Joe Sixpack: The important parts of your new home bar: Ice bucket & tongs

Posted: October 29, 2010

LAST WEEK, I urged you to build a home bar. It's good for your soul.

What I forgot to mention is that, if your bar is not properly equipped and stocked for home parties this holiday season, your soul is damned. For deliverance, I turned to the Good Book, which is to say the newest edition of "Bartending for Dummies" (Wiley, $16.99). Its author, Ray Foley, is the publisher of Bartender Magazine and founder of the Bartender Hall of Fame, so he kinda knows his way around a bar.

"The most important thing," he told me, "is an ice bucket and ice tongs. Man, I don't want anybody putting their hands on my ice. The guy picks and nose and gets your ice - do you want that?"

OK, then . . . moving on, Foley says to keep it simple.

It's nice to provide a selection of glasses for tall drinks, rocks and beer, he said. "But I'll tell you what a shortcut is: wine glasses."

White wine glasses can handle a mixed drink and - when it comes to beer - about half of a 12-ounce bottle. No, they aren't perfect; your bar ought to be stocked with English pints, Belgian tulips, slim pilsners, tall glasses for German wheat beer and snifters for barley wine. But in a pinch, a white wine glass shows off the color of your beer and won't impede the aroma.

Make sure they're clean. Foley said a dishwasher is best, because it won't leave soap residue, which kills the head. "And never pour milk into a beer glass," he warned. "That'll ruin a glass forever."

Ice, glasses, what else? Beer!

Foley said if you're also serving wine and cocktails, a dozen bottles should be enough. Right . . .

Since it's all beer at my place, I've developed a complex, incredibly precise formula to predict consumption. It's based on the length of the party, the number of guests (minus .5 for each female, plus .5 for each Irishman), the average age of the crowd, exterior temperature and the volume on the stereo.

Then I trash the whole thing and buy as many cases as I can fit into my car trunk.

The important thing is an assortment: light/dark, mild/strong, sweet/hoppy. Many craft breweries package variety packs with just the right mix. For example, Victory Brewing Co.'s variety case contains its full-bodied, amber Victory Lager, refreshing Prima Pils, bitter HopDevil and warming Golden Monkey.

I know what you're thinking: Maybe somebody won't enjoy all of that full-flavored craft beer goodness. Maybe someone would prefer a (gasp) light beer.

Don't fall into that trap.

If you're going to go to all the trouble of preparing a meal - the hot appetizers, the funky cheese, the freshly baked bread - then take a few minutes to select a real beer. Stocking the fridge with Miller Lite for a holiday party is the beer equivalent of tossing a plastic-wrapped loaf of Wonder Bread onto the serving table and declaring, "Dinner is served."

Mainly, it's those bitter hops that light beer drinkers dislike. So offer a German wheat beer like Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, or a sweet Belgian-style ale like Ommegang Abbey Ale.

But don't get too wrapped up in finding an alternative.

First, you are under no obligation to cater to people who dwell at the bottom of the food chain. Indeed, consider this an opportunity to upgrade your friends' beer palates. Maybe they'll serve something better next time you stop by their place.

And second, most of your guests will have whatever you're serving . . . as long as you use ice tongs.

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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