This is part two of an article that appeared in the October issue of Australian Bartender.
By Simon McGoram
Photography by Rob Palmer
A Quick History of Modern Bar Tools
Before the 1830s – the beginning of what cocktail historian David Wondrich refers to as the “Baroque Age” of bartending – a bartender’s kit consisted little more that a toddy stick (similar to an elegant modern day muddler) and a nutmeg grater. Individually prepared mixed drinks weren’t the norm you see, Punch was still the king of drinks.
It was the burgeoning ice trade that elevated the barkeep from a man filling glasses with liquor to a conjuror of magical mixes.
“Ice, combined with the American drinking public’s ever-increasing preference for individual drinks made to order over things drunk communally out of bowls, meant that the bartender had to add a whole new set of tools to his kit,” explains Wondrich in my dog-eared copy of Imbibe! “Once the blocks – in New York, at least, they we cubes twenty-two inches [56cm] per side – reached the bar they had to be butchered, as it were into usable pieces.”
This lead to the development of ice-tongs, ice-picks, ice-shavers, ice-saws, ice-axes, ice-breakers, ice-scoops, ice-bags and ice-mallets and more. A simple yet genius invention that the bartenders of today use every shift – the humble straw – was also invented at this stage as a way of keeping the ice away from people’s sensitive teeth. The toddy stick was almost out of a job with the arrival of ice being replaced by long handled spoons with twisted stems. It was a novel new method of mixing drinks though that really shook (ahem…) things up.
Well before shaking was developed skilled bartenders were throwing drinks between one mixing glass and another – ice and all – in a method not dissimilar to the way you might make a blazer. When done well it would have been quite a show though it still lacked the aerating power to emulsify egg and cream the way a modern shaker can today.
It isn’t until 1848 that we find the first written reference to someone actually shaking a beverage thanks to a reporter by the name of George Foster. Foster described by Wondrich as a “pioneering lowlife reporter” described a man in a New York oyster bar with a new contraption; “with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and his face in a fiery glow, seems to be pulling long ribbons of julep out of a tin cup.”
This tin cup that was wide enough to fit snugly over a glass beaker eventually became know as a “shaker” though it went through several names first. In 1862 Jerry Thomas in his How to Mix Drinks noted that “every well ordered bar has a tin egg-nogg ‘shaker’ which is a great aid in mixing this beverage.”
By the end of the 19th Century there were a load of patents for various shakers and strainers not at all dissimilar to what we use today. During the 20th century a plethora of more intricate designs became available for professional and at home entertainment.
Bartender’s Top 5 Barware Sites
New to the online barware scene Bar Geek are importers and purveyors of fine European and Japanese barware. These folk bring you premium bar tools at a competitive price.
This Japanese barware specialist is another new-comer to the Aussie scene. Their stock is high-end stuff. Now you’re just being spoilt for choice.
Founded in 2005, barware.com.au has a massive range of stock that looks to out do your traditional barware store offering everything from straws and glass chillers right through to cocktail equipment.
Before we had a choice of online stores locally, it was a fair bet that you’d be looking up Cocktail Kingdom for your top ‘o the line equipment. They still have a good choice of tools along with bitters and books to boot. The only caveat is that you’ll end up paying a premium even before you’re stung with shipping.
This Germany based company offer a complete range of hospitality items including some high quality barware. Their prices are competitive, but shipping again is where you’ll get stung – delivery too takes a couple of weeks.