Looking to make cocktails to impress, but don’t have any professional equipment? You can still make party-ready drinks using household items you already own. Expert mixologist Charlotte Clark explains how to repurpose kitchen utensils and other every day items to live out your at-home bartending dreams.
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You’ve prepped pudding, tablescaped a twinkly candle-filled dinner table, crafted the perfect playlist and bought enough bags of Kettle crisps to feed a small school trip. The only thing missing for a perfect dinner party? Pre-dinner cocktails.
If you want to make cocktails that will impress your guests but don’t have the arsenal of an east London mixologist at home, not to worry. Even if you don’t have a shaker, jigger or strainer to hand, you can still make party-ready cocktails from household items you already own.
“The equipment we use to make cocktails totally changes the drink,” says Charlotte Clark, drinks consultant at The Cocktail Society. “If you don’t have professional equipment you can get really inventive with things you already have at home to achieve a professional drink.”
From repurposing kitchen utensils to understanding how to mix cocktails properly, here Charlotte gives her at-home hacks for creating perfect drinks, as well as simple cocktail recipes that will instantly wow your friends next time you throw a dinner party.
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How to make a homemade cocktail shaker
Shakers are one of the most important tools in a mixologist’s arsenal. A shaker, and the method you use to shake it, can completely transform the texture and taste of a drink, turning it from a DIY concoction into a restaurant-worthy tipple.
“The basic principle of a shaker is to mix your ingredients,” says Charlotte. “Cocktails contain lots of components with different densities, so you want to really blend those ingredients together otherwise you might get a mouthful of booze in one sip and sweetness in the next.”
Shakers are also important for diluting cocktails. “Shorter drinks, such as martinis or daiquiris, that don’t have lots of ingredients and can be quite boozy need shaking with ice to dilute them,” Charlotte explains.
They’re also useful for aerating drinks. “Pineapple juice, for example, is very flat, heavy and stodgy when you pour it out,” says Charlotte. “But once you shake it, it becomes frothy and light. It’s almost a whole different drink.”
“Mixologists use two common types of shakers behind the bar,” she says. The easiest to recreate at home is a Boston shaker, which is usually made up of two tins, or a tin and a glass, that slot together. “This is the bartender’s go-to. It’s fast, easier to use and to clean, and easy to separate as well.”
If you don’t have this vital piece of equipment at home, Charlotte says you can use containers you probably already have in your kitchen. She suggests using a Kilner or mason jar. “Old protein bottles, smoothie makers or even a plastic air-sealed container can work,” she adds. “Just make sure you can put a lid on it – you don’t want coffee flying away and onto your walls.”
How to shake cocktails like a pro
How you shake a cocktail will vary depending on what you’re making. Short cocktails, or those with fewer ingredients, should be diluted to make them less boozy.
To do this Charlotte advises adding ice to the shaker: “You want to add enough ice to make the cocktail cold, but not so much that it crowds the shaker. You want to open up the surface area so the ice can break down more and dilute the cocktail. Give short cocktails a really hard, long shake to break down the ice.”
When making long cocktails, such as a piña colada or bloody mary, the process is different. “These cocktails usually have a mixer, so you don’t want to dilute them or it will change the texture and flavour,” says Charlotte. “You still want to chill the drink, so we tend to use more ice but shake it in long gentle strides. This means we’re chilling it without compromising the ice inside.”
How to make a homemade jigger
Jiggers, or measuring instruments, are another essential piece of cocktail equipment. Making sure you pour each liquid out to the right measurement will give you a more rounded and tastier cocktail.
Jiggers usually come in standard double (50ml) and single measures (25ml). “For home cocktails, you’ll need a measuring tool that ranges from 10ml to 100ml,” says Charlotte. “A teaspoon is around about 5ml to 10ml, which is good for smaller measures like syrups and bitters.”
“A shot glass, which is usually 25ml, is also really useful, as are smaller measuring cups or measuring syringes,” Charlotte adds.
How to make a homemade strainer
Another important component for making smooth, professional cocktails is a strainer. A Hawthorne strainer is one of the most common types bartenders use. It has two small pins that sit over the edge of the shaker and a coil to catch any big piece of ice or fruit.
“You can substitute the Hawthorne strainer with a slotted spoon, such as a pasta spoon,” says Charlotte. “If you turn it around onto the edge of your shaker or cup it will stop larger pieces of ice and debris from coming out.”
Large strainers don’t catch everything, so a fine mesh strainer can also be used to catch any finer bits that have ended up in the mix. “If you’re making something like an espresso martini, daiquiri or any drink that doesn’t really have any ice in it, you can catch bits of floating ice and pieces of herbs or fruits using a fine strainer.” At home, Charlotte suggests using a fine tea strainer or any smaller strainer you use to wash fruits and vegetables with.
Easy and impressive cocktails to make with homemade equipment
“Using egg whites in homemade cocktails is really impressive and gives a fun, frothy element on top,” says Charlotte. A good, simple way to add egg whites to cocktails at home is to make different variations on the sour cocktail.
“Sours have a basic structure: sugar syrup, lemon juice, egg white and any spirit base that takes your fancy – this could be amaretto, vodka, gin, rum, whisky, anything,” explains Charlotte.
The general measurements to make one sour are: 50ml spirit, 35ml lemon juice, 12ml sugar syrup (you can make this at home with equal parts sugar and water), 1 egg white and ice.
To make vegan-friendly cocktails you can substitute the egg white for aquafaba (aka chickpea juice).
“If you want to be more adventurous, a flavoured martini is a good party drink that allows lots of room to play about with different flavours,” says Charlotte.
The classic martini recipe is 100ml gin or vodka, 50ml vermouth, a twist of citrus. This makes two cocktails.
“You can add frozen berries to your shaker, or fresh fruit to your spirit or flavour your spirit,” says Charlotte.
Find more expert-led guides and tutorials on The Curiosity Academy Instagram page (@TheCuriosityAcademy).
Charlotte Clark, drinks consultant at The Cocktail Society.
Charlotte has worked in mixology for three years and is now the drinks consultant at the UK’s leading cocktail delivery and cocktail subscription box, The Cocktail Society. She designs cocktails and cocktail menus as well as heading up live masterclasses and tastings.
Images: Getty, The Cocktail Society, Charlotte Clark