8 Tools You Need to Make Better Cocktails at Home

Now more than ever, the art of mixing a quality cocktail can seem like a daunting task. Today’s hippest bars are concocting drinks made with everything from foie gras to liquid nitrogen—and serving up hefty price tags to match. All the more reason why you should start building your home bar today.

You can forgo an extensive mixology arsenal in favor a few high-quality tools, according to cocktail writer Sarah Probst. “I personally don’t think you need a lot of fancy stuff,” she told mental_floss. Probst has experience bartending at acclaimed bars in NYC and she’s written about spirits and cocktails for Refinery29, Brooklyn Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek. Here are the tools and gadgets she recommends to anyone looking to make bar-quality cocktails at home.

1. KORIKO COCKTAIL TINS

Even if you don’t know the first thing about mixology, shaking around a cocktail tin is the first step to feeling like a professional. Probst touts Koriko as her favorite brand of cocktail tins (otherwise known as shakers), claiming it has a tighter seal than most other brands. Spilling sugary booze all over the place because your shaker didn’t seal properly is a quick way to end a party. Buy it at Amazon.

2. OXO JIGGER

You can memorize the recipes for dozens of classic cocktails, but that knowledge is useless without a way to portion out your components. Jiggers are small, two-ended cups specifically designed for measuring drinks, and when it comes to quality cocktails, precision is key. “Some of the fancier ones, while they look prettier, aren’t the most accurate,” said Probst. She prefers the jigger from OXO that measures up to one ounce on one side and one and a half ounces on the other. The high level of precision guarantees a well-balanced cocktail. Buy at Amazon. 

3. YARAI BITTERS BOTTLE


Bitters are the liquid extractions of seeds, roots, flowers, herbs, leaves, and bark used to bring a greater depth of flavor to cocktails. The extracts are highly concentrated and therefore should only be introduced in small, controlled doses. In order to do this, you first need to find the right bitters bottle. A bottle specially made for bitters will disburse the perfect amount each time, compared to generic bottles which can be less reliable. Probst recommends the Japanese brand Yarai for a product that’s sleek and functional. Buy at Chubo Knives

4. SODASTREAM

For serious entertainers, an at-home carbonator can be a lifesaver. SodaStreams are typically used to make soft drinks, but Probst says they can also be handy when making cocktails in large batches. You can use them to carbonate punch, or make your own tonic water for gin and tonics. Buy at Amazon

5. BAR SPOONS

Not only does using a clunky spoon to stir your cocktails look unprofessional, it can also feel awkward. Having a few long and slim bar spoons on hand makes it easy to stir drinks no matter what type of glass you're using. Probst recommends bar spoons that have a tiny cocktail fork on the opposite end. The tool will look nice, and can also be used to fish out any olives chilling at the bottom of your drink. Buy at Amazon

6. HAMILTON BEACH JUICER

“Freshly squeezed juices are super important when you want to make a really delicious cocktail,” said Probst. She’s had experience using a Hamiltion Beach stand juicer as a bartender, and recommends them for anyone looking to splurge on a quality juicer for their home. Buy at Amazon

7. HAND JUICER

For a cheaper alternative, a basic hand juicer is what Probst uses in her own home. In addition to being essential to making fresh cocktails, they’re also useful to have in the kitchen when cooking meals at home. Buy at Amazon

8. TOVOLO ICE MOLD

So you have all the right gear, your bar is fully stocked and you’ve finally mastered the art of mixing the perfect drink. The finishing detail you need to raise your cocktails to the professional league is some seriously classy ice cubes. Probst says Tovolo ice molds are often regarded as the best in the industry. Their molds come in the form of rigid cubes, elegant rectangles, or if you really want to get fancy, spheres. Once you have the power to make ice that looks like that at home, you may never want to go out. Buy at Amazon

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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