Notes on Making (Really Good) Cocktails at Home.

By: Jen Shoop

Above: Zafferano perle coupes (20% off with code Magpie20), hi-soft cutting board (I bought Mr. Magpie a few sizes of these professional grade hi-soft Japanese cutting boards last winter), S&L napkin dispenser and napkins.

Mr. Magpie and I took an interest in at-home cocktailing during the pandemic, and we’ve never looked back. A few things we’ve learned along the way:

+Chilled glasses makes a huge difference. If we think far enough ahead, we’ll stow glasses in the freezer an hour or two in advance. This has been made easier by the purchase of a second freezer (we bough a GE upright rather than one of the cooler style ones because we often freeze full trays of things — cookies, meatballs, etc — and also tend to have lots of small batches of bagged frozen items that would be difficult to sift through in a cooler), which we keep in our basement. We may be the major outlier in this, but we’ve found we need more extra freezer space than fridge space — we more or less buy what we eat in 3-4 day increments, and then freeze leftovers and staples. (Also, being able to buy bulk bags of chicken nuggets, edamame, waffles, etc from Costco for our children is a huge cost-savings.)

+A must-have tool: this birds-eye-view jigger. So helpful for measuring ultra-small amounts without constantly getting down to counter level to measure. We have several.

+We also love our weighted cocktail shaking tins (small and large), which are sort of the gold standard in the space. We use this cocktail strainer with the set. For stirred cocktails, I bought Mr. Magpie a gorgeous mixing glass set from RL a few years ago (such an elegant gift for a cocktail lover).

+Double straining is a must for certain cocktails — helps get all the pulp out of fruit-forward bevs or any extra egg white out of a fizz for a smoother finish. We use a small one like this that fits well over the mouth of a glass.

+The right ice for the right drink is key. I wish we had a pebble ice machine (maybe someday), but in the meantime, we use these sphere molds for things like negronis, and crush our own ice using a classic Lewis bag and mallet.

+Fresh-squeezed citrus, always. This is extra work and love but we’re in a good flow where we buy a fresh batch of citrus every few stops at the grocery and keep in one of these wire bins in our fridge. The wire bin means air flows around the fruit and fruit is less likely to grow moldy. We also keep pretty decent tabs on what we have and will plan our cocktail program around what’s looking a little long in the tooth. We use this citrus squeezer, and occasionally, I’ll squeeze enough for two days’ worth of cocktails if I think we might enjoy bevs two nights in a row, and stow in these tiny tupperware, which are perennially handy — great for kids’ snacks, small portions of leftovers or mise en place or garnish, or, yes, squeezed citrus.

+On the heels of that note: we make an effort to use the best ingredients we can find. I think really good quality tonic, for example, makes a huge difference in a gin & tonic, where tonic is 2/3 of the drink! I love Fever Tree brand. And when it comes to booze, the “best,” by the way, is not always the most expensive — explore your own tastes. I know this is going to get me flack, but I do not care for Casamigos, at least for cocktails. It is smooth to the point of featureless (a virtue for some folks) but I usually enjoy tequila in a cocktail, and prefer some flavor texture and depth. In a marg, you can’t even taste the Casamigos at all? It mellows out the entire mix. We’ve learned over time we love G4 tequila for margs for this reason. It has a great, almost vegetal (cactus-y?) taste to it. So good. I also love Flor de Cana for rum (!!!) — the white rum is like $20 but excellent, and all of the aged dark rums are magnificent. For gin, I’m a Hendricks girl (so cucumber-y), but there are many great gins out there, and Landon’s constantly encouraging me to try them. We recently liked Roku (a Japanese gin) and Plymouth is a standard for many of the cocktail recipes in Death & Co (see next note). Reddit is a good source for new brands or preferred brands. Search something like “best gins / reddit” to find new leads. It will take time and some analysis (e.g., if someone’s recommending a gin in the same breath as “Bacardi” — probably skip) but you start to sense patterns.

