Practical Mixology

  • Mixology
  • Defined by the American Heritage dictionary as the study or skill of preparing mixed drinks, Mixology is a hot topic in today's market for spirits. The following section is by no means exhaustive, but should serve as an initial guide to the art of crafting fine cocktails.

    Tools of the trade

    Shaker and spoon
    Shakers are arguably the most important tools in the bartender's art. There are two types: the Boston shaker and the three part shaker. The Boston shaker consists of a cup and a glass, while the three part shaker has a perforated top that closes over the tin along with a cap for this top.

    Of these two types of shakers, the Boston shaker is normally to be preferred for its versatility. A drink should be built in the glass, which is subsequently covered with the tin and secured with a sharp tap. The cocktail is shaken vigorously over the shoulder for 10 – 15 seconds. Since the purpose of shaking a cocktail is to chill and to slightly dilute, it is important to shake vigorously for the full duration.

    Not all cocktails are shaken, however. In general, the rule is that cocktails that contain spirit and fruit juice are shaken, while those that contain only spirit are stirred. Stirring should take place in the glass part of the tin, with a long-handled bar spoon. This spoon can also be used in the creation of the pousse-cafe to keep spirits with different densities separate in the glass by pouring them slowly over the back of the spoon.

    Some cocktails are neither shaken nor stirred – they are rolled. This consists of pouring the drink back and forth between the tin and the shaker in order to incorporate them thoroughly without dilution or the incorporation of air.

    The strainer
    Once the drinks have been mixed, they are normally strained. This is accomplished by use of either a julep strainer or a Hawthorne strainer. The julep strainer is oval and pierced all over. Tradition has it that this strainer is used on the glass for drinks that are stirred. The julep strainer was originally served with the drink to the customer, who used it inside the glass to prevent ice from touching their teeth.

    The Hawthorne strainer has a metal spiral attached to it that fits inside of the tin. If it is placed in the center of the tin, only the larger particles are removed, while if it is pushed forward, all of the minute particles including small bits of ice removed during vigorous shaking are removed from the drink. The Hawthorne strainer earned its name from a manufacturer's name, which was once made visible in the holes in the top of the strainer.

    The jigger
    Jiggers are used to measure spirit and other ingredients. A larger sized jigger has two measuring receptacles – one with 1½ oz, and one with ¾ oz. A smaller sized jigger has a 1 oz receptacle over one that holds a ½ oz. It is important to use the jigger in order to ensure that drinks are made with the proper proportions. As with the production of pastry in a kitchen, proper measurement is essential to successful mixology.

    Dale Degroff is perhaps the country's leading authority on bartending, having served as the head bartender of the New York's Rainbow Room. He has worked on the proportions of the cocktail, and notes that in general the proportions that will be most successful here in the U.S. are 1½ oz of spirit to one ounce of sweetener to ¾ ounce of sour. In Europe, it is more common to have equal parts of sweet and sour (i.e. 1 ½: ¾: ¾). Bartenders who pour without recourse to the use of a jigger only do so after years of practice.

    Other tools
    There are other tools that are also important to keep on hand. Most important of these is a knife (or knives) and a cutting board to cut the garnishes that will be needed. Melon ballers, a zester, and a channel knife to cut citrus peels are also helpful, as is a cherry pitter and a whisk. A pair or two of tongs means that you won't be tempted to pick up ice or cherries or olive or onions with your fingers.

    The classic glass for the cocktail is often (incorrectly) referred to as a Martini glass, although many different drinks can be served in it, and the proper term is the cocktail glass. The short, squat glass in which short drinks are served (or spirit alone with ice) is best referred to as either a rocks glass or an old-fashioned glass. The taller glass that holds a long drink is referred to as a Collins glass after the classic Tom Collins.

    A few ideas
    One way to introduce variety is to vary the sweeteners used. Simple syrup is the standard sweetener, and it is made by mixing together equal parts of sugar and water. A rich syrup is made by doubling the amount of sugar – the proportions may change, which will affect the balance of the drink. Another possibility is to use honey to sweeten a drink or even agave.

    The true key to quality cocktails, however, is the use of fresh ingredients. Herbs, berries, melons, and exotic fruits can all be used to good effect. Along with these, the freshest mixers should be employed – the tonic, ginger ale and soda should come from single serving bottles, and the juices should be squeezed to order. One tip in this regard is to squeeze the juices at room temperature for a better yield.

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