Just because you’re making drinks at home, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a crappy cocktail. This weekend, Jason shared a few tips that’ll help you make your favorite cocktail(s) in your own kitchen.
Making cocktails doesn’t have to be overly complicated nor do the tools need to be super fancy. When you understand the why behind the what, you can start building your own tool set.
When making a stirred cocktail, at the bare minimum, you simply need a vessel that allows you to smoothly stir the drink. Another important element to consider is if the glass has good insulation so you can chill the drink quickly without over stirring, which would over dilute the cocktail.
We like to use beakers in our Tasting Room to salute our distiller’s science experiments, which are the foundation of our spirits, but you can use anything from an everyday pint glass to a fancier cut glass Yarai mixing glass.
Any long handled, sturdy spoon will do–and, at a pinch, even chopsticks and butter knives can suffice; however, investing in a good bar spoon is always a good idea.
The long handled spoon allows you to stir a cocktail quickly and smoothly, without causing air bubbles, resulting in a smooth drink. “Official” bar spoons often have a spiral stem, which creates less resistance in liquid, allowing for quicker stirring (so you don’t over dilute your drink). These spoons also have a weighted end that adds balance and makes for a smoother stir.
A typical bar spoon holds approximately 5 mL, which is often a measurement in cocktail recipes.
Technically, a Boston Shaker is a metal tin with a pint glass capped on top (and yes, this same pint glass could be used as your mixing glass–efficiency!). More recently, the 18-28 set has become a bartender favorite–essentially the same as a Boston Shaker, it replaces the pint glass with an 18-ounce tin. Some sets include a weighted 28-ounce tin to add rigidity, which creates a stronger seal. This shaker style takes a little practice but is worth the trial and error in the long run.
This 3-piece shaker–consisting of a cup, lid, and cap–dates back to the late 19th century. The built-in strainer and the ease of use make this one of the most popular shakers for home use. However, sometimes the cup-lid seal leaks, and the rapid chilling of the metal can cause a vacuum that makes removing the cap difficult.
While it’s certainly possible to mix drinks without measuring, if you want to ensure your cocktails are consistently just-right, a jigger is a must-have tool.
Bartenders of the 19th century used small sherry glasses as measuring cups. Thanks to innovative minds, these were replaced with silver-plated cones on stems that looked like a sherry glass without the circular base. In 1892, the first double-sided jigger was patented.
Today, jiggers come in a variety of sizes and materials, and there are pros and cons to them all. Taller ones are more accurate, while shorter ones are faster. One of the most popular sizes is the 1.5-over-1 ounce. We use the 2-over-1 ounce Leopold jigger from Cocktail Kingdom, which has the added advantage of inside measurements for ¼, ½, ¾, and 1 ½ ounces, so we can use one jigger for everything.
Each of these strainers serves a particular purpose, so having all three can be helpful. But, if you prefer to keep things simple, the Hawthorne is the most versatile and works well with both shaken and stirred drinks.
Patented in 1892 by a few Boston gentlemen, one of whom owned the Hawthorne Cafe (hence the name), as well as a bar products manufacturing company. The spring around the strainer helps the strainer to fit different glass sizes and allows the bartender to adjust the “gate” controlling what size solids come out of the shaker and into the cocktail. Usually used with the Boston Shaker, it can also be used with a mixing glass and a stirred cocktail.
Originally modified from a sugar sifting spoon, the julep strainer has been around since the mid 1800s. At first, the strainer was put in the drink to keep the ice off your teeth while drinking a julep (19th-century dentistry sucked, so cold ice on the teeth was an unpleasant feeling). Today, this strainer fits neatly inside mixing glasses and allows liquid to evenly flow through, which helps the drink keep its silky texture (no bubbles), while straining out the ice and any other solids.
The quality control agent of strainers, the fine mesh strainer is used to double strain shaken drinks served up, to keep ice chips from getting into the drink. It also helps ensure that any bits of the herbs or fruit shaken with the cocktail, don’t end up in the final drink.
While you can use a spoon or the end of a butter knife to smash fruit, sugar cubes, etc., in the bottom of your glass or shaker, a typical muddler is designed to make easier work of it and can be handled more gently, when necessary. Between blunt and “toothed” muddlers, blunt is more versatile as the toothed ones can be too hard on herbs, which releases an unwanted bitterness.
Any home bar needs a good knife to cut up fruit and vegetables for garnish or juicing.
Adding garnishes is a great way to improve your cocktails. There is a wide variety of vegetable peelers you can use to remove strips of citrus peel for garnish–the sharper and easier to handle, the better.
Fresh juices are extremely important to a well crafted cocktail. We prefer the squeezer style, which is relatively cheap, effective, and stops the bitter pith from transferring into your drink.
More of a perk than a necessity, speed pourers fitted into your liquor bottles allow for quicker and more accurate pouring.
Exact measurements are important when mixing craft cocktails. Because of the bowl shaped design of most jiggers, pouring to just barely over or under the line can make a significant difference in the quantity of ingredient poured. Be careful to never under fill or over fill, and minimize your chance of spilling by holding the jigger as closely as you can to the tin or mixing glass.
Stirring vs. Shaking
A basic rule to follow when deciding whether to shake or stir a cocktail is to consider the ingredients in the cocktail. If a cocktail includes fruit juice or egg white (basically anything cloudy), you should shake. If it is simply straight booze (vermouth, spirit, bitters, etc.), you should stir.
Shaking a cocktail better incorporates and “enlivens” all of the ingredients by creating bubbles and texture. With a stirred cocktail, you are simply wanting to chill and dilute the drink without creating any extra air bubbles so your drink has a velvety smooth texture.
How to Stir
When stirring, you want the back of the spoon to constantly touch the inside of the glass as you gently move the liquid around. Try to avoid causing any unnecessary splashing (remember the goal is velvety smooth liquid).
Hold the spoon between your middle finger and your ring finger. Pull the spoon toward you with your index and middle finger and stop. Then push away with your ring finger and pinky. When this starts to feel comfortable, you can speed up the process and you’ll soon be stirring the cocktail quickly and fluidly. Typically, it takes about 30 seconds of stirring to reach proper dilution and temperature.
How to Shake
When using a Boston Shaker, it’s best to build the drink, including the ice, in the same tin/glass and then top it with the other one to minimize any loss of liquid. Because we use the 18-28 set, we build the drink in the small tin to ensure we don’t use too much ice.
After you’ve added ice, put the larger tin over the smaller one at an angle, and hit it to create a seal. (If you want to ensure a proper seal, it’s good to flip it over and hit the smaller tin, as well.) Then, shake hard and fast. Try to shake at an angle (almost in a forward circular motion) so the ice isn’t simply smacking back and forth in the shaker. Usually, 10 (long) seconds is enough time.
To break the seal, hit the seal with your palm turned upwards. (It might take a few hits before the seal pops open, but it gets easier with practice. Good thing more practice means more cocktails to drink.)
When making a cocktail with egg white, you first shake all the ingredients without ice. This emulsifies the egg and allows the proteins in the egg white to bond around air molecules resulting in better foam. Then, fill the shaker with ice and shake again.
Double straining is simply pouring through both a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh tea strainer. Typically used when a cocktail is shaken with mint or fruit, this method is also a good choice when straining a cocktail that is served up so the little ice chips that melt and dilute the drink don’t make it into the glass.
Do you have any favorite cocktail tools?
What have you learned that will make your next cocktail party better?
Are you feeling inspired to make some new drinks at home? Or have we just convinced you to come back here and leave the cocktail making to the professionals?