So you’re interested in mixing up some cocktails at home but with regards to equipment you don’t know where to start? Don’t panic! Most of what you need, you will already have in the form of alternatives in your kitchen. If you do decide to become a regular mixologist, you may wish to invest in some more equipment, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be expensive to make good cocktails.
The most obvious piece of kit that you need is a cocktail shaker. There are three types of shaker and the choice of which to use as a beginner really comes down to personal preference. The Boston shaker is made up of two parts; a shaker tin and either a tempered pint glass or a smaller shaker tin. The Parisian shaker (my personal favourite) is again made of two parts, the bottom shaker tin and a snug fitting lid that sits perfectly on top, making it easier to use and separate. This also looks more aesthetic in my opinion. The Cobbler shaker looks very similar to the Parisian shaker but is made of three parts and has a built in strainer within the lid, accessed via the cap. This makes it the easiest shaker to use for many people as it doesn’t need a separate strainer.
If you find that you develop a flair for bartending there are differences that you may wish to consider when choosing a shaker. The Cobbler shaker is the smallest so it has the shortest ‘throw’ (the length of distance from one end to the other) so it may be harder to combine your ingredients as well as you’d like to. The Boston shaker is the only one that can be used with one hand, so if you’re the ‘go to’ person for cocktails at the party you could shake up two at once!
If you don’t have a cocktail shaker you may be tempted to just mix the ingredients together in a glass but the shaking process is vital to crafting a proper cocktail. shaking aerates the ingredients to create a lovely frothy texture and it chills and dilutes the drink to the proper strength. Any strong container that has a lid will serve as a makeshift shaker, perhaps a protein shaker or large pickle jar. If you wish to buy one you can pick them up online for around £5.
The next piece of equipment you will likely need is a ‘jigger’, which is in layman’s speak, a measure. When crafting perfect cocktails it’s vital to measure the ingredients accurately to ensure consistency and balance. Even the smallest changes in volume of one ingredient can make a big difference to the taste of your final drink. There are many different styles of jiggers but the most useful sizes will be 25ml (single) and 50ml (double) measures. If you don’t have a jigger you could use measuring spoons, measuring cups or even normal spoons. A level tablespoon is 15ml and a level teaspoon is 5ml. You can pick up a dual jigger (50ml on top, 25ml on the bottom) for around £5 online.
Once you’ve shaken your drink you will usually need to strain it to separate the ice from the liquid. There are three different types of strainer, wire-rimmed Hawthorne strainers, colander-like julep strainers (less commonly used in the UK) and conical fine-mesh strainers. A Hawthorne strainer fits on the top of your shaker and prevents ice and fruit seeds from leaving the shaker as you pour the liquid out. A fine-mesh strainer is used over the glass to filter out any small ice chips or pieces of fruit when a crystal-clear cocktail is desired. If you don’t have a strainer you could use any flat object over the top of your shaker to stop any large pieces from leaving (such as a small plate or even your (clean) hand) and a tea strainer or sieve over the glass to catch smaller debris. You can buy a Hawthorne and fine-mesh strainer for about £5 each online.
If your recipe calls for a mixing glass you can use just about anything with a smooth side on the inside. Most bars either use the mixing glass from a Boston shaker or a spouted Japanese mixing pitcher, which are elegant but sturdy. If your mixing glass is made from glass make sure that you chill it before use, to avoid reducing the chilling power of the ice introduced when you’re mixing your ingredients. You can purchase a mixing glass online for roughly £12.
If you’re ‘mixing’ (stirring) your drink you will also need a barspoon. There are a wide range of barspoons on the market but I find that the ideal spoon is a Japanese barspoon, around 35cm long, well-balanced and gently threaded. Some spoons have tools on the opposite end but if you’re selecting a spoon for yourself it’s more important to ensure that it feels comfortable in your hand. Stirring is usually performed to chill and dilute cocktails that comprise only of alcohol (i.e. no mixers or juices) without unduly aerating them. If you don’t have a barspoon you could use a knife, a chopstick or a regular spoon with a long handle. A barspoon can be purchased for around £5.
If your drink needs to be ‘muddled’ you will obviously need a ‘muddler’. Muddling mashes fruits, spices or herbs to release their flavour and natural oils. If you don’t have one to hand you could use a heavy wooden spoon handle or (gently) use a pestle. Again you can pick up a muddler online for around £5.
You will definitely need ice when preparing your cocktails! It’s best to use filtered water to make your ice and I like to use silicone ice moulds. If you’re storing ice in your freezer with other foods, always store it in zip-locked freezer bags to avoid food odours from contaminating it. Ice moulds are readily available, cheap to buy and come in many different shapes and sizes so you can get creative and find which works best for you. If you need crushed ice you can either put your ice in a freezer bag and hit it with a rolling pin or blitz the ice in a blender or food processor until you have the desired consistency.
When squeezing fruit you can either do this by hand or with an ‘elbow juicer’. Fruit can be squeezed in advance and kept, covered, in the fridge for up to eight hours, but I recommend squeezing to order, when the oils from the peels are still fresh, which best complements the bitterness of the pith. Whilst we are on the subject of fruit, rolling citrus fruits before squeezing them (or even microwaving them for a few seconds) can make a real difference to the juice yield. An elbow juicer can be picked up online for around £8.
As you can see there are many hacks for cocktail equipment and you don’t have to spend a great deal of money to dabble in the art of mixology. However, if you find that it is something you enjoy, I would definitely recommend that you invest in some good equipment. Part of the fun of cocktail making is in the show and the enjoyment of constructing your drink well. There’s something special about whipping out your treasured tools and like any artist familiar with their craft, the quality will be reflected in the magic of your drink. Cheers!