power Lifter | Philadelphia
“A good bottle of vermouth. Uncared-for, low-quality vermouth is commonplace at home bars and makes for nasty martinis. But a quality vermouth that is sealed and refrigerated can elevate dozens of cocktails. Carpano Dry and Mata Spanish Vermouths are fantastic choices.”
Eric Hay | Breakthru Business Manager Illinois | Chicago*
* Eric was the original mixologist behind Tortoise Supper Club’s original craft cocktail list in 2012*
“Fresh citrus and fresh ingredients. Bar none.”
Kalman Huettl | Veteran Bartender & Star Karaoke Enthusiast | Chicago
“I would say ice. Big dense cubes will do a better job of chilling and diluting your cocktail while preserving the texture that you are looking for, whether shaking or stirring.
Raymond Pitt | Current Tortoise Supper Club Bartender | Chicago
“We drink red wine at home. I make craft cocktails for a living, so I keep it easy at home.”
Evie Ladd | Mixologist, Artist, Designer | Chicago
“Amaro di Torino. It is any amaro from the region, but everyone knows it by the bright red color. Favorites, of course, are Campari or aperol, but cappelletti is a super small production. The bitterness adds such a depth to the cocktails and at most being around 11% it is easy to play around with and not be too lost. the sauce. It’s a bonus that a splash dresses up a boring gin and tonic with a cute pink hue. Serve over the rocks with an orange garnish with a splash of soda and feel super sophisticated. It’s like a vacation in a glass!”
Saphina Duncan | Restaurant General Manager, Equine Whisperer, 2 Years Sober | Big Island, Hawaii
“If I had an in-home bar, a good quality shaker is always an absolute staple. Something that fits well in your hand and becomes an extension of you as a bartender, both in a professional and a casual setting.
“Doctor Munch” Charlie Neuhaus | Investment Banker, Guitarist, Home Craft Cocktail Enthusiast | Houston & Portland, Maine
“Simple Syrup. Indeed, it can be simple, or flavored. I like to have some made and ready if I want to be able to make a variety of drinks at my home bar.”
The view, albeit fuzzy, from “Doc Munch’s” home craft cocktail bar. “Remy” the dog is one of Charlie’s best regulars!
Remember, serving your favorite cocktail is the best way to impress your guests and start the process of building your at home craft cocktail bar. And if you are just not up to it, you can always leave the mixing and shaking to your favorite bartenders at Tortoise Supper Club!