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Cocktail 101: Shakers and Spoons
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Today begins a series on barware basics. I'll tell you what pieces I think are essential for the home bartender, but I'll also look at tools that are nice to have but perhaps not necessary.
To start, let's consider shakers and spoons, two of the most important tools used to make cocktails.
The iconic cocktail shaker, of course, is the so-called cobbler shaker, the three-piece, sleek beauty with a tin, a built-in strainer, and a cap.
Nearly everyone's seen these, and for me at least, it was the first piece of bar kit I ever owned. The cobbler has several advantages going for it:
- The cobbler is available nearly everywhere that sells housewares.
- It's offered in various shapes and sizes. You can get giant, party-sized shakers that allow you to shake up 10 or 15 drinks at once, or you can get individual cobblers that serve one drink (with a little extra for topping off a cocktail).
- It's easy to use: add ice and cocktail ingredients to the tin, pop on the strainer top and cap, shake, remove cap, strain. No other tools necessary.
- It's attractive and looks stylish on a bar or shelf.
However, it has some down sides:
- The metal-on-metal construction causes the pieces to seize up, making the shaker hard to take apart to clean and immediately reuse. If you're making just one cocktail, of course, that's not a problem. But if you have one shaker and guests who want different drinks, it's a pain.
- Straining with these is slow, compared to other options, because the strainer holes are small and few in number.
- Shaking drinks containing herbs or fruit is messy using a cobbler, especially at cleanup.
This is what your favorite bartender probably uses. The Boston shaker consists of a shaking tin and a mixing glass.
Note: Some varieties are all-metal, made of one larger tin and one smaller tin. A lot of pro bartenders love these, but I don't recommend them if you're starting out. By building your cocktail in the mixing glass and then sealing the tin to the top of the glass (as I detailed in a previous post), you can watch what you're doing as you add ingredients to the glass. Using an all-tin shaker denies you the transparency of glass, and you might therefore be more prone to mistakes.
Advantages of the Boston shaker:
- Learning how to use one properly makes you look like a pro.
- They're relatively inexpensive.
- If your mixing glass breaks (it happens to all of us), they're inexpensive to replace.
- They're easy to clean and easy to use.
- They store compactly, with the glass nestling inside the tin.
How the Boston might harsh your mellow:
- The glass is breakable. That's all I got, really.
A two-piece, all-metal shaker. Although they've been growing in popularity among some bartenders over the last couple of years, this style is actually old, and an ancestor of the cobbler style. The Parisian, of course, lacks the built-in strainer.
The Parisian is lovely to look at and, for some reason, moderately easier to open than the cobbler. It requires a separate strainer, of course. I prefer it over a cobbler, but just barely. The biggest disadvantage for those who want to use one is that they're hard to find. Unless you live near a specialty barware store, you'll need to order one online.
For stirring, natch. The long shaft allows it to reach the bottom of even the largest mixing glass, while the twisted (or cylindrical) form allows the spoon to spin freely in your stirring hand while it moves around the glass. Just try moving a standard teaspoon around in a glass in that fashion. You can do it, but it's clumsy and slow.
When I started in this obsession, about the only type of bar spoon you could buy, anywhere in the United States, was the cheap kind with the red, plastic cap on the end. I hated those things. The caps invariably fell off, leaving a poky end that I stabbed my hand on more than once.
I heard that English and European bartenders had a fancier type of spoon available to them, one with a disc welded to the end. Now, the purpose of the disc is debated. Is it there to help you crush a sugar cube? Is it a muddler? Do you use it when layering cocktails? I didn't really care about that (and still don't, mostly); I just wanted a sturdier spoon and one that didn't look like cheap junk. But until a couple of years ago, about the only way to get one was to order an expensive import.
As you can see from the photo above, a number of different styles are now available on the market, and some of them are fairly inexpensive—under $10.
Now, I'm a geek for these things. You don't need more than one or two bar spoons around. I collect them because I think they're cool, because I love the variety of forms available, and because they're compact and easy to store.
What about you? Do any of you have an obsession with certain bar tools, or for that matter, other kitchenware?
About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and crackpot. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.