In the Spirit

Ready, Set, Go

Shake, stir and be snappy

By Tony Cross

One of my good friends manages a restaurant and recently had to jump behind the bar because of a lack of help due to COVID. As new bartenders emerge in restaurant bars — and establishments who market themselves as “cocktail bars” — there are basics that even novice bartenders need to master.

My friend can make a decent drink — no worries there — but it pains me every time he shakes a cocktail. When he’s finished, he has the damnedest time separating the two shakers. So, what does he do? He bangs it against the bar until he gets them to come apart. Good thing he’s got two tin shakers. If one of them was a pint glass, hitting it against the bar could send shards of glass flying, ruining a perfectly good drink. That’s cocktailcide.

So, what to do? When placing your two shakers together, don’t put the top shaker (smaller tin, or pint glass if using a Boston shaker) pointing straight up. Place it at a slight angle, so that the two shakers sort of curve, something like the contour of a banana. Then shake. And shake hard. When you’re ready to separate your two tins (or Boston shaker), hit the bottom of the inside of your hand against the seal of the two shakers. You’ll see the two start to separate — that’s where you give it a quick snap of the hand, and voila! This is the correct way to do this, but it also saves time, and looks way more professional than beating it against the back of your bar.

Previously, I’ve discussed the importance of dilution in your cocktails, and how/why water is a key ingredient. Dilution is important, so when I watched a bartender take the time to whip up a nice variation of an old fashioned, it killed me when she added a small bit of ice and gave it a few lousy stirs, like it bored her. In that short 10 seconds of her life that I know she wants back, she had to have been thinking, “Ehh, here you go.” Now, did I ask her to redo the drink and stir more? Of course not, that would be silly. What’s also silly is charging $12 or $15 for a cocktail, and not knowing what you’re doing from A to Z.

So, what to do? Pack it with ice in a chilled stirring vessel and stir until cold and diluted.

I’ll finish with a pet peeve: Be fast. This is a must in any establishment, whether they’re busy or slow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bartenders doing their thing, but taking forever to get the drinks out. Bartenders do a lot more than just make cocktails — they set the tone for the night, make their guests feel at home, and so on. But you have to be fast. The stirred cocktail I ordered above was correctly made, minus the lousy stir job, but it took her forever to make it.

The establishment was slow, so she was conversing with a couple at the bar while she made my drink. It was torture. I once worked under a bartender that loved chatting with his patrons more than making the drinks, or it seemed that way. The wait staff and I almost formed a coup. Yes, it was that bad. So bad that in between ingredients, he would forget what he had put into his mixing vessel. His solution? Add another part of spirit. Nine times out of 10 this resulted in the drink being sent back for being too boozy.

So, what to do? Move it. If you want to be good at your job, you’ll be multi-tasking drink orders, conversation, food orders and so on. You have to be fast. Don’t be that place that’s known for slow service. Eventually your guests will go somewhere else.   PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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