This is what separates casual cocktails from the serious bartender. You’ll get the low down on juicers, blenders, fridges, coolers, ice makers and plenty more pieces of hardware, for hosts who love to entertain, or just impress with their home bar set up.
This guide introduces a lot of bartending equipment for cocktail enthusiasts and home entertaining. While it’s possible to have guests hang out in kitchen where the fridge and sink are, a better option is to have the bartending equipment where you entertain. That could be a portable bar wheeled to where the party is, or a built in wet bar in the rec room.
The last thing you want, when the party is finally going, is to run out of ice. Worse yet, being stuck mixing drinks in the kitchen, when the big football game is on.
Since you don’t want to miss the action, that makes a few things like a blender, ice maker and bar fridge essential for entertaining. Others like beverage coolers and beer keg systems aren’t essential, but they are nice to have, especially if you like to host the parties and have the guests come to your place.
The electric juicer does what the reamers and presses do, but does it in record time. They’re not pretty, or elegant, just fast. It may be a bit overboard, if all you’re doing is making two cocktails and a manual reamer would do the trick. If however, you’re the type that wants fresh squeezed OJ every morning, or if you’re having five or more guests at a cocktail party, then it makes sense.
Look for an electric juicer that has an auto reverse motor. They don’t just spin one way. They spin forward and back automatically, to get maximum juice from the fruit. Be careful about how much pressure you apply to the fruit, or it’s easy to grind into the bitter pith, or even break the machine if it’s a cheap, underpowered unit.
Professional blenders like the Vitamix and Blendtec can make crushed ice in seconds. They can also make purees, smoothies and juice out of any fruit, with the exception of citrus. Just toss in blueberries, strawberries, or peaches and get instant puree. With a little more water and a few seconds on high, you have instant juice.
These blenders are so versatile, that you’ll always find new uses for them. That means they’ll pay for themselves in no time, with the massive amount of time you save.
They can make everything from make soup, to baby food, to frozen slushy daiquiris. A cheap blender with a weak motor will just leave you frustrated. So if you do decide to get a blender, get a good one with a powerful motor and steel gears like the Vitamix or Blendtec.
The more wattage a blender uses, the more powerful it is, but you’ll often see blenders and juicers sold in terms of horsepower. So to convert that ancient measure into watts, there are 746 watts in a horsepower. So 1/4 HP is 187 watts, 1/3 HP is 249 watts, 1/2 HP is 373 watts. By comparison, a typical hairdryer or tea kettle will use 1500–1800 watts.
Fridges and Cooling
A bar fridge, or mini fridge, is a small and portable, 2-4 cubic foot refrigeration unit. It’s used to store commonly used cocktail ingredients, that must be served cold, like soda, eggs, citrus fruit, juices and cream. You can load it up before the party and not have to run to the kitchen every five minutes.
The better bar fridges have removable shelves and reversible doors. They are easy clean and have soda storage in the door. Look for low power consumption, energy star compliant models with adjustable feet if possible.
If you ordered a fridge and had it delivered, unpack it and move it to where you want, but do not plug it in. Let it stand at room temperature for at least 5 hours after unpacking, or moving, before plugging it in, to allow the coolant to settle.
The beverage cooler is a countertop, or under counter, stand alone refrigeration unit. It is designed to cool canned pop, beer and wine. Their size is determined by how many cans they hold, with typical units ranging from 60-120 can storage. Most have glass doors to showcase the product inside.
Some of the better coolers feature reversible doors, fan forced ventilation for flush installation, electronic temperature display, adjustable feet and rubber bushings to minimize noise. Keep in mind that a cooler is suitable for beverages, but may not get cold enough to store food. Get a fridge for the food and use a cooler if you want to showcase your beverage selection.
A wine cooler is a refrigerated storage unit, that maintains a constant cellar temperature for aging wine in the bottle. Most portable coolers found in the home can store anywhere from 6 to 36 bottles. But, if you happen to be an affluent wine aficionado, custom walk in units, or wine vaults, can store 2,500 bottles or more.
