There’s nothing quite like the crack and jangle of ice as it tumbles about in a cocktail shaker. Watching a good mixologist is like watching an artist and a scientist rolled into one. They are the da Vincis of our time.
I’m not talking about the Tom Cruise types, who throw your drink fifteen metres into the air and catch it in their pants (“Oi! That’s my drink, mate!’). They’re just glorified jugglers. No, the true barman or woman can adjust the mix of your cocktail so that the flavours are balanced better than a tightrope walker; the colour the perfect hue.
To do this, they require a vast range of kit that, for a home bar like mine, I’ve found to be way over the top. I’ll show you the stuff I’ve found useful over the (many) years of having a bar, and the stuff I’ve discovered to be very good dust collectors.
Here are the essentials:
The cocktail shaker
I’ve got three of these – two full-size ones and the little one (on the right). If you’re having a cocktail party, it’s a good idea to have at least two so that you can wash one up while you’re making drinks in the other.
Get a three-piece shaker with a main body, a strainer middle and a close-fitting lid. Stick to stainless steel shakers. They dishwash and are everlasting. The plastic ones with
measurements for drinks look tacky and the ones made of glass will break at the worst possible moment, believe me.
The little shaker is handy for single cocktails.
The spirit jigger
Unless you’ve worked for years in a bar practising your free-pour, measure your ingredients. It’ll save you a load of booze and money, and it’ll make the drinks come out better too. This jigger is pretty standard and has the single and double measure cups.
These come in many shapes, designs, forms and materials. I like the wooden ones because they have a bit more character. This one has teeth on its base – a bit like a meat hammer. This shreds things like mint or limes as you muddle.
The long-handled spoon
These cocktail spoons have quite small shallow basins and are prefect for stirring things like gin martinis (which you should never shake – see our post on the perfect martini), and for layering drinks like B52s, slippery nipples etc.
I haven’t got a picture of a straw… but I think you know what I mean. Use the straw to taste the cocktail before you pour out. You can adjust it easier that way. Dip your straw in the drink, put your finger over the end and pull the straw out. Taste the drink from the other end. This way you’re not contaminating your guest’s drink with your filthy saliva!
What you don’t need
[From right to left] The bottle opener/tin punch looks great but I’ve never used it. The cheese knife came with a cocktail set, but I don’t know why. I’ve never used that pourer thing. I can pretty much guarantee you will never ever need a whisk.
The ice bucket and tongs… I have used these – the tongs are really good – but in about an hour into a cocktail party, the ice will have either melted or been used and you’ll be back into the freezer again. My advice is just make regular trips to the freezer.
If you get a good shaker, there’ll be a strainer in the middle section. This is more than adequate for most drinks you’ll be making at home.
The one on the left fits into the shaker and strains – but isn’t much more effective than the shaker’s strainer. The one on the right is for clarifying drinks so there is really nothing but liquid there. It can take a long time to pass a whole cocktail through this thing, especially if you’ve muddled a lime in your shaker.
The one part of a bar that you should always have is plenty of silly paper umbrellas, mermaid stirrers and other strange decorations to adorn your cocktails. Let’s face it, cocktails are kitsch. Make the most of it and have fun!