Tribune February 14, 2001
FIREWATER AND ICE

The Happy Rattle of Cocktail Shaker
Makes its way Home.

By William Rice

Trendmeisters believe Americans are beginning to rediscover--or perhaps discover--their homes and the simple pleasures home can bring. Among them is the after-work cocktail or, for the more ambitious, the cocktail party.Dale DeGroff, former director of mixology at New York's Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, agrees. He has been conducting classes for amateurs at a New York City culinary school and is writing a book on how to practice the craft at home.

"The cocktail craze is coming home because it's a relaxing ritual," he says. "There's an element of nostalgia in stirring or pouring a classic martini or Manhattan, but there also are so many new--and good--products that anyone willing to spend some money has the best choice ever."

DeGroff's first advice to his novice bartenders is, "Have fun!" That may include developing a distinctive style of shaking and pouring drinks and a willingness to try far-out cocktails. But don't just uncap the bottles and pour until the glass is full. "Measure," he insists. "You are working with a recipe. It's a formula and the drink will taste lousy if you get it wrong." He's equally careful about ice, which he considers "a vital part of the formula." Shaking or stirring too long produces too much water and a weak drink; shake too briefly and the drink will be too warm.
Ah, but there lies another rub. To shake or to stir?

"Stir spirits in cocktails such as the martini or Rob Roy," DeGroff responds. "Shake drinks that contain fruit juice and other mixers. Shake them vigorously to wake the ingredients, but only for about 10 seconds."

 

On to the tools
The barkeep does not need the repertory of a telephone lineman, but some equipment is essential.When in doubt, or in an emergency, any jar with a screw-top lid and sufficient capacity can stand in for a cocktail shaker. But store-bought shakers come in three types: the purely ornamental, the "cobbler" shaker and the Boston shaker set.

The cobbler is the familiar three-piece, all-metal unit with a small top and a cap that covers a strainer. Its major defect is that the shaker and cap often refuse to part once the shaking is completed. The Boston set, the overwhelming choice of professional bartenders, has only two pieces, one metal and one glass. Ingredients are poured into the glass part, the two pieces are sealed with the heel of the hand and the drink is shaken glass side up. Another rap breaks the seal and the cocktail is poured through one of two strainers, a Hawthorne (fitted with a spring) for the metal part and a julep strainer (with holes) for the glass part.

In addition to the items above you will need a corkscrew and a bottle opener, an ice bucket and tongs, a pitcher for quantity stirring, a glass stirring rod and a long bar spoon, a muddler for crushing fruit and sugar cubes and a jigger measure. Borrow from the kitchen as needed: a blender, cutting board, knives, a citrus stripper, juicer, measuring cups and spoons.

 

How many glasses?

DeGroff contends he can get by with only five forms of glassware: martini, rocks, high ball, all-purpose wine with 10-ounce capacity and the London Dock, a short wine glass with a 6-ounce capacity used for whiskey sours, port or sherry. But he also keeps Champagne flutes close at hand.

He is committed to serving drinks as cold as possible (by chilling ingredients and equipment, even glasses), in relatively small quantities (not more than 6 ounces for a spirits cocktail) and using relatively low-proof alcohol. (Eighty proof, the most common strength of hard liquor, is plenty; be aware that many premium spirits weigh in at 90 to 100 proof.) He prefers the large, dense cubes produced in home refrigerators to the ice chips used at hotel and restaurant bars.

DeGroff also believes "nothing makes a fruit cocktail sing better than fresh squeezed juice" and loves to twist fresh citrus peel over a cocktail to free the fruit's intensely flavored volatile oil.

When it's finally party time, our mixologist has several themes in mind. He recommends starting with a mild, agreeable cocktail--the accompanying flamingo is one of his favorites--and to do no more than taste throughout the evening.

Other possible approaches:

Select a favorite spirit, vodka or rum for instance, and ask each guest or couple to bring a recipe along with the supporting ingredients to make it.

Make a cocktail that is not too complex, then ask your guests to add something to change the flavor of their drink, bitters or fruit or a spice such as anise. Do a comparative tasting of spirits such as bourbon or single malt Scotch (cut them with a little water), then try them again with food. Or try cocktails with food. Some good comparisons include gimlets with Indian food or smoky Scotch with smoked salmon or Thai fish soup. For recipes and more information, look to "The New American Bartenders Guide," by John J. Poister, or "The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide," by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst.

 

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