Essential Home Bar Tools…

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


Often times, I have many of my regulars at the bar ask me what sort of tools they should purchase for making home cocktails. I know that, because, there are so many kits and bartending sets out there that it can be confusing for first-timers looking to get started.

That being said, here is a list of the most basic and essential tools that I think would be beneficial to anyone climbing deeper into the world of home cocktails:

MIXING GLASS: Any basic pint glass should be fine for use in stirring cocktails such as the Manhattan and the martini. Also, you will find that the mixing glass fits perfectly into the metal part of the cocktail shaker, which makes it a versatile tool for shaking drinks.

TIP: Be careful to make sure that the glass has been heat-tempered for safety and to avoid any breakage.

COCKTAIL SHAKER: Although, you will can find plenty of cocktail shakers on the market ranging from six dollars to well over a hundred. For casual home use, you should be fine with any quality shaker set; however, if you find yourself shaking drinks more than once a week, you might want to look into picking up a nicer shaker designed for more frequent use.

TIP: Koriko Weighted Tins are extremely high-quality and ring in at around $15 for a set.

BARSPOON: A good barspoon is not only essential for properly stirring cocktails such as the Negroni or the Martinez, but it can also be used for other tasks, such as smashing sugar cubes and to swizzling drinks served on crushed ice.

TIP: A good barspoon can be surprisingly difficult to find, but and both have great spoons at affordable prices.

HAWTHORNE STRAINER: A good Hawthorne strainer is exactly what you need to pour out of the cocktail shaker when you are done shaking, plus it helps to keep from making a mess when you are pouring out the finished drink.

TIP: Stay away from many of the high-priced Hawthorne strainers on the market. The low-priced ones available at under five-dollars work just as well for home use, at just a fraction of the price.

JULEP STRAINER: Even though, you could probably get by fine with just a Hawthorne strainer, it is good to get into the habit of using the right tools for the right job. Besides, a decent julep strainer is very inexpensive, so it is a good idea to pick one up to use whenever straining stirred drinks from a mixing glass.

TIP: If given the option of picking up a larger or smaller julep strainer, I recommend picking up the smaller one, because I find that since smaller ones slide deeper into the glass, they make it a little bit easier to pour with.

JIGGER: The key to quality and consistency in all drinks is to make sure that they are measured properly. More often than not, the difference between an average drink and a phenomenal drink is just making sure that all of the ingredients have been measured.

TIP: Oxo makes a great 2oz measuring cup that is very easy to use and can save you from having to buy several different jiggers. You can find them at most housewares and cooking supply stores.

HAND-JUICER: The key to vibrancy in any citrus-based cocktail is most reliant on fresh juice, and the best way to ensure the freshest juice delivered in the most convenient manner is in the form of a good hand-press. They are easy to use, easy to clean and can also be used for making various kitchen dishes, and thus, not just for cocktails.

TIP: Do not feel pressured to purchase various sized juicers at first. Feel confident in picking up just a lemon squeezer to start, as it works well for lemons, limes and even the average-sized orange.

PEELER: Nothing beats a freshly cut lemon twist on top of a martini or a well-shaken cocktail, and the best way to achieve the desire effect is from using a basic vegetable peeler that you can pick up from your local grocery store.

TIP: Remember that you typically only want the essential oils and zest to provide flavor to the twist, so try to avoid pith by not peeling the twist too deep into the fruit.

MUDDLER: The muddler is a great tool to use for extracting flavors out of everything from mint and basil to heartier fruits such as melon and cucumber. Luckily for us, with the popularity of the Mojito, you can pick up a pretty decent muddler at just about any spirits store or produce market.

TIP: For muddling fruit such as strawberries, I recommend cutting them into little chunks in advance to help make it both easier and cleaner for home muddling.

FINE-STRAINER: While not necessarily as essential as the other tools, given that a fine-strainer is so inexpensive and easy to purchase, I heartily recommend them to all folks who want to go that extra-step when straining shaken drinks at home.

TIP: This tool is practically indispensable when making any drinks shaken with herbs, such as mint or basil.

