Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mixology and Home Bartending for Beginners : Tools of The Trade

It's only been little over a year since I've really got in to the cocktail sense.  There was a point in time when I though mixing vodka, Hpnotiq, pineapple juice and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker was a great drink (at least I was double straining it).  Now all of my florescent colored liquors resided in the corner of my closet and rarely see a cocktail shaker.  But I can't assume that everyone that reads my blog is at the point in their love for mixology where bitters, home made syrups and fresh herbs are common ingredients in their cocktails.  So I'd like to begin a series of post for those that are just discovering a passion for cocktails.  A guide that will cover basic tools for your home bar, glassware, stocking your home bar, techniques for properly mixing drinks and other basic tips and topics for the beginner mixologist.

For this first post I'd like to talk about the tools and glassware you'll need for making great drinks.  I will break it into two sections, one for the bare minimum to have for your home bar and the other for those that are a bit more serious about their cocktails.  In which case there are a few more gadgets that will make this possible.

Essentials Tools
- Boston Shaker
- Hawthorn Strainer
- Bar Spoon
- Jigger
- Hand Juicer

Boston Shaker
28oz/15oz Boston Shaker
The boston shaker is a 2 piece shaker consisting of a large metal tin (usually 28 oz in volume) and a smaller glass piece (usually 15 oz in volume).  This is the most common shaker you'll see in most bars, where as in retail stores you will usually see the three piece shaker sets for sale.  The boston shakers has quite a few advantages to the three piece shaker.  For one, they are VERY cheap.  A boston shaker will set you back about $3 plus shipping through most online stores, where as 3 piece shakers are usually about $15 and up in store.  The boston shakers are also very easy to clean and easier to open then most three piece shakers, which can freeze together after shaking.  I once decided you bring my 3 piece shaker on vacation with me to avoid breaking any of my glasses.  Unfortunately it was nearly impossible to open most the time and when I didn't want it to open it blew apart spewing egg white, rum and juice across the kitchen. Another advantage is you can also opt for a small metal tin for a 2 piece metal shaker.   But don't think that all 3 piece shakers are bad though, but you will pay more for a good 3 piece shaker then you would with a reliable boston shaker.

Hawthorn Strainer
Two different Hawthorn Strainers (left is by Oxo)
The hawthorn strainer is the most common and versatile strainer to have for your home bar.  For the novice mixologist the hawthorn is the most essential strainer for the reason that it does the best job at straining out as much solids for a cocktail (Eg. ice chips, juice pulp etc.) with the use of only one strainer.  When straining be sure to press the spring of the strainer against the side of the glass so the spring and holes are lined up, this will allow for a minimum among of unwanted solids in your drink.  Another strainer you may be familiar with is the julep strainer.  Which is used to strain stirred drinks.  In my opinion the julep strainer is unnecessary since the hawthorn does a superior job at straining any cocktail.

Bar Spoon
Bar Spoon
A bar spoon is simply a long slender spoon with a twist in the handle to enable the smoothest stir possible.  The back of the bar spoon can also second as a muddler for muddling fruit and herbs for drinks like the Mint Julep.

Standard Two Measurement Jiggers
Multiple Measurement Jiggers
A jigger is a small receptacle for measuring liquids.  You can either use multiple jiggers for various amounts or one jigger with multiply increments of measurements.  Both having their advantages.  Jiggers that require you to fill to the top to equal the desired pour have a tendency to be more accurate where as a jigger with multiply increments demand a very steady hand so that the liquid is level with measurement on the jigger (a tilted hand will make for a inaccurate pour).  With practice this will become less of a problem.  I do now prefer using jiggers with several measurements due to the fact that I don't have to use various tools for one drink, which means the drink is made faster and less mess to clean up in the end.

Hand Juicer
The hand juicer will make your life so much easier when preparing cocktails.  Fresh juice is always best (more about juice in a later post, for now trust me on this) and having a hand juice will allow you to get the most out of your citrus fruit without much work.
Hand Citrus Juicer

Addition Tools
- Fine Strainer
- Potato Peeler
- Channel Knife
- Muddler
- Olive Oil Mister

Fine Strainer
 If I were to add one more tool to my "Essential" list it would be the fine strainer.  The fine strainer or tea strainer as you may know it as eliminates virtually all ice chips, fruit pulp, etc. from your cocktail to make for a smoother textured drink.  Simply hold the fine strainer over top of your glass while pouring your cocktail through the mesh to catch all unwanted solids for entering your drink.  

Potato Peeler
The potato peeler is used for creating a fat zest with minimal pith from your citrus fruit.  A citrus zest can be creating with a knife but the potato peeler makes it easier and safer.  

Channel Knife
The channel knife is used to create long ribbon type zests for cocktails, which is nearly impossible to create with out this tool. 

A muddler is the cocktail equivalent to a pestle (Mortar and Pestle). It is used to crush fruit that need a bit extra elbow grease that cannot be achieved with the back of your bar spoon.  Some may be wondering why the muddler is not on my essentials list, simply because other items around the kitchen can be substituted.  I for example used an ice cream scoop for making caipirinhas for months before purchasing a muddler and it worked fine.  More on the muddler when we talk mojitos in a up coming post.

Olive Oil Mister
The olive oil mister may seem like a strange one for cocktails but some drinks that call for a "rinse" of say, absinthe (I'll talk about rinsing a cocktail glass in a later blog post) the olive oil mister make it faster with less waste of the spirit you are using to rinse your glass with.

From Left to Right: Fine Strainer, Potato Peeler, Channel Knife, Muddler, Olive Oil Mister

When it comes to what glassware you should have at home, there is no need to have a vast variety of  glasses.  A cocktail / martini, old-fashioned / rocks,  collins / highball and a champagne flute is all you need to serve just about any drink.

So there you have it, the tools and glasses to getting to started with making drinks, except for you don't have any booze yet...Well that will be solved in my next blog post.  I've go over the essentials you'll need to stock your home bar with as well as liquor to stay away from.  Thanks for reading and comments are always appreciated.   


  1. "But don't think that all 3 piece shakers are bad though, but you will pay more for a good 3 piece shaker then you would with a reliable boston shaker."

    Actually, our best 3 piece Cobbler shakers are company swag that come in promotional pack (bottle of booze + flask/shaker/glasses for the same price as the bottle itself. When we first stocked the bar back in 2002, our bottle of Kettel 1 Citron came with an amazing shaker. The shaker still works great and that bottle of citron vodka is still with us...

    For the peeler, I would add in "Y-peeler" as it makes better, longer twists than the straight one.

    Good post though! Although what would I do without my ice crusher or Lewis Bag/mallet, but I guess that's a bit more of an advanced kit...

  2. Thanks for your input comment Frederic! I'll edit the post to add the lewis bag. totally forgot about it. It sure makes mint Julep and tiki drinks alot less of a pain to make.