Cocktails with Nick

Bonjour Brummies I am hanging up the apron for the month, and switching the cookers off. It is time for me to dig out my best shirt, pants and bow tie.  In the back bedroom there is a case of cocktail kit and some very dusty bottles. I've scrubbed them all down to present Nick's guide to running a bar for a party.

First of all, you need a bar. But really all you need is a clothed table, and possibly a shelf behind, depending on what you have got. You need a bucket of ice, glassware, and a few tools of the trade.  Oh, and booze.  Lots and lots of boozy booze and mixers too.

Let's start with cocktail shakers. They normally come in two types.  First, the three-part shaker, which is mostly old school and there is the two-part shaker, that requires at least one separate strainer. To use a three-part shaker, stick the cap on the top half, add ice to the base, and add the top half.  Now to shake a cocktail, place one hand firmly on the top, and one hand on the base, and shake firmly into the shoulder.  Not over it.  And never hold the shaker by the sides, it will fly open and cause a godawful mess.  I have seen this happen at competition level.  After the one shake, the shaker will now be nice and cold, covered in condensation, and ready to go.

So what kind of kit does a bar need?  In the photo you will see some examples.  Tongs for ice and lemon, bar spoons for stirring and adding ingredients such as sugar. Notice how the stems spiral?  That isn't just funky design - they are used to liquors to trickle down when you are making layered cocktails such as the B-52.  The flat-headed wooden thing is a muddler, used for making Mojitos or muddled drinks where you squish down soft fruit, limes or mint.

The little grater is a zester, this is used to extract the lemon zest from the skin.  It is also used for spices such as nutmeg that get added to some milky cocktails.  The fruit knife is always small, preferably very sharp.  Blunt ones just cause more accidents as they can slip easily.

Next to it is a bar zester, another handy bit of kit.  When someone asks for a Martini with a twist, they mean a strip of lemon zest that you cut with the side of the zester, very carefully.  Then they place it in the Martini glass and send it over to Mr Bond's table.

On the far right is a small strainer, to prevent bits of pulp falling from the shaker into your drink.  The one pictured is not, in fact, a very good example.  You really need a strainer like a small sieve.

At the bottom is one of the most important pieces of kit.  To a barman or waiter, this is the most important piece of kit.  The waiter's friend.  The little knife at the front is for cutting through foil on bottles, the lever at the other end is for latching on to bottle edges and the corkscrew drills into the soft cork.  Pull back against the anchored lever and the cork will come out nice and smoothly.  And you look much cooler.  The last thing you need are bar towels or small lint-free towels.

You don't need all this kit, all the time, but it helps, trust me.


Big fruity cocktails should come in nice big sturdy glasses that hold out well and smaller, tall drinks come in half pint glasses. Built drinks, such as Mojitos or a White Russian come in shallow, wide, and thick based glasses usually used for whisky.  They are wide so you get to appreciate the vapours of the whisky.

The triangular glass near the back is, of course, the Martini glass, immortalised by one Mr J Bond.  Of course it was around a long time before he appeared on screen.

Next to it is a slightly more rounded wide cup.  This is a coupe, used mainly for Margaritas.  It is no coincidence that they always seem to be plastic.

On the far right is a latte glass.  Now an important safety tip is that warm drinks such as Irish coffee or mulled wine should only be served in these glasses.  They have a handle and are made from very thick glass that does not shatter when exposed to sudden heat.

For every cold drink, you need ice.  Either nice big pieces or well and truly crushed.  For that, you will need an ice crusher.  If you do not possess one, use a blender or wrap your ice in a clean towel and beat it with a rolling-pin.  It never fails.

As well as spirits and liquors, you'll stock juices, mixers and other herbs, such as cloves and mint.  For mixers, go for things like coke, ginger ale or lemonade.  For juices, orange is always the best bet. Pineapple is very sweet, but when shaken, it gives a lovely frothy head to a drink.  Grapefruit is very bitter but it gives a hell of a kick. Tomato is best served with just spirits on its own.

For fruit, you don't need the full fruit salad, Del-boy style, just cut a lemon or lime wedge or a full slice of orange.  Less is more. The photo also shows an egg and these are used raw, although I don't recommend it. Egg yolks atop vodka and tomato makes a hell of a hangover cure (apparently).

The last thing you need is a few bar decorations. A good bar ought to have a personal touch, be it a few ornaments, flags or small games. Put a full orange in a pint glass of water. Ask people to balance a coin on top of the orange, to see if they can.  You will soon pay off your mortgage.

So this is a good start in what a bar needs. Not all of them, not all the time, it depends on what kind of party you are planning. Next week we get into the serious business of mixing the cocktails. Have your spare liver standing by.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable