Ask the Bartender: What cocktail tools make great gifts?

Sean Kenyon Bio Photo.jpg
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll talk about current cocktail culture (including our contest to create a Colorado cocktail) and answer your questions.

In response to a woman looking for gifts for her cocktail-loving husband, last Monday I posted my favorite cocktail- and spirits-related books. This round, I'm serving up bar tools that would be excellent gifts for the cocktail lover or bartender in your life. All of the tools listed are on the higher end of quality -- so while they might be pricey, they will also be durable. And for convenient shopping most of them are available online at www.cocktailkingdom.com, www.barproducts.com (in the master mixology section) and www.amazon.com.

Shaker Tins. Shakers are the most important tools behind any bar. I use four basic types of tin sets to shake cocktails: Parisian, Cobbler, Metal on Metal, and Boston shakers. My personal favorites are the WMF Parisian shaker tins. The set looks like a bullet and is shaped for optimum movement inside the tins while shaking. I also love the AG brand Cobbler shakers; they are three-piece, have a built-in strainer and can be used for the Japanese Hard Shake. (Beware of cheaper brand Parisians and Cobblers -- they have a thinner gauge metal and lock up when cold). Metal on Metal tins are also great for achieving maximum chilling for cocktails; my favorite set is the Naranja weighted 28 oz./18 oz. This ratio causes the small tin to sit high inside the large tin and gives a good distance for the ice and the cocktail to travel while shaking. Finally, the classic Boston shaker set uses an 18 oz. glass with a 24-28 oz. tin and is a must behind any bar. You can buy the last two in combo by purchasing a 28 oz. tin, 18 oz. tin and 18 oz. heat-treated pint glass. All are available on cocktailkingdom.com.

Bar Spoons. The best bar spoon for my money is the Roslë 10.7 inch bar spoon. It is made of 18/10 stainless steel and is a bit heavy, but it is very well-balanced and extremely durable. Most bar spoons are made of twisted metals and can be rough on the hands after a long night of stirring, but the Roslë spoon is smooth and stirs with ease. Available on amazon.com and barproducts.com.

Strainers. There are three types of strainers used behind the bar: Hawthorne strainers for shaken cocktails, Juleps for stirred, and Fine (or Double) strainers, which are meant to be used in concert with either to strain small bits of muddled fruit or spices. I can't stand the cheap, loosely coiled Hawthorne strainers that are behind most bars; the spring is never tight enough and ice chips are allowed to fall into a cocktail. There are many great Hawthornes, but my two favorites are the elegant Per Alimenti Italian Strainers (cocktailkingdom.com) and the extremely functional OXO stainless Hawthorne strainers (amazon.com). A great Julep Strainer is hard to find: Uber Tools makes a good one, but I prefer the inexpensive, unbranded type that have a diamond shaped hole in the handle, are a bit larger than the regular Julep and fit nicely into a Yarai mixing glass. For Fine Strainers, I use the 3" Conical Stainless Steel Mesh Strainer available on barproducts.com

Jiggers. I've never been a fan of the classic, old-style bowtie jiggers. You need more than one to capture multiple measurements and no one ever uses them correctly (meniscus, people!!!) OXO makes a 2 oz. stainless measuring-cup style that is very popular with bartenders; unfortunately, it is hard to see the inside measurements in a dimly lit bar. But OXO's newest jigger is its best yet. It has a rubber grip in the middle and the graduated lines are etched and show easily even under low lighting. Both are available on amazon.com. And cocktailkingdom.com has some beautiful Japanese-style jiggers that look great in a presentation set or for use at a formal event.

Mixing Glasses. It is easy to just use a pint glass for stirring, but many experienced bartenders have turned to the Yarai mixing glass. It is an elegant presentation piece and the straight-sided design allows for better dilution than the standard slant-sided pint glass. There are two types available on cocktailkingdom.com: seamed and seamless. The seamed is less expensive and sturdier for high volume use; the seamless version is a bit more refined and more fragile.

Muddlers. Many styles of muddlers can be found online. Forget about anything that has a grated or spiked base; it ruins mint and other herbs by extracting the bitter interior oils of the leaves. Mr Mojito has a number of great options, but a really special gift for your favorite bartender is a PUG! Muddler. PUG!'s are hand-turned and individually made by Chris Gallagher, who is intentionally low-tech. The only way to get one is to send him an e-mail (jcgallagher08@hotmail.com), and pay by PayPal or send him a check. They can be made with several different styles of hardwood.

Hand Juicer. There are many different kinds of citrus juicers available, but in my mind there is only one: the Cadillac of juicers, the NorPro Citrus Hand Juicer. In three years, I've probably squeezed over 20,000 limes, lemon and oranges with my NorPro, and it still looks and works like new. And your hands won't get any calluses or blisters as they do when you use the traditional Mexican cast-aluminum juicers. Available on cheftools.com and amazon.com.

Lewis Bags. A Lewis Bag is a sack used for crushing ice. The canvas- like fabric wicks away moisture so that your crushed ice remains dry. I recommend the TAG Bag by Tony Abou-Ganim.

Ice Pick. A well-crafted ice pick is a must for ice carving and shaping. I prefer the Japanese-style Anvil pick available at Cocktail Kingdom. The heavy hammer at the base helps break up large blocks while the tempered steel pick is suited for carving.

Knives. Quality knives are a must for the modern-era bartender. I use the 3-piece Global Knife set, which includes a 3.5-inch Paring Knife, 5-inch Chef's Utility Knife, 7-inch Hollow Edge Santoku Knife.

There are many more tools essential for a modern bar that may be more like stocking stuffers than full0on gifts. These include the OXO peeler, the Microplane 40020 Classic Series Zester/Grater and the Misto stainless steel atomizer (for Bitters).

I hope this list makes for some happy and well-equipped bartenders after the holidays. Cheers!

Ask the bartender at bartender@westword.com.


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