Excellent news. You’ve recently acquired a brand spanking new cocktail set. Now what? We asked professional mixologist Hugo Borralho and premium Australian spirit specialists, Grainshaker Australian Vodka and NED Australian Whisky, to teach us how to use our fancy cocktail accessories so we can start slinging Espresso Martinis, ASAP.
What accessories come in a standard cocktail set?
Your essential cocktail set might come with a jigger, cocktail shaker and bar spoon. These tools are designed to help you measure, mix and serve some of the more common cocktails without too much fuss. You might find that some sets also come with a knife, muddler, strainer and pair of tongs. Lucky you.
What is a bar jigger?
Tip: Don’t look this one up on Urban Dictionary. An alcohol jigger or bar jigger is an essential tool within most cocktail sets. They’re used to measure and pour accurate amounts of alcohol into every drink we make, prevent inconsistencies, over-pouring and guests from getting too sozzled. Jiggers are usually made of metal so that they’re easy to clean, and feature two commonly used measuring volumes, 30mL and 60mL. Save your cocktails, and your liver, with this tool, made for folks who insist on free-pouring their spirits.
What is a muddler?
It’s basically a fancy stick for smashing fruits, herbs and spices. Made of wood or metal, a muddler is an essential bar tool used to extract the most flavour from fresh ingredients. To use, simply whack your fruit into the bottom of a glass or cocktail shaker and mash aimlessly until fragrant or bruised. Delish.
What is a cocktail strainer?
Unsung heroes of the cocktail set, cocktail strainers sift and refine our drinks before serving. They make every sip smoother and there’s only two worth considering when making cocktails at home: the hawthorn strainer and tea strainer (also known as a fine-meshed strainer).
The hawthorn strainer features a spring around its edge used for straining out unwanted bits, like crushed ice and chunks of mint. But, when the spring is too wide to capture everything, many people ‘double-strain’ using both a hawthorn and a tea strainer to filter-out smaller particles (spices, pulp, seeds, etc.). Some cocktail shakers come with an integral strainer in them to save you an extra step. To use, simply place the hawthorn strainer over the lip of your cocktail shaker or mixing glass before pouring your cocktail through the springs or pour your cocktail over a tea strainer to sift-out unwanted ingredients. If only there was a hawthorn strainer for unwanted guests.
What’s a bar spoon?
Bar spoons are long, thin and a little bit fancy-looking, thanks to a twisty shaft for elegant stirring. To stir drinks like a pro, place the spoon between your hands and push the spoon back and forth with your lower fingers while the top of the spoon rotates in the pocket between your thumb and pointer finger. Focus on pushing the bar spoon against the inside wall of the glass, if the back of the spoon is in contact with the glass, the spoon will turn when you push.
Bar spoons are also used to measure ingredients and layer them; an impressive and delicious party trick for all involved. Simply use the back part of a bar spoon and rest it against the inside of your cocktail glass. Slowly pour liquid down the spoon and into the glass. Your ingredient should run along the inside, and stay separated from the ingredient below it. Cream, liqueur, syrups, have a play with different ingredients. The more familiar you are with their various weights, the more impressive your layering will be.
What is a cocktail shaker?
A cocktail shaker is a canister made for mixing, chilling and handling vigorous agitation, without spilling liquids all over you or your guests. Anyone even remotely interested in cocktails should own a set of cocktail shakers, with two main styles to consider: the three-piece and two-piece shaker. The more popular three-piece shaker, or cobbler shaker, consists of a mixing cup, a top with an integral strainer and a tiny cup-shaped cap sealer.
But, why are cocktails shaken?
Because, like a cake, cocktails taste better when all of the ingredients are combined. When a cocktail contains lots of flavours or heavy liquids like fruit juices, cream or eggs, it’s necessary to shake the ingredients to mix and chill them at the same time. This action helps to aerate the cocktail for a lighter mouthfeel, create a more unified flavour and dilute the strength of the alcohol, making it more pleasant to sip. And you don’t need to be Bartender of the Year to shake a cocktail properly. Which is lucky for us, because we suck at competitive sports.
To use a cocktail shaker, simply build your drink(s) in the mixing cup, starting with ingredients, then ice cubes up to the three-quarter mark. Secure the lid and hold the shaker with both hands (one on each piece), then shake vigorously in a horizontal motion over your shoulder. Shake for a slow count of ten (roughly four bars of Darude’s Sandstorm) until the outside of the shaker frosts up with condensation.
Using heavier ingredients? Keep shaking for at least 30 seconds to ensure a proper mix. When it’s chilled and ready, remove the top and strain your cocktail into a chilled glass through the integral strainer (connected to the tin) or through a separate cocktail strainer.
How can I improve my cocktail shaking?
Practice. Heard of it? While the basic technique is straightforward, there are simple things you can do to make sure everything goes smoothly and that you get consistent, well-mixed drinks.
- Don't overfill the shaker. This prevents spills while giving your ingredients plenty of room to move around. The average-sized shaker can handle 2-3 drinks at once, depending on the volume. But if you're using a small shaker, try mixing one drink at a time. In this case, more isn’t more, y’know?
- Shake to a rhythm and shake it like you mean it. Do not shake it like a Polaroid picture (which, despite what Outkast says, should not be shaken). Shaking a cocktail is not meant to be gentle. Get into it!
- Get a (firm) grip. There’s nothing sadder than a cocktail on the floor. Nothing. No matter the style, hold both pieces of the cocktail shaker firmly while you're shaking. When using a cobbler shaker, place a finger on top of the lid to hold that in place as well.
- Shake over your shoulder pointing the lid (or smaller piece of a Boston shaker) to the back. So, if the shaker does come apart, you’ll drench yourself not your guests. This also helps add force to the shake because you'll naturally want to hold it horizontally; a vertical shake is less effective and, let’s be honest, a bit awkward.