Every blogger does a “bar setup” or “cocktail kit” post for Christmas, or just general, giving information. I want to try to do one this year, but in a way that is little more flexible than the usual. I’m inspired to write this for a friend who wants to give his son, who is graduating from college and is becoming interested in cocktails, a gift of a cocktail setup. The kid is an automotive engineer, and his father describes his mindset as “You use the correct, high-quality, specialty tool for the job, and use the best materials to construct your product with.” I think this is a very useful metaphor for mixing drinks, and I’ll employ it in discussing how to construct a cocktail kit for yourself or the up and comer in your life.
Most people who ask how to assemble a cocktail kit start with, “I’ll need a shaker, then what else?” But mixing vessels are too big a question to just skip over so blithely. If you are just starting out mixing drinks, your needs in mixing vessels will be different from an experienced home drink maker’s, which will be different from a professional bartender’s.
First, there are two very different mixing tasks that the cocktail maker will perform throughout his life: shaking and stirring. And we need the right tool for the right job, remember? We’ll start with shaking. There are two basic categories of cocktail shakers.
- Boston Shakers: These are the two piece shakers consisting of a metal vessel (the “tin”) and a pint glass or second metal tin that fit together. These are what you will see the majority of professional bartenders using. They have the virtue of being cheap, easy to clean, and very, very fast. But the Boston is hard to learn to use, and may need other equipment to use it properly. If your gift recipient majored in Eastern Polynesian Studies or the like, you might want to get him or her the Boston so he or she can learn an actual marketable skill, and be able to move out of your house. But for the beginner who doesn’t need a bartending job, I’d recommend the three-piece Cobbler shaker.
- Cobblers: These are the shakers you usually see people like Frank Sinatra or William Powell using in the movies. They are usually three pieces: a tin, a lid with built-in strainer, and a cap. In a pinch, the cobbler is the only mixing vessel you need, as you could stir in the tin, then strain with the lid. A good Cobbler is dead easy to use, suave and debonaire to employ, and will look good just sitting on the shelf. But they are not so easy to clean, nor very fast and efficient if you have to make lots of different drinks. And a bad cobbler is a nightmare to use. Quality matters in a cobbler. If yours is badly made, it may leak all over the place, or just as bad, it may be impossible to open and get your freshly created drink out without first jumping around and struggling with the lid like a frustrated monkey in a behavioral lab. Cobblers can also be ruinously expensive.
Whichever type you get, keep in mind that materials matter. Get only top quality stainless steel. If you give a Boston, be sure the pint glass is tempered. Most importantly, do not get an insulated or double wall vessel of any kind. It may seem a good idea to protect your hands from the cold, but being able to feel the temperature of what your mixing through your fingers is as important to making a good drink as a well-tuned suspension is to racing a car.
- Boston: Basic 28 oz. Stainless Steel Shaker with an equally basic tempered rim pint glass.
- Cobbler: Basic but still elegant: Oggi Marilyn Tall and Slim.