Most home coolers are thermoelectric which uses a different technology than the compressor found in refrigeration units. On the positive side they are noise and vibration free. On the downside, they only cool about 20-30 degrees below the ambient temperature in the home. So if you live in a warm climate or experience wide temperature fluctuations, look for a refrigeration unit with a compressor instead of a cooler.
Most of the better coolers feature sliding shelves that are adjustable and removable. They also have adjustable temperature controls with an LED display, so you can see the temperature without opening the unit.
Try to avoid the wine coolers with clear glass doors, or the ones with the blue lights inside. Think about the cellars where wines are professionally aged. They are dark, cool and stable. Light, especially the blue spectrum, can be damaging to wine over the long term, which is exactly the opposite of what a good cooler should do.
Draft Beer Systems
A draft (aka draught) beer system is used to chill, store and serve beer direct from a steel or aluminum keg, which is similar to what the pubs use. Kits consist of the refrigeration unit that stores the keg, an empty CO2 cylinder, regulators, keg tapper, tubing and a dispensing tower complete with tap.
Smaller units like the popular Kegerator are completely self contained units. They hold full sized kegs and can be wheeled to wherever the party is. At the high end are built in units that feature one or more direct draw dispensers, with separate coolers and stainless steel countertops.
The downside is that draft systems take regular maintenance and cleaning, to prevent your house from smelling like a pub. They also require planning, because you need to buy and return the kegs to specialized liquor outlets.
So give some thought to the process and do a little research before jumping into one of these bad boys. If you do get one though, don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly popular, because these beer systems certainly impress the guests, making you the talk of the town.
When you run out of ice, the party is over. Good luck getting a volunteer to drive to the market, or a gas station, to drag that freezing cold, heavy 20 pound (9 kg), sweaty sack back to your place.
A smart step up for any man cave, deck, or patio, is to eliminate the ice cube trays and the hassle of making ice altogether by getting an ice maker. You’ll never hear that party pooping phrase – you’re out of ice – again.
Portable ice makers are perfect for back yard entertaining and small gatherings, especially if you start stocking up a couple of days in advance. A larger, built in one, is essential for anyone with a serious wet bar, or for hosting pool & patio parties.
Now all that said, before you run out and get an ice maker, the ice cubes for cocktails should be around 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5-4 cm) in size. Most home ice makers make crescent shaped ice, or small bullet shaped ice, meaning that they can melt too quickly in highballs and drinks on the rocks. So there’s a bit of a trade off there… smaller cubes, but you never run out.
So a good strategy would be a combination of regular, or jumbo sized ice cubes for cocktails on the rocks, and having an ice maker for everything else. That includes cocktails that are stirred and strained, cocktails that are shaken, plus chilling glassware, and keeping canned drinks cold. You’ll just need to adjust the stirring and shaking times accordingly.
Coffee & Kettles
The coffee maker is essential for any dinner or cocktail party. In addition to being an after dinner staple, coffee is used in several popular hot drinks like the Cafe Royal, Spanish Coffee and Irish Coffee.
The coffee machine can also make hot water for tea and Hot Toddies. For guests that don’t drink, or for the designated driver, a Keurig, or pod type coffee maker, can make dozens of different hot beverages to keep your guests entertained.
The electric tea kettle is used to boil water, which can be used for making instant soup bouillon, Hot Toddies and Hot Buttered Rum. It can also be used to make coffee in French presses, or manual cone filters. The hot water can also be drank plain, which is popular in many Asian cultures.
The hot water will also come in handy for rinsing the mixing glass and shaker cap between cocktails. If you have a wet bar with hot and cold running water then it’s no biggie. If you have a dry bar with a drain sink, but no hot water, the tea kettle will be used continuously to heat water for rinsing.