Home Bartending Tips from Barcelona’s Two Schmucks

Ariana DiValentino


Don’t be fooled by the laid-back attitude: though Two Schmucks, in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, calls itself the “five star dive bar,” it’s anything but low-rent when it comes to service and taste. Currently ranked #26 of the World’s 50 Best Bars, what started as a pop-up series has become a hot new fixture of Barcelona’s cocktail scene and a must-visit destination. Few can mix a drink like Two Schmuck’s world-class team, but for those unable to reach Catalonia anytime soon, they’ve shared some of their best mixology advice for home bartenders. “Entertaining people in your own home can be a very personal experience depending on who you are,” said Moe Ajaff, one of Two Schmucks’ co-founders. “Many bartenders swear that they treat guests at their bar the same as they treat guests in their own home, but still, when someone is in the space where you cook naked, do awkward dances and funny faces in front of a mirror, it’s just not the same.” His point of view on hospitality comes from his mother, a “strong Middle Eastern woman” who would scold Ajaff if he ever failed to offer his friends drinks and food when they visited. “What she instilled in me was this: no matter where you’re hosting your guests, never have them needing anything,” Ajaff said. “Always leave their bellies full and their thirsts quenched. These, I feel, are the basics for hosting people in your home.” Read on, then shake up a delicious cocktail to sip while you plan your next trip to Spain.

Prepare batches of necessary bar cart accoutrements

Simple syrup is a key cocktail ingredient and an obvious staple for any home bartender – but at the end of a long day, the last thing you’re likely to want to do is turn on the stove and make your own. Since it can be kept in the fridge for months, make your sugar syrup in advance so you have it on hand for easy access later.

According to the bar team, you can use the sugar of your choice with an equal amount of water. Boil up a batch of it for your next easy weekend project, keep it bottled in the refrigerator, and you’ll be ready to shake up a quick daiquiri any day of the week.

The fresher, the better

Fresh produce is central to the drinks served at Two Schmucks, and part of how the bar team connects with the multicultural neighborhood of El Raval. If juice is a component of the drink you’re making, the Two Schmucks team urges you to opt for freshly squeezed over store-bought whenever possible. They swear it makes all the difference.

See what’s in season at your local market, and base your cocktail plans around that. High-quality produce makes high-quality juice, which of course, makes for a high-quality cocktail. 

Some cocktails can be batch-made, too

Fresh ingredients ought to stay as fresh as possible, but plenty of classic cocktails pack a punch without any fresh juice or herbs at all. Martinis and Manhattans, for example, can be made in batches in advance of drinking, because apart from the garnish, they contain only spirits, bitters, and fortified wines – nothing that will oxidize and go bad, or even just look bad, after a day or two. Imagine coming home to a perfectly chilled Manhattan anytime you want. Need a recipe? Two Schmucks shared their take on the classic cocktail on their Instagram:

65ml Michter’s Rye

22.5ml Cocchi Torino

3 dash Angostura bitters

2 dash orange bitters

1 dash chocolate bitters

1 salt solution

Orange peel

Combine all liquid ingredients in a mixing glass, stir, then strain into a coupe or other drinking glass. Express an orange peel over the drink, then discard. 

Avoid over-dilution at all costs

The only thing worse than a cocktail that’s too strong? One that’s too weak. The team at Two Schmucks compared an over-diluted cocktail to a steak cooked well done – a serious indictment from El Raval’s resident flavour experts. While some home bartenders put a lot of thought and money into the kind of ice they use, this may not be as helpful as they are hoping.

The real secret is, in all honesty, trial and error and a lot of care. The bar team says to think of it this way: putting liquid and ice together is like putting meat on the fire. Vigilance is required to get your cocktails perfectly chilled but not watered-down by melted ice. Don’t let your cocktail ingredients hang out in the shaker with ice for longer than necessary to avoid excessive dilution.

Infuse away – but start small

Infusing spirits with flavor from spices is a great way to add some delicious complexity to even a two or three ingredient cocktail. Vanilla bean pods, cinnamon sticks, chile peppers, herbs, even fresh fruit can all be infused into various spirits to create interesting and delicious flavour combinations. It’s done by simply combining your spirit and flavourful addition of choice, then letting the mixture sit for about a day (more if you prefer) before straining out the spice or fruit. It’s a fun way for home bartenders to get creative and really personalize their concoctions, but zealous hands can easily go overboard. As such, you may not want to jump in headfirst.

Because infusions can be experimental, always start with a small quantity until you have your recipe and technique perfected. The Two Schmucks team recommends starting with a small mason jar of your preferred spirit and infusion – say, tequila and habanero – rather than risk ruining a whole bottle of a good liquor with too much of a strong flavour.

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