The right tool for the job — that’s our motto (but we think someone else might have said it first). This section covers not only all of the tool we find indispensable but also review of drink-related product we’ve given a test.
Tools of the Trade
Now that we’re half-way through the bottles, I think it’s high time we started making some drinks. All the basics for 19th Century cocktails are in place. We have the three main spirits: gin, whiskey, and brandy. We have the all-important bitters. And, we have orange liqueur, which opens up one of the first categories we’ll be exploring: the Daisies/Sours. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, before we can mixed any drink, we need the right equipment.
As with any profession/hobby, bartending comes replete with its own set of specialized tools. If you’ve never mixed a drink before, the names Boston Shaker and Hawthorne Strainer might just as well be wrestling moves. If, however, you find yourself responsible for quenching the thirst of another adult, then these two tools of the trade, among others, will suddenly be your best friends.
There are two main types of shakers on the market: the Boston, which typically consists of a large glass tumbler and and even larger metal tumbler, and the Cobbler/European shaker, which includes a metal cap and lid as part of the apparatus. Ignore the later. Sure, it’ll work, but the Boston has several key advantages. With the Boston, you can have multiple glasses measured-up and ready-to-go at anytime. This is key when your guests number more than two. The clear glass tumbler also allows for you to see your ingredients as you assemble them and may prove to be a lifesaver, should you forget something. Finally, the all-in-one, metal gizmos tend to freeze shut once vigorously shaken. With the Boston, it’s just a well-placed smack with the heel of a clenched fist to break the seal (if you need a visual, check Google or YouTube, but it’s child’s play).
Despite what most recipes call for, I go with David Wondrich and put the ice in last and only when I’m ready to shake or stir. This way, should you get distracted for an hour, your ice-less cocktail will happily wait for you. Personally, having a 9-month-old, this is a rule to live by.
I once knew a man who said,”If there’s a jigger on the bar, I’m having a beer.” Apparently, he’d never had a decent cocktail. As with baking, precise measurements are important for a perfect mixed drink. Just go liberal with the bitters or the vermouth once, and you’ll quickly realize this. How you measure is less important than the fact that you do measure, so use the jiggers that you like best. I prefer fixed-size, double-ended bar jiggers because you never have to worry about matchimg up to a little line or over-pouring. However you measure, you’ll need to be able to measure 0.5 oz, .75 oz, and 1 oz. Most other measurements are multiples of those, but 1.5 oz and 2 oz are quite handy to have around.
As with shakers, there are basically two kinds of strainers: the Julep, which is made to fit a certain size glass, and the ingenious “any glass’ll do” Hawthorne Had it been invented today, the Hawthorn is the kinda of wonder you’d see the late Billy Mays hawking on Syfy at 3am. It’s really one of the cheapest works of pure genius that you can buy, and there’s a damned good reason why it’s the only strainer you’ll need. The magic is in its coiled spring, which allows the Hawthorn to adjust its size to fit nearly any glass you throw at it. Next time you have one in-hand, put it through its paces. It really is “one strainer to rule them all.” Okay, I may be over-selling it a little, but it’ll do the job when you need it.
Because not everything is shaken. When to shake and when to stir? I’ll fall back on Wondrich again for this one. Shake when there’s fruit juice or other non-clear liquid in the mixing glass. Stir when all the ingredients are perfectly clear. Shaking dissolves ice more quickly, and ice can make a drink cloudy. If the drink already has citrus or berries in it, you’ll never notice. If its clear like a martini, stir, stir, stir. Sorry, Mr. Bond.
Bar spoons are also invaluable for layering liquors, which we may or may get to at some point (Actually, we will sooner than you might expect). The twisted shaft also makes them easier to spin in your fingers, which provides a better mixing action.
A muddler is basically a bit of wooden doweling that’s curved on one end. It’s used to pulverize citrus, berries, mint, sugar, you-name-it in the glass, much like you might use a mortar and pestle. You can use just about anything to muddle with but something on the thicker and heftier side will let the tool do most of the work for you. We’ll explore muddling more as we come upon it, but trust me, it’ll be even sooner than layering.
Of course,vintage barware is always cool to have, and since the functionality hasn’t changed in a few hundred years, eBay or the local antique trove my be worth a visit.
Esoterica: If you really want to go old school, find yourself a proper toddy-stick — a slightly more refined version of the muddler. Made of wood or, even better, silver, the toddy stick will muddle and stir all-in-one as well as make the user look quite like a conductor tuning his liquid symphony. And who doesn’t want to look like that?
Ask any drink professional about which glasses a bar needs, and you’ll get a list of at least a dozen. While that’s a fine number for bottles, it’s simply obscene for the home bar. So, I propose a more tangible number — four. Sure, four glasses won’t be perfect for every single drink under the sun, but they’ll cover 95% of them. For the rest, just improvise. If you’re serving at home and the drinks a free and tasty, no one should rightfully criticize you.
This is my go-to glass for most drinks. Coupes, which most people know as the “other” champagne glass (most often seen in its plastic form) has made a renaissance along with the classic cocktail movement. Legend has it that the shape was modeled after Marie Antoinette’s breast — the perfect size. Legend is wrong — the glass predates the queen — but the story is worth retelling to your guests. I use a 4.5oz coupe from Libbey. They are seamless (always go for glassware that doesn’t show molding seams) and sturdy enough to take abuse.
In many of my pictures, you’ll also see a 4.5oz “port” glass (also shown at left) . These were part of a family set that I inherited, and I use them mostly to break up the monotony in the pictures. What’s key here is the volume and the stem. Any martini-type glass will do, but avoid the hulking 6+ ouncers that have become the norm. You want a glass that is full but not overflowing, and almost all of the drinks presented here will have roughly the same volume.
The coupe/martini glass will be your go-to glass for pretty much anything that’s served without ice (with some exceptions, of course). The steam allows the drinker to handle the glass without heating up the drink itself, which is key, especially for martinis and the like.
With a much larger volume (8 – 12 oz) and a heavy bottom, the rocks glass will be your choice for anything muddled (the glass can endure it) or Cocktail-like. Juleps, Cocktails, Sazeracs, Brandy Milk Punches — all these typically require some ice to join the other ingredients, so you’ll need a little more room.
Rocks glasses are also the way to go when serving a shot of liquor — on the rocks or neat. Go for a heavy glass, as the weight not only tricks the brain into thinking there’s more substance to the drink than there is, it also makes for a studier compounding glass.
The Tom Collins is a highball — namely, a drink to which a non-alcoholic ingredient makes up a significant portion of the volume. Classic highballs include the Gin and Tonic and the Cuba Libre (rum and coke). Because these drinks are typically thought of as summer libations, a tall glass that can hold a good deal of ice and fizzy stuff is in order. I use a tall, thin glass that holds about 10 oz and is very delicate in the hand — it should feel sexy, not clunky.
This is a catch-all glass that, while also holding about 10oz, has a short stem and just feels right for a variety of hot drinks (go with thicker glass for the heat) or pretty drinks like the Julep. The larger mouth also provides plenty of room for heavily-garnished drinks like Fixes.
Along with the Collins glass, goblets are great for tropical drinks as well.
I’ll try to keep to these basic glasses throughout the blog. Every now-and-then, however, I feel compelled to mix it up, just for the sake of visual variety. Any glass that you see that’s not included above (like the one used for the Mint Julep) is typically just a substitute, and as long as you respect the purpose and construction of the drink, use what you have on-hand.
After all, it’s the Mona Lisa that people flock to see — not the frame that she’s in.
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