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Getting Started: Basic Bar Tools January 23 2015

So you’ve just brought home a brand-new Rejigger, and you’re ready to join the Home Cocktail Revolution. But what next? Unfortunately, you can’t just stare at your Rejigger and make a cocktail appear. (We’re still working on that for version 2.0.) Instead, you’ll need to stock up on some basic mixology tools and ingredients—the beginnings of your very own home bar.


That might sound intimidating, but don’t worry. We at Rejigger HQ have your back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing step-by-step tips for getting started with the Rejigger, from collecting bar tools to picking out spirits. By the end, we hope you’ll have enough materials to make most of the cocktails in the Rejigger recipe booklet—and the confidence to start inventing your own.


Today, we’re starting with bar tools.


Bristling with complicated-looking metal implements, your average home bar tools set wouldn’t look out of place in a mad scientist’s laboratory. Luckily, if you’ve got a Rejigger, you don’t need to raid Dr. Frankenstein’s house to join the Home Cocktail Revolution. You can get started with just these five items, some of which you may already have at home.


  1. Rejigger: It goes without saying that a Rejigger is a key component of an easy home cocktail setup. Its molded plastic compartments take the guesswork out of cocktail measurements, eliminating the need for a regular jigger. (That’s the little two-sided cup that comes with many bar kits.)

WHAT TO BUY: A Rejigger ($15), obviously!


  1. Pint Glass: Once you’ve poured your cocktail ingredients into the Rejigger, you need something to shake them in. A standard pint glass will work just fine—the Rejigger is designed to fit one. (The bottom half of some cocktail shakers may fit, too.)

WHAT TO BUY: Predictably, the perfectly sized (and aesthetically attractive) Rejigger logo pint glass ($5) is our top pick.


  1. Muddler: This is a thick, often wooden stick with a knob on the end, used for breaking up leaves, rinds, and other ingredients in the bottom of the glass. (Think the mint leaves in a mojito.) Muddling is a time-honored way of adding a new flavor profile to a classic cocktail, and a technique you’ll see often in Rejigger recipes. You can find a muddler for under $10 at many home supply stores, but if you don’t feel like making the trip, a wooden spoon will do just as well.

WHAT TO BUY: With its easy-to-grip handle and non-scratch plastic head, the OXO steel muddler ($13.95) featured in our holiday gift guide is still a safe bet.


  1. Citrus Juicer: Though not absolutely necessary to cocktail success, a citrus juicer will save your hands the trouble of squeezing juice from tons of lemons and limes—and your tongue from tasting less-than-fresh bottled citrus juice.

WHAT TO BUY: We love our big KitchenAid citrus juicer pictured above, but for an affordable, easy-to-store option, try the Dozenegg citrus juicer ($6.28), made of flexible silicone.


  1. Strainer: If you’re shaking up some ice with your cocktail, the Rejigger is all you need to keep it from falling into the glass as you pour: just tilt the Rejigger slightly as pictured in the directions. A fine mesh strainer still comes in handy, however, when you want a cocktail to look picture-perfect. Though leaving them in won’t affect the taste of a drink, straining out pulp, muddled herbs, and other small ingredients makes for a more polished presentation.

WHAT TO BUY: An OXO Good Grips mini-strainer ($8.95) fits snugly over the top of a cocktail glass, keeping things sturdy as you pour.


And that’s it—the five basic tools you need to start making craft cocktails at home. Easy, right? Next week the Getting Started Guide will be back to discuss the next step in building up a home bar: stocking basic spirits.

Getting Started: Basic Spirits January 30 2015

So you’ve got your Rejigger and your basic bar tools—now you need some liquor to fill them with. Craft cocktails commonly use five basic spirits: whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. These are the alcohols that usually form the base of your cocktail, filling the large compartment of the Rejigger.

Of course, you don’t have to buy all five of the spirits at once! Think about what drink (or drinks) you most often order at a bar, and get what you need to make that drink. An old-fashioned aficionado should probably invest in bourbon first, while a tiki fan might want to bring home a bottle of rum for mai tais instead. You can add more spirits to your home bar as you expand your repertoire of drinks.