That should be enough to keep most of you folks going for a while in terms of tools, but if you still wish to delve deeper and seek out more information and recipes, I recommend picking up Art of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff or Home-Bar Basics by Dave Stolte.

If you would like to see any cocktail tutorials on the web, please check out Follow The Liter, a cocktail series of which I co-host at

A Letter to My Bartenders

May 18, 2014 § 2 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.01.38 PM

Photo Credit: Gabe Fonseca 2013


I have a new cocktail exercise for you guys to work on. Whereas the last drill was about creativity, this one is about economy and about better understanding each and every ingredient.
Miles Davis is widely considered one of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century. Although he was a virtuoso trumpet player who could belt out anything he wanted, he is admired and known for playing very deliberately without any unnecessary notes
He was only able to do this, because he so well understood every single note that it allowed him to express himself purely and with clear intention. This is how we should aspire to be with cocktail ingredients.
Each component of the drink should be well-thought out and exist with purpose. This exercise should be helpful in getting us to understand this in action.
With that said, here are the exercises in economy for you to complete:

2 ounces of a Single Spirit
3/4 ounces of Lemon or Lime
1/2 ounce of a Single Liqueur
1/2 ounce of Syrup
4 Ingredients Total

2 ounces of a Single Spirit
1/2 Fortified Wine
1/2 ounce of a Single Liqueur
Optional: Two Dashes of one type of Bitters
4 Ingredients Tops

2 ounces of a Single Spirit
3/4 ounces of Lemon or Lime
3/4 Syrup
Top with Club Soda
1 modifier in the form of: 2 Dashes Bitters or Muddled Produce
5 Ingredients Total

These drills are not here to stump you, so do not feel that you must create the next modern classic. Instead they are here to stimulate you and force you to think about economy.
You have until June 30th to come up with the three drinks, which gives you six weeks. Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need any advice or guidance.
Best of luck, and I can’t wait to try your drinks.

“Telling yourself ‘Oh, you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, you have all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want,’ I mean, that just kills creativity.” – Jack White



My Love for Negronis Exposed in the NY Times

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is a great article by Frank Bruni that I am quoted in. Its all about how our palates mature and develop as we age.  However, you may be shocked to find that my relationship with Negronis was not love at first sight.

Are You Hiring the Wrong People Behind the Bar?

February 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

It seems that one of the top questions I get asked from bar managers and bar owners around the country is: how do you find great staff?

Hiring people is just one of those things that too many of us routinely seem to do without really thinking about it too hard.  I can say this, because this was a mistake I myself have made too often in the past.

On the surface the process seemed to be pretty simple: I would look for someone that had the skill set I was seeking and if they had the availability I needed, and hopefully, a good attitude, then they were hired.

I only interviewed the absolute minimum of applicants that I thought necessary.  I also didn’t concern myself with whether or not they had the right traits for the bar, or more importantly, if I was bringing them into a position where they could thrive.

In essence, I was guilty of treating each position as though it were one size fits all, and in the end I believe that I kept many staff members from reaching their true potential.   Although, I cannot say that I have discovered the keys to hiring the correct applicant every single time, I can say that my success rate has significantly improved over the years.

The most important thing that I did to improve my accuracy with new hires, was to narrow down exactly what I was looking for in my employees.  To expand on that that more precisely, I mean what were the qualities and attributes that I was looking for at the bar?  And what experience was I trying to deliver to my clientele?

A good way to help push this process along is to imagine in your mind the ideal bartender for your bar.  Imagine that they are working their way through the course of a shift, ringing in and making drinks.

Now while that thought is still fresh in your mind, quickly write down five qualities that this ideal bartender embodied.  Was it warmth?  Humor?  Speed?  Or perhaps possibly, none of these.

Not all of these qualities are essential for every venue, so remember to keep in mind that it is all relative to what your bar is trying to deliver to its guests.

For instance speed is a must for any prospective hire in a high-volume nightclub, but not as strong a factor in a fine-dining restaurant.  While attention to detail is paramount in a craft cocktail lounge, it can be an afterthought in a local college bar.

When you better frame it from that perspective, you will find that it is much easier to truly pinpoint who the ideal candidate for your bar is.

