Booze guide: How to step up your home bar

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From the November 14, 2013 edition

Every cocktail enthusiast should have a solid home bar stocked with liquors and liqueurs, proper glassware and tools, fresh fruit and herbs, and a cocktail book or two. But if you want to step up your bar, Travis Owens, owner of Curio at Harvest, has some advice on which products will do so.

Owens is one of Columbus’ most knowledgeable and talented mixologists, so most of these products are paired with his explanations. I threw in a few of my favorites too, even if I’m nowhere near the expert Owens is.

Isi soda siphon

It’s very versatile. You can use it to rapidly infuse a spirit on the fly with any type of fruit or herb. Or to charge a cocktail twice and carbonate it. TO

Japanese ice ball mold

More of an aesthetic than anything. I take big blocks of ice, widdle them down to a square so they fit under the mold. It works by weight and the metal content by bringing down the outside and through pressure turns it into a solid, crystal clear ice ball. Used for an old fashioned or whiskey on the rocks. Less surface area will create less water and dilution in your drink. Always use the purest water possible too. TO

12-ounce Barrel-aging kit

Ideal if you don’t want to pour a lot of spirits into a barrel and not know what’s going to happen. You can do a quick barrel-aging with wood staves. In about two weeks the result is similar to barrel-aging, which takes about three months. I test things with this. You could put a neutral spirit in to age it, or a whole cocktail as well. TO

Jiggers and bitters

Jiggers result in better accuracy and consistency and a more balanced cocktail. With classic cocktails you want to stick as close to the original recipe. Bitters are always essential. TO

Five spice powder

A very good fall or winter ingredient, but it’s always good to have spices around the house, whether dried or fresh herbs. TO

Del Maguey's Mezcal Vida

It’s such an intriguing and interesting version of an agave-based spirit. They roast the core of the agave, giving it a more aromatic and smoky nature. It makes for a much more unique cocktail. TO

Tito’s vodka

Just a really well-made, simple vodka good for blending because it’s very neutral. It’s not going to cost an arm and a leg, and just as good as the vodkas for $40 or more. TO

Buffalo Trace bourbon

One of the best bourbons on the market and costs around $25. Perfect straight up or in a cocktail. JT

Bols Genever

If you’re a gin fan, or even if you’re not, it’s very nice to have around due to its uniqueness. The backbone is not just a neutral grain spirit like gin. Whiskey and gin drinkers could both find something to like. It’s not as heavily botanical as London dry gin and creamier in flavor profile — very soft, rounded and malty. Can always be used in place of gin and sometimes in the place of whiskey. TO

Watershed Four Peel Gin

A light gin with a smooth finish that doesn’t carry juniper botanicals too heavily. Perfect for cocktail creation. JT

 

Carpano Antica vermouth

This has a much fuller and rounded flavor with hints of vanilla, a little cinnamon and an herbaceous vermouth. Fits well with any style of bourbon and gin. Always keep vermouth stored in a cool place; it’s a fortified wine and can go bad in a matter of weeks. TO

Aperol

It’s always good to have a nice aperitif. It’s much more approachable and versatile than Campari. TO

Green Chartreuse

It’s a vegetal elixir with a nice spice to it. There’s lots of herbs and kind of earthy or a little spicy. As something to add to a cocktail, or even cook with, it’s one of my favorites. TO

Crème de Violette

Use this in very small amounts because it’s such a floral and unique spirit. It’s good with gin to crank out an Aviation; a classic cocktail everyone enjoys. TO

Leather coasters

My sister actually designed these. She works for Fossil. If you’re going to spend on some nice glassware, you might as well have some nice coasters too. TO

Old-school ice breaker

I found this on Etsy. A lot of bartenders use big chunks of ice and the back of a spoon to crack it. This has a flex in it that does a much better job. I think it’s from the late ’60s/early ’70s. TO

Channel knife

This has multiple uses; cutting the peel off orange or grapefruit, making a twist, and has a zester to zest a small amount of an orange or lemon. TO

Old Fashioned glasses

The most versatile and necessary glassware. Can be used for a number of cocktails, or just a spirit neat or on the rocks. I also use it as a stem-less wine glass. JT

A collection of cocktail books

It all starts with the history of the cocktail. Even the new school books pay homage to the classics and how they’re made, but some of the techniques mentioned in the newer books are important. It’s always nice to have access to what’s going on currently and to be able to reference the classics. TO

A cocktail journal

I always keep a personal one, or two or three. Even at Curio we have one around because we’ll come up with something on the fly for a customer and keep it for future reference. It’s good to jot down notes on which cocktails you’ve tried to see what works for you. It’s also a nice talking piece for when people come over. TO