Buying multiple bottles of liquor, even one at a time, can get expensive. So in this installment of our Getting Started Guide, we’ll recommend two bottles for each spirit: a “splurge” option that represents a quality starter alcohol in the category, and a “save” option that costs under $20. All bottles are thoroughly tested and approved for mixing by the ReJigger team, but we encourage you to experiment and find the spirits you like best.

(Prices are for a 750 mL bottle except where noted.)

WHISKEY

Whiskey is one of the most diverse spirit categories on this list, with different varieties that have totally different ingredients. All whiskeys start with fermented grain mash, and most of them spend some time aging in oak barrels. But that’s about where there generalities end. There’s sweet, sippable bourbon, which is made with at least 51% corn; bold and spicy rye, which is made with at least 51% rye (duh); and other specialized varieties including blended whiskies and scotch (though that last one is technically a “whisky,” natch). All of this makes it difficult to pick just one bottle to start.

Lucky for you, we at ReJigger HQ were able to do just that. Though rye whiskey is traditional in a lot of cocktails, its more sippable cousin bourbon is probably a little bit more approachable as a starter whiskey. Besides, with its high rye content, our “save” option Old Grand Dad will still give your manhattans a little spice. (We’ve included the 80 proof version here, but for a couple extra dollars you can upgrade to a 100-proof bottle and get a little bit more bang for your buck.)

Save – Old Grand Dad 80 Proof ($17-$20)

Splurge – Bulleit Bourbon ($29–$33

VODKA

Colorless and (almost) flavorless, vodka can mix with almost anything, making it an ideal cocktail ingredient. It can also be distilled from almost anything (within reason). Though most vodkas you see on the shelf are made from grains, there are also vodkas made from potatoes, fruits, even straight sugar.

Since flavor is not a huge factor, the difference between vodkas largely comes down to texture. Our “splurge” pick, Stolichnaya, tends to be thinner and less oily than competitors like Absolut, and might go down a little smoother than Sobieski—though, with #1 honors from the Beverage Testing Institute, our “save” selection is a safe bet for mixing in cosmopolitans, too.

Save – Sobieski Polish Vodka ($10–$12)

Splurge – Stolichnaya ($19–$23)

GIN

With its strong, piney flavor, gin can be a challenge for first-time drinkers—but rewards those who take the time to get to know it. Virtually the only requirement for calling a spirit “gin” is that it have a “predominant flavor of juniper,” but almost all gins are distilled with other fragrant botanicals like anise, coriander, and citrus peels. The result is a complex and aromatic drink that adds a unique flavor to craft cocktails.

Gin has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with craft distillers cropping up all over the U.S.. Our “splurge” pick, Hendrick’s, is a good representative of these so-called New American gins, which have much less juniper flavor than their classic cousins. Of course, if you do want a more classic taste in your Rejigger negroni, you can’t go wrong with the classic London Dry style of our “save” pick, Gordon’s.

Save – Gordon’s London Dry Gin ($11)

Splurge – Hendrick’s ($30–$42)

RUM

With its mellow, sweet flavors, rum anchors many classic tiki and tropical drinks. It can be distilled from various sugarcane products, including molasses or sugarcane juice, and may be aged to intensify its taste. Many beginning cocktail guides will advise you to go with unaged light rum to start, which is why we’ve picked good old Bacardi as our “save” option here. But if you’re planning to make lots of strawberry daquiris with your Rejigger, you might want to invest in an aged version like our “splurge,” Mount Gay Eclipse. It will add a little more flavor to all your classic tiki drinks.

Save – Bacardi Superior White Rum ($13–$14)

Splurge – Mount Gay Eclipse Rum ($18–$22)

TEQUILA

Tequila is another spirit where a little bit of aging can make a big difference. Blanco, or white, tequilas are aged for under two months, if at all, and feature the bold flavors of distilled agave (that’s the succulent whose sap tequila is made from). By contrast, reposado (“rested”) tequilas age for two months to a year in oak barrels, where they generally become smoother and subtler in flavor. Anejo (“aged”) tequila, which ages for one to three years, is generally not used in cocktails, but sipped straight.

Our “splurge” pick, Cazadorez, is a reposado that mellows out in new oak barrels for two months before bottling. Cazadorez is also made from 100% agave—something you’ll only find in more upscale tequilas. Our “save” pick, Sauza, can’t boast of the same purity, but it will still mix nicely in your Rejigger blackberry paloma.

