With the burgeoning popularity of cocktail culture, the array of hardware and terminology can be a touch intimidating for the home cocktologist. To help assuage this overload, we shall break down the essential kit, and some basic supplies, to get you up and mixing.
Libations of different types require different equipment to craft them. As a general rule, if you can see through a drink, it should be stirred. If you cannot see through a cocktail, it should be shaken. This may lead you to then ponder why James Bond ordered his martinis shaken; perhaps Fleming was having a touch of fun with the readership. Alternative theories have James Bond preferring a more watered down martini so that he could stay sharp while on mission.
The vessel in which the drink is made, shakers come in four main styles: Boston, Baron, Cobbler, and Parisian. The volume and composition of the drink, and the preference of the bartender, are the primary factors that differentiate. Boston and Parisian are two piece shakers that require a separate strainer to keep broken ice and other sediment out of the glass; the Boston also allows for a larger volume and is generally the choice of professionals. Baron and Cobbler shakers are three piece shakers with an integrated strainer; this is handy for the home enthusiast, however the strainer can clog if large bits like mint leaves are present.
Varying in size and decorative etchings, these handblown glasses are manufactured in a manner so there are no seams. This removes potential weak points. Mixing glasses are used with a bar spoon for full ingredient intermingling, and with a strainer to ensure a pure cocktail free of the various botanicals, crushed ice, or other ingredients that were mixed with the spirits. It will also have a spout for controlled pours.
Used to ensure solid ingredients and shards of ice don’t get transferred from mixing glass to drinking glass, strainers are also used with Boston and Parisian shakers. There are two main varieties, Hawthorne and Julep.
Hawthornes are named after a bar where they were popularized in Boston during the 1890s - the Hawthorne Cafe - and the brand name later became synonymous with the curved spring style. They are used typically on shaken drinks because the smaller holes, and greater control with the spring helps prevent the small particles of broken ice from flowing out.
Julep strainers are not used for mint juleps. The name stems from a time before straws were common for cocktails, and they were used to prevent a face full of crushed ice while imbibing the drink. Nowadays, the name lingers, but they are commonly used to strain stirred drinks. Inserted at the proper angle, they will fit snugly into your mixing glass. The larger holes are not a concern, as the ice has not been crushed in a stirred drink, and will not pour out.
Bar spoons are longer than the typical spoon, and are used in combination with mixing glasses to mix stirred drinks. They come in varying lengths corresponding to the mixing glass used. The shaft of the spoon is twisted to allow the back of the spoon to stay oriented towards the outside of the glass, preventing unwanted turbidity, as the spoon is rotated around the glass. Accessories such as muddlers, or a traditional trident to ward off bad spirits, can adorn the top end of the spoon.
Properly prepared potions prefer precise portions. Though it may look impressive when a barkeep free pours a beverage, their cavalier technique jeopardizes the outcome of their labour. A well made cocktail requires that the ingredients are mixed in proper balance, and a jigger allows that. Bell and Corn jiggers come in different sizes, generally a 0.5oz/1oz or 1oz/2oz combination to allow measurements to be made quickly and accurately.
Along with the proper tools for crafting a drink, having the proper accompaniments aids in creating a cocktail that will delight the palate and please the drinker.
Far removed from the acrid Gin and Tonic of darker times, modern tonics come in a range of taste as varied as the spirits they are paired with. Ginger with bourbon, elderflower with vodka, hibiscus with rum, rose with gin, and on and on.
From the old standby of Angostura bitters, to more adventurous flavours such as orange, chocolate, walnut, and rhubarb; bitters once were used to cover up the taste of cheap or homemade spirits. Now they are used to add an extra kick that elevates a drink from mundane to marvelous.
At once quite a simple topic, yet an art unto itself, proper ice makes a drink that much better. Ice is used to cool the drink or to maintain the temperature once cooled. Small ice in the shaker or mixing glass will cool the mixture rapidly, but will also dilute the drink more. Large ice is great for keeping chilled libations at temperature, but should remain submerged to prevent undue dilution. To help create the ideal cube, use hot water to encourage proper crystallization during freezing.
An important part of many cocktails, simple syrup is just that, simple. Equal parts water and sugar brought to a gentle boil to allow all sugar to dissolve. For the more exploratory, the water can be infused prior to boiling: one of my favourites is earl grey tea; it adds that extraje ne sais quoi to a whiskey sour.
Bonus - Champagne Sabering
Champagne is a necessity for celebrating life’s milestones: graduations, weddings, Tuesdays; sabering champagne just makes a celebration that much more. We believe that anything worth doing is worth doing extravagantly. A chilled bottle, with the sabre run confidently (but not aggressively!) along the seam, will provide an eruption of bubbles, and a round of applause. Just don’t point the bottle at anyone you like.