Tools of The Trade

A little while back, C of positdesign mentioned that she would like to see posts about putting together a home bar – what are the basics that any serious cocktail enthusiast should own? Which base liquors should we stock? I thought this was a great idea, but I needed to think about how I wanted to tackle what is admittedly a huge topic. I decided that the best place to begin was bar tools – it’s easy enough to pop into the liquor store and buy what you like, but there are many gadgets out there for cocktail making – which ones MUST you have in order to be successful?

The first, and most obvious, is a cocktail shaker. Without an implement in which to give your drinks a vigorous shake you will be very limited in your recipe repertoire – stirring is best for drinks that need to retain clarity, but it doesn’t produce enough ice melt for some drinks, nor does it aerate drinks that need to be frothy (the Ramos Gin Fizz being an extreme example). So you’ll need a shaker – but what kind? There are two basic shaker types – cobbler and Boston.
Here’s a cobbler shaker:

The advantage to a cobbler shaker is that it contains everything you need to shake and strain your drink in one neat little package. It consists of three parts – the top, which can be used to measure, a strainer, and the tumbler for the ice and liquid:

Cobbler shakers are also very easy to use, with almost no danger of coming apart. Where they can fall a bit short is in leakiness – since the pieces just fit together there are tiny gaps that can cause problems. Enter the Boston shaker.
You may notice that it appears to be only a giant metal tumbler. I’ll admit that one of the disadvantages of a Boston shaker is the need for multiple parts. That big metal cup is designed to snap onto a smaller tumbler – you can buy them in metal or glass. Mine is of an appropriate size that I actually just use a pint glass. Done properly, the pieces together make an airtight seal that you can shake with all of the vigor necessary. You then give a sharp smack to break the seal, grab a strainer, and voila, you’ve got a cocktail! (Always end with the liquid in the larger end!) The advantages here are a larger size and thus more control, plus, as I said, if done correctly, an airtight seal – no leaks. The tricky bit is learning to do it correctly – it took me a fair bit of practice!

If you go with a Boston shaker you will also need a strainer. Once again, there are two basic types, but they actually have somewhat different purposes, so I recommend both.
We’ll start with the Julep strainer:
As the name suggests, this strainer is often used when making Mint Juleps, but I think it’s ideal whenever you’ve got a drink that has large, leafy bits to strain out. You can also use it just generally to strain the ice, but it doesn’t fit quite so snugly as it’s counterpart, and the somewhat large holes will let tiny pieces of ice through. If you’re not concerned about crystal clarity this isn’t a big deal, but if you are you might prefer a Hawthorn strainer:
(check out my spotty strainer. Yeeesh.)
The Hawthorn strainer fits very snugly over the tumbler of your shaker, and the spring acts as an additional filter for the ice. If you’re not making a lot of leafy beverages you can probably get away with just this, but there’s never harm in having both!

The last absolutely vital piece of equipment is a jigger. This little implement, used to measure liquids, is crucial to making a well-balanced and tasty cocktail. Free-pouring may look cool, but truly great cocktails are based on precise ratios – if you want to be a star, you’ll need to get a jigger. Or, depending on the kind you select, several; herein lies the mystery of this little bar tool. A jigger is an actual unit of liquid measure – 1.5 fluid ounces. However, actual jiggers come in a variety of sizes. Here’s a double-sided job that’s 1.5 oz on the large side and .5 oz on the small:
Add to this the fact that different jiggers have different full points – is 1.5 oz full to the brim? Just under? and your head could start spinning.
So, how do you know how much your jigger can hold? You can figure out what it holds with some measuring spoons and a conversion chart, or you can do what I did and buy this:
This is the OXO stainless steel mini angled measure. As you can see, it’s got little precise lines for multiple measurements – so you don’t need to take out 3 different jiggers for one drink, and you know exactly where, say, 2 oz. is. Brilliant!

This particular jigger and any of the other tools listed here can be purchased at The Boston Shaker, either online or in their soon-to-be-opened Davis Square store! (They used to be located in Grand in Union Square.) Adam Lantheaume, who owns and operates the Boston Shaker, is a great guy and a wealth of cocktail information. I’ve taken a class with him and been to a few of his events – if you’re local you should definitely check out the physical store. If you prefer to go the vintage route most flea markets are a good source of bar tools for short money – check out the Charlton Flea Market for a nice indoor experience in the winter!

The next time I write about this subject I’ll tackle some next-level tools, followed by glassware. What do you all think this segment should be called? Vegetable Therapist pleases me, but Dr. Cocktail is already taken by a much more serious expert than myself…


6 responses to “Tools of The Trade

  1. If I had a choice I think I’d use the cobbler shaker and take my chances with possible leakage. It just looks like it belongs on a bar. The Boston shaker, while I’m sure could be mastered with practice, as you’ve done, seems complicated for a novice and just doesn’t look as good to me. I am curious though, have you ever made the same cocktail using both and have you ever noticed a difference in taste between the two?

    • theredmenaceeats

      I haven’t, but I like the way you think, Gary! I sense an experiment!
      And believe me, I used the cobbler shaker for years and it’s a perfectly good shaker; it’s certainly easier to use. I really only ended up going the Boston route because the particular cobbler shaker I have is quite small and I don’t think chilled things as well. It’s cute, though!

  2. Getting an airtight seal with my Boston Shaker isn’t that hard. Getting them apart afterwards (especially when the ice’s chilling the air inside helps to form a bit of a vacuum) is a bit harder sometimes.

    One advantage of the Boston Shaker is that the parts mix’n’match. The cobbler is a fitted set so if one part gets damaged, out the whole thing goes.

  3. theredmenaceeats

    I hadn’t even thought of that but it’s an excellent point, Frederic!

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  5. The cobbler does the trick, but beware of jamming the lid! I had to toss a perfectly good shaker after someone was a tad overly zealous in their mixing.

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