Save – Sauza Gold or Sauza Blanco ($12–$15)

Splurge – Cazadorez Reposado ($22–$32)




Getting Started: Basic Mixers February 05 2015

 

So far, the Getting Started Guide has mostly told you things to buy—bar tools, bottles of booze. In our mixers edition, however, we’re going DIY. Most of the items we’ll suggest here are easy (and cheap!) to make at home. So grab some mason jars and read on.

Lemon and Lime Juice: This is one instance where homemade is better. Don’t let the bottled juices at the grocery store tempt you! They lack the bright acidity of freshly squeezed lemon and lime, which add sparkle to every cocktail they’re in. Do yourself (and your whiskey sours) a favor and acquire a good citrus juicer, as suggested in our basic bar tools post. That way, you can squeeze out a couple of ounces of delicious, fresh juice whenever you need it.

Simple Syrup: This is the go-to sweetener for many classic cocktails, from old fashioneds to daquiris. Unlike bottled juice, bottled simple syrup doesn’t taste much different than its DIY equivalent. But it’s so easy to make at home, you might as well skip the grocery trip. And, if you follow the recipe below, you won’t even have to dirty a saucepan.

  • Fill a standard 8-ounce mason jar halfway with sugar.
  • Boil some water in a kettle and pour it in till the jar is filled.
  • Stir as necessary until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Let the mixture cool, then close the jar and store it in the fridge.

PRO TIP: Standard simple syrup has a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, but you can up that to 2:1 if you like your cocktails slightly sweeter.

Alternative Sweeteners: Though simple syrup is sweet, it doesn’t necessarily add much of its own flavor. That’s why some cocktail recipes call for more specialized sweeteners like honey syrup or agave nectar. You can make honey syrup using the recipe above—just replace the half-jar of sugar with a half-jar of honey. Agave doesn’t need the hot-water-in-a-jar treatment, but you may still want to mix it with water before using so it’s a little less sticky.

(And now, our one mixer you can’t DIY…)

Other Alcohols: You’ve already stocked up on the five basic spirits, of course. But craft cocktail recipes often go beyond, demanding liqueurs, apertifs, and other specialized alcohols. There’s no reason to worry about most of them for now—we’ll handle that in a detailed post later on. But even a beginner’s bar should have at least two of these drinks: a triple sec (orange liqueur) and a vermouth (fortified wine).

PRO TIP: If your budget allows, spring for fancier Cointreau over a lesser brand of triple sec—it’ll make a tastier, smoother cocktail.

Getting Started: Guide to Glassware March 05 2015

It’s easy to dismiss specialized glassware as an unnecessary extravagance. A cocktail is a cocktail, whether it’s sipped from a rocks glass or a wine glass or that #1 Grandpa mug you bought at Salvation Army. Why should you clutter up your cabinets with a bunch of fancily named cups?

The truth is, the right glass does more than make a cocktail look pretty. It keeps un-iced drinks cool and carbonated ones fizzy. It can even expose more of a cocktail to the air, releasing its aromas for a more complex, fragrant taste. Of course, when you’re just starting out with the Rejigger, it’s fine to sip cocktails from whatever glasses you have around. (You can even drink them straight from the pint glass you mixed them in!) But as you grow your home bar, it’s well worth investing in some more specialized ones, both for utility and for presentation.

Here are four basic glasses to start with:

Rocks glass

If you’re building your collection from scratch, start with this small and versatile tumbler, which is also known as a lowball or old fashioned glass. With a capacity of 6 to 8 ounces, it has enough room for the ice in cocktails served “on the rocks,” like old fashioneds, negronis, and white Russians. But you can use it to serve cocktails “up”—without ice—too. (The sazerac is one traditional example.)

These days, you may actually have trouble tracking down a standard-size rocks glass.Like everything else in America, cocktails have been supersized: it’s more common to see a double old-fashioned glass, with a capacity of 12 to 14 ounces, in stores. There’s no problem with buying one of these to use as your go-to rocks glass—plenty of pro bartenders do! Just bear in mind that you don’t always need to fill it to the brim.

Pro tip: Most cocktails served in rocks glasses are stirred, not shaken. So if you want to try one out, make sure to brush up on your Rejigger swirl.