For instance at Polite Provisions, we base our staff hiring criteria on the following:

Work Ethic: Does this applicant like to work?  Do they take pride in their craft?  Are they the type of person that is self-motivated and enjoys performing a job well?

Awareness: Do they seem alert and engaged in conversation?  Do they chime in appropriately when chatting and seem to have a solid understanding of their surroundings?

Hospitality: Does the potential hire convey warmth when speaking?  Do they seem to radiate a genuine sense of concern or compassion for those around them?

Attention to Detail: Did they show up on time for the interview?  Did they come prepared with a resume and pen?  Did they interact with a level of certitude that left you confident in their abilities?

Curiosity: Do they seem eager to learn new things?  Do they seem excited at the prospect of learning new drinks and techniques behind the bar?  Does the thought of an immersive culture excite and engage them?

Even though, this may seem like a very particular trait set for one person to possess, these characteristics are the bare minimum that an individual would have to possess in order to excel ­at the bar.  Without these traits we would be putting them in the position to fail.

Keep in mind that although these traits are the right ones for us, these are by no means universal.  You have to find the right attributes for your bar, and once you do, you have to stick to them.

Your ideal traits will provide the foundation and heart of what your bar becomes, so the sooner that you recognize them and track them down, the sooner your staff and your bar will achieve their true potential.

This is the first of a series of posts that are designed to help you find and hire the right people for your restaurants and bars.

Interview with Imbibe Magazine

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is an excerpt of an interview that I did with Imbibe Magazine on winning Cocktail Bar of the Year with Polite Provisions.

Since the interview was for industry folk instead of just home consumers, we were able to get deeper into the workings of running a great bar.

I hope you find something in there that helps you with your own bar.

“One of the most important aspects of launching a good bar is creating a family of employees where everyone is on the same page. Because of that, I put a significant amount of attention on the hiring, recruitment and retaining process. I wanted to make sure that everyone behind our bar subscribed to a common cocktail philosophy. I was less focused on pulling big-name “bar stars” and more interested in getting people who were passionate about hospitality.” – Erick Castro

Why Bartender’s Weekend?

January 13, 2014 § 3 Comments

Why Bartender’s Weekend?  First let me start out by saying what Bartender’s Weekend is exactly.  Bartender’s Weekend is an excuse for amazing people in the bartender community to get together and bond without the pitfalls of non-stop networking and relentless obligations.

It is a few days set aside where we can enjoy the sunshine, talk shop & eat some incredible fish tacos.

Because of this philosophy, there are no seminars, no educational tastings and also no sponsorship fees.  Bartender’s Weekend is strictly egalitarian and exists only for the people’s enjoyment.

In fact, we don’t even really have anyone in charge, as there is no hierarchy or anyone with official or unofficial titles.

It is just a bunch of bartenders having fun and asking you to do the same.

So, if you want to organize your own event or party then please go ahead and do so, because we strongly encourage it.  Naturally, we ask that you check the calendar first, but this is only because it is the cool thing to do, not because anyone will say no.

We want everyone in the community to be able to come out and enjoy themselves regardless of what brand or bar they work (or don’t) for.

With all that said, we hope that you will join us this March 2nd – 4th here for the Second Annual Bartender’s Weekend here in beautiful San Diego.  Much love & respect.  (check back January 19th for calendar updates)

Closing Out the Tab on 2013

December 31, 2013 § 1 Comment


No more time for excuses, bartenders.  We got a New Year in front of us and it’s time to do something with it.

Is this the year that you finally open up your own bar?  Or maybe it’s the year that you snag a position as a brand ambassador.  Or maybe it’s the year where you take action on that idea you had for a party at Tales.

Whatever it is that you want to do, it is finally the time to close out the tab on all those excuses and make something happen. 

I won’t lie.  It will probably be a lot of work, but it will not seem like work, because you will be doing something that you believe in. 

There will be naysayers who don’t think you will be able to pull it off.  Prove them wrong.

There will be supporters who know you are capable.  Make them proud.

But don’t do it for them.  Do it for yourself.  Do it for the community.  Do it because it has to be done.  Do because if you don’t, no one else will.


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