+I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned this book, but this is our Bible for cocktails. The drinks are unfailingly good, and they provide specific brand recommendations, which is deeply helpful. They cover all the classics — margs, Negronis, etc, and some funky new inventions, too. Mr. Magpie came up with a clever solution where he took photos of a lot of the cocktails we like the most and saved them to a Google Drive folder he shared with me. Through the alchemy of technology, Google can “read” the text on the page, meaning you can open Drive and search for “bourbon,” or “cherry,” or “daiquiri” and it will pull up all of the recipes with those words in it. So helpful if you’re not sure what you want, but have a directional sense. It also means you can make cocktails wherever you are, and means you don’t need to keep your cocktail book out.

+Our favorite cocktail glasses: these coupes (perfect for daiquiris — 20% off with code Magpie20), these martini glasses, these or these for rocks glasses, these for coolers, and these for punch.

+The easiest way to serve cocktails to a crowd / for more than two people: make a punch. We like to serve punches in an enormous Waterford crystal bowl I inherited similar to this, but if we anticipate the crowd will be rowdy (ha), we use an enamel bowl like this instead. Death & Co has loads of creative recipes and they’ve all been huge successes. They often call for steeped or infused liquors, which are not as hard as you’d think — you just need to plan ahead! For example, jalapeno tequila just means chopping tequila, letting it soak in tequila for 20-30 minutes, and then straining out!

+We make most of our simple syrups and stow in the fridge in squeeze bottles like this, labeled with my labelmaker (have also heard good things about this less expensive one, which syncs with your phone). Homemade simple syrup is so easy to make and keeps well for awhile in the fridge. If a syrup or sweetener is challenging to make (like orgeat), we buy from Liber & Co. We especially like their orgeat and grenadine.

+We are serious about garnish. Mr. Magpie especially. He insists they’re part of the drink! We use these cocktail picks and love these cherries for recipes that call for them.

+Love these coasters and cocktail napkins for maximizing enjoyment.

+Some excellent cocktail recipes I’ve shared over the years:







P.S. Kitchen gizmos we love.

P.P.S. Why my husband’s love for (and precision in!) cooking and cocktailing is one of my favorite traits of his. (An openness to joy!)

P.P.P.S. Hope this isn’t too morbid, but what would your last meal be?

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8 thoughts on “Notes on Making (Really Good) Cocktails at Home.

  1. How serendipitous! Today is our wedding anniversary and I am gifting my husband the Death and Co book (per your recommendation of course)! I cannot wait for him to open it tonight! Before kids, we regularly enjoyed swanky cocktails at hip restaurants and boutique hotels. I’m hoping this book will allow us to recreate the magic at home! I must admit, I’m a little overwhelmed by the 600 recipes! Where do we even start?

    1. Yay! You and he will enjoy this SO much. He has them divided into some interesting categories — I’m sure one section will pique your interest as a good starting point. We also thumbed through it and flagged any ones that really excited us or that we had all or most of the ingredients for already.

      Happy anniversary! CHEERS!

  2. I can’t begin to describe the enjoyment your Death and Co recommendation has brought to my home. It’s a super dense book which can be intimidating, but it’s actually very approachable. There is something so special about acquiring the ingredients, preparing the drink, and making it an occasion. When I feel like the world is on fire (and my god, it is), a ritual like making and enjoying a delicious cocktail is such a needed reprieve.

    1. I am SO glad. It’s done the same for us. Agree with you on the ritual element – it really can make a dark day feel less bleak. Thank you for writing to let me know of your enjoyment!


      1. Btw, if you come across Nick and Nora glasses you like, I’m in the market (influenced of course by THE book). We have lovely coupes (which work fine), but the perfectionist in me is seeking new glassware satisfaction.

  3. You should try Barr Hill Gin. It’s from Vermont but I think they ship elsewhere. It’s made with honey and it’s got a subtle floral flavor, great in a Tom Collins. We try to drink local from local producers, for beer, cider, and liquor (local wine from this far north isn’t outstanding…). It adds to the fun of cocktail hour knowing the drink is produced in our little state, and we’ve been able to visit a lot of the brewers and distillers. Mad River Spirits is also great, especially their Maple Cask Rum.

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