Cocktails – The Tools of the Trade

Before getting into the actual preparation of cocktails, we need some basic equipment. Professionally, bartenders have an entire kit, somewhat like chefs have their knife kits. It consists of shakers, strainers, bar spoons, muddlers, measures, and openers to get those bottles popping.

You don’t necessarily need all of those things to make a smashing good cocktail at home, but here’s the stuff that will really help you out.

Even though its easy to find all of these equipment at your nearest home supply store (or even online, for cheap) , you might want to start off with things that are already hidden in your kitchen closets.

Shaker –

Cocktail shakers are an amazing piece of equipment. Shaking helps to mix all ingredients evenly, and when shaken with ice, gives great cooling without too much dilution.

cosmopolitan-cocktail-56-big
Who wants a warm Cosmopolitan, anyway?

Here’s a professional shaker, that you can find for as little as Rs. 250. Naturally, the more expensive ones are more durable, but these get the job done.

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Under the cap is a built-in strainer, which is very useful.

Here’s a makeshift shaker, that you can create as long as you have two long glasses with different sized mouths.

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Using one transparent glass helps to judge how your cocktail is coming along.

Add all the ingredients, add the ice, put on the other half nice and tight, and shake it like you mean it.

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No… not like that.

Some home alternatives for shakers are jam jars, or even the energy drink shakers you would get with protein supplements. 

They actually work pretty great.

Shut your shaker tightly and don’t be afraid to use both hands. Tightly grip both ends. Shake well, but carefully. You don’t want your drink spilling everywhere!

Strainer –

After a cocktail is shaken on ice, we need to pour it out into the glass. But having the ice in the drink after that can make it watery and taste terrible after a while.

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You know how sodas taste after the ice melts. You wouldn’t like a diluted soda – you won’t like a diluted cocktail.

The ideal thing to get would be a Hawthorne strainer. It sits on top of the shaker tin and blocks all the ice and other unwanted stuff from the tin, as you pour.

These come pretty cheap, too. A worthy investment.

If you are using a jam jar or something similar, you can block the ice by opening the jar only half way while pouring. The smaller bits of ice can be removed using a handy tea strainer.

Muddler –

Muddling, in bartending, means gently crushing to extract flavour. When we muddle ingredients, the juices and flavourful oils are released into the glass. This is generally done for aromatic herbs like mint and basil, but also applies to fruit peels and rinds – which hold a surprising amount of flavour and essential oils.

mojito-muddler
Wood makes the best material for muddlers.

If you are muddling fresh fruits like strawberries or mangoes, it should turn into a nice puree-like mush. That means you get maximum flavour, and it’s a lot easier to mix.

Muddling citruses gets tricky. A few pushes will make it nice and zingy, but anything more than that can extract bitterness from the pith.

Fresh herbs are the trickiest, because they can turn into a black mush that discolour the drink and make it bitter. Just a couple of gentle turns are enough to break out the delicate flavour of the herbs.

When muddling lime and mint for a mojito, the essential oils from the skin of the lime give a zesty aroma while the mint gives freshness.

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So if you order a drink and you see the bartender going full force on the muddling, he or she is working a lot harder to make your drink taste a lot worse.

Bar Spoon –

This deceptively humble tool may just be the bartender’s best friend. Bar Spoons are long, specialised spoons, made for stirring cocktails without compromising on their integrity. They can also function as both measures and muddlers – and are sometimes used to shape fruit pulp into garnishes.

Not only that, they’re an indispensable tool if you want to make those beautiful layered drinks.

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Not so humble now, eh?

They need to be long so that they can reach all the way down to the bottom of a tall glass, and mix it from the bottom. They’re also designed in such a way that stirring becomes much easier. The twists along the handle improve grip, allow for more stirs without losing speed, and help to mix the drink with more precision.


When do you shake, stir or build a cocktail?

Shaking

Cocktails can consist of a number of ingredients – spirits, wine, dairy, juices, even eggs whites for froth – all of which have varying densities, and won’t mix very easily. Shaking makes sure all of them come together into one homogeneous mixture.

It also helps the ice to melt uniformly – which means less dilution, and more frosty goodness.

Stirring – 

Stirring a drink is done for crisper, less diluted cocktails.

The first thing you want is a chilled glass. Stirred cocktails generally contain whole pieces of ice, so you don’t want them to melt quickly and ruin the drink. You can either refrigerate the glass beforehand, or fill it with ice and remove it before pouring the drink.

A good way to stir is by keeping the back end of the bar spoon between the ice and the glass, and turning it along with the ice. This will help in a controlled stirring, and gives the perfect amount of chilling.

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You can always check the chill of the glass by touching it with the back of your hand.

Building –

A built drink is one which can be made directly in the glass you will be drinking from, and don’t need the use of shaker or any other contraptions.

It’s best to add the non-alcoholic components first – if something goes wrong, you can quickly discard the ingredients, without wasting expensive alcohol.

After the alcohol, the ice. Since the ice won’t be removed by straining or shaking, the type of ice we use is really important in a built drink – be it whole, crushed, or “artisanal”.

After the ice, the mixers. This refers to the sodas, juices or cola that give the drink some body. This generally applies to long drinks. Consider the most common mocktail – the iced tea.

Give it a all a quick stir, and the drink is ready!


That covers all the basic equipment and techniques needed to make a great cocktail at home. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions.

Until next time,

Cheers!

 

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