Martini glass

Also known as a cocktail glass, the martini glass is the classic conical silhouette that appears on neon bar signs around the globe. With a long stem and a capacity of about 3 to 6 ounces, it’s designed for drinks served “up,” without ice. That means martinis, of course, but also Manhattans, sidecars, aviations, and daquiris. The stem lets drinkers grip the glass without warming the chilled cocktail, but it can also make it a little bit unsteady. Watch out that you don’t knock one over while you’re drinking!

Highball glass

This tall “chimney” glass usually holds something cold, fizzy, and good for sipping through a straw on a hot summer’s day. Often, that means a gin drink: this is the go-to glass for gin fizzes, gin rickeys, and gin and tonics. It’s also the best way to serve rail drinks with soda, like Jack and ginger or rum and Coke. A highball glass holds about 8 to 12 ounces, which is a little less than the taller, skinnier Collins glass, its nearest relative. For home bar purposes, however, the two are pretty much interchangeable—you should feel no shame about serving a Tom Collins in a highball glass, or a gin fizz in a Collins.

Coupe

Like the martini glass, the coupe is a stemmed glass designed to keep uniced cocktails cool. However, its wide, low brim makes it a little less top-heavy than its conical sibling, and thus less likely to tip over. (It also exudes a certain vintage glamour that the martini glass lacks—but that could be my personal taste.) If you have a coupe, try using it for any cocktail served “up” that isn’t a martini, like a Manhattan or margarita.

Pro tip: Originally designed as a champagne glass, the coupe still serves as a good container for bubbly. Just make sure to drink up fast: the bubbles won’t last as long as they would in a flute.


Getting Started: Experimentation March 27 2015

We’re nearly at the end of the Getting Started Guide. You’ve gotten all the supplies you need to mix your own craft cocktails. You’ve tried the standard Rejigger recipes, like margaritas, gimlets, and whiskey sours. You might rightly be wondering what could possibly come next.

Luckily, for you, what comes next is the fun part! The part where you start inventing your very own cocktails.

Like many of the steps in the Rejigger process, this isn’t nearly as hard as it seems. You probably already have ingredients lying around the house that can transform a go-to cocktail into something new or different. Or a lesser-known liqueur that’s just begging to be mixed with a new base spirit. Read on to find out how you can use your Getting Started materials—plus your Rejigger—to make concoctions that are as original as they are delicious.

START WITH SOURS

Sours combine a base spirit with fruit juice (usually lemon or lime) and simple syrup. This category includes many of the most familiar cocktails—whiskey sours, of course, but also gimlets, daiquiris, and Tom Collinses. It is also one of the easiest formats to experiment with when your liquor cabinet is running low. Here are three ways to rejigger a Rejigger sour:

  1. Switch up your fruit juice. Out of lemons and limes? Try making your whiskey sour with that grapefruit juice in the back of the fridge instead. Or, shake up a cosmopolitan with pomegranate juice instead of cranberry.
  2. Flavor your syrup. If you have leftover raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries, throw them into your next batch of simple syrup. They’ll add a subtle new taste—and color—to your cocktail creations.
  3. Muddling is another technique you can use to add new flavors, especially with herbs like mint or basil. Simply add the new ingredient to the pint glass and mash it up with a muddler or wooden spoon before adding in the liquor. This is a great way to use up herbs left over from cooking (or making other cocktails).

THEN, SWAP OUT SPIRITS

Cocktails that use specialized ingredients, like aromatic wines, spirits, and liqueurs, can be a little more difficult to experiment with. It’s harder to tell how the flavors will blend, and more to lose when they don’t blend well. But that shouldn’t keep you from trying new things when your liquor cabinet’s running low. The key is to keep in mind how different liquors are alike, and what their function is in the cocktail.

Take a negroni, for instance. If you’re out of Campari, you can make a similar drink from almost any aromatic, slightly bitter liquor on hand, like orange-y Aperol or artichoke-infused Cynar. Out of vermouth for your manhattan? Try another fortified wine, like sherry, instead.

You can also change the base spirit. This sort of substitution is so common that many of them already have names: a negroni with rum instead of gin is a Kingston negroni, for instance. If you swap in vodka or gin for the rum in a daiquiri, you get a Gimlet. And so on—the possibilities are nearly endless (and delicious).

Happy experimenting! And if you should happen on an interesting original recipe, shoot us a note at info@homecocktailrevolution.com. We would love to feature your cocktail inventions on our blog!