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Congratulations! You've graduated from wine coolers and keggers. Welcome to the sophisticated world of cocktail culture. Classic cocktails, those hard-liquor mixed drinks brandished by stars in Hollywood's heyday, are trendy again. But you don't have to be Cary Grant or Myrna Loy to enjoy a whiskey sour, an old-fashioned, or a martini. The return of the intimate but still casual dinner party also means the return of the predinner cocktail hour, and many hosts are learning to create spirited concoctions.
Stocking your home bar is easy. Mainstream retailers are filling shelves with the tools of the cocktail trade, from highball glasses to jiggers to the ubiquitous shot glass.
If you're not sure you can tell a muddler from a swizzle stick or a sidecar from a Rob Roy, don't worry. With basic supplies and a few quick tips you'll be pouring snifters of silky spirits for your friends in no time.
Most glasses used for cocktails have distinctive shapes for a reason. For example, some footed or heavy glasses, such as old-fashioned and sour glasses, are designed so heat from a drinker's hand doesn't warm the icy cocktail.
Although their shapes and preferred uses are special, barware can be found in most housewares stores. In fact, it's even showing up on the greet harbinger of retail trends: the bridal registry.
Old-fashioned glass (8 to 10 ounces): old-fashioned, bloody mary Cocktail/martini glass (4 to 6 ounces): martini, grasshopper, Manhattan Highball glass (8 to 10 ounces): Cape Codder, rum punch, Singapore sling, sloe gin fizz Collins glass (10 to 12 ounces): fuzzy navel, screwdriver, sea breeze Shot glass (1-1/2 to 2 ounces): tequila slammer Pilsner glass (12 to 14 ounces): beer Champagne flute (6 to 8 ounces): champagne, champagne cocktail Irish coffee (8 to 10 ounces): Irish coffee, hot chocolate drinks Large wine goblet (10 to 14 ounces): wine (shapes of the goblets may vary slightly for red and white wines) Sour glass (6 ounces): whiskey sour Margarita glass (6 to 8 ounces): margarita, daiquiri Vodka/schnapps glass (1 to 4 ounces): chilled vodka, Goldschlager Cordial/liqueur glass (1 to 4 ounces): Kahlua, amaretto
While you're out buying the right glasses for your bar, you may as well start collecting the necessary gadgets. Without them, your Manhattan may taste more like the bottom of the Hudson River.
A jigger is an essential for the beginning home barkeep. Usually made of a metal stem with a small hourglass-shape double cup at each end, the jigger is used to measure drink ingredients. One side is a 1 1/2 -ounce jigger; the other is a 1-ounce pony. A shot glass marked with measurements is another options.
A cocktail shaker, either the functional Boston shaker or the more aesthetic standard shaker, is a must. The Boston variety is preferred by most professional drink makers. If you opt for this style, you'll also need a cocktail strainer, which fits over the shaker glass. On a standard shaker, the strainer is built in. You'll also need a muddler, the stick-shape tool used to crush ingredients (such as the mint leaves in a mint julep) or to break up sugar cubes and bitters. It can also be used for cracking ice. Swizzle sticks add a funky nonedible garnish to many drinks. You can go cheap with plastic toss-aways or invest in classy glass sticks.
A simple long-handled metal bar spoon is a must for stirring cocktails and creating layered drinks such as the pousse-cafe. It can also double as a muddler in a pinch. To really show that you know your stuff, get a glass stirring rod, which is preferred by cocktail connoisseurs when stirring carbonated drinks (the metal spoon reacts badly with the bubbles).
For frozen drinks, such as daiquiris and margaritas, get a sturdy blender that is good at crushing ice. Many bar blenders have a single speed.
Your basic shopping list should include gin, light rum, bourbon, brandy, whiskey, Cointreau, dry and sweet vermouth, tequila, Kahlua, scotch, and vodka. Expand your bottle lineup with a nice cognac and a couple of cordials. Consider Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Pernod, and triple sec. You'll find a need for less-frequently-used spirits as you discover cocktails that require specialty ingredients. For example, creme de menthe and creme de cacao are not on the basic list, but if you enjoy grasshoppers, include those two bottles on your shelf.
You'll also need to add mixers that help create most cocktails. To start, pick up tonic water, Rose's lime juice, orange juice, sparkling water, lemon juice, ginger ale, club soda, and cranberry juice. You'll need bitters, preferably the versatile Angostura bitters, a potent ingredient that sets off the flavor of many cocktails.
Grab limes, lemons, and oranges for garnishes, such as twists and fruit slices, and to make fresh-squeezed juice when you really want to show off. Other basic garnishes require maraschino cherries, pearl onions, and stuffed green olives. Stock up on the basic spices and sweeteners used in many drink recipes: salt, sugar cubes, superfine sugar, Tabasco sauce, Worchester sauce, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cream of coconut.
In the world of fancy cocktails, even something as basic as ice must be of the highest quality. Regular ice cubes from the freezer pick up flavors from frozen food, so don't use those. Buy a bag of ice from the store.
Chaser: A drink you gulp down after drinking a straight shot of another spirit (as opposed to mixing the two liquors in a single drink). Mixer: Added to liquor in making a cocktail. Examples are soda water, orange or lemon juice, and cola. Neat: A plain, unadorned drink. No ice, no mixers, no water. On the rocks: This refers to any drink served over ice cubes. Most are served in old-fashioned glasses. Shooter: A straight shot of any spirit taken neat (plain).
If bridge isn't your cup of tea, try one of these games for four or more players. The degree of difficulty is measured by the number of cocktails the average adult might consume and still play reasonably well. For complete rules to other card games, including bridge, check out Card Games Home Page -- www.pagat.com.
Go Fish (4 cocktails) Players ask each other for cards to make books (four cards of the same rank -- kings, queens, etc.). If a player doesn't have the card, he says "go fish" and a card is drawn from the stock pile. The player with the most books wins.
I Doubt It (Bullshit) (3 cocktails) Players discard facedown, presumably following a lead suit. If a player doubts the correct suit has been played, he may challenge. The loser of the challenge must pick up the discard pile. The first player to get rid of all her cards wins.
Poker (Five Card Draw) (2 cocktails) Each player gets five cards. Bets are placed, then players may exchange up to three cards. Bets are placed again, then cards are shown. High hand wins (five of a kind beats a straight flush, etc.).
Gin Rummy (1 cocktail) Normally played with 2; can be played with 3 or 4. Players attempt to arrange their 10 cards into sets (3 or more cards of the same suit, or 3 or 4 cards of the same rank). Players are rewarded for having no unmatched cards, or "going gin."
History Adapted from the game of whist, bridge has been played since the early 1900s. Harold S. Vanderbilt is credited with inventing contract bridge in 1925 while traveling on an ocean liner from Los Angeles to Havana.
Equipment A standard pack of 52 cards.
Players Four people play in two opposing pairs. In each pair, there is a "declarer" and a "dummy." The declarer is the first to bid the suit of the contract; she plays both her own cards and those of the dummy.
Hands Each player is dealt 13 cards. Suits are ranked from spades (the highest) to hearts, diamonds, and clubs (the lowest). The ace is the highest value card in each suite; the two is the lowest.
Bidding For each hand, players bid on how many of 13 possible "tricks" they think they can win (the contract). A "trump" suit, established during bidding, takes any trick. Or players may bid "no trump," which outranks all suits.
Winning The winner is the team that scores more points over a succession of deals, known as a "rubber."
Thoroughly confused? Download free instructional software on the American Contract Bridge League's Web site, www.acbi.org.