"There are only two real ways to get ahead today – sell liquor or drink it.” That’s according to American comic actor WC Fields, who lived from 1880-1946. Now usually we talk about how times have changed. But, according to research company Marketline, the global alcohol industry is set to exceed $1 trillion by next year. A figure Fields probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend in his lifetime.
This massive number includes everything from a £17 martini in a hotel bar to a £4 pint in the local pub. From fast-paced, high turnover chain bars to luxurious high-priced cocktail hangouts, this is an industry that never sleeps. Somewhere in the world, right now, a drink is being shaken, stirred, muddled, imbibed.
High turnover joints need strong, durable kit that can cope with some serious abuse. Not to mention glassware that might be washed and reused several times a night. At the other end of the scale, people paying £17 ($26.60) for a drink expect it to be made with and presented in kit worthy of the price tag. In other words: it’s essential to have the right tools for the job.
From different types of shakers, glasses, jiggers and bar spoons, cocktail equipment and glassware plays a huge part in what keeps the industry’s wheels turning. For some bartenders it becomes an obsession and a collection, some pieces are lucky for competitions and, for others, it’s about slamming out the orders from a tough and trusty shaker.
Hayden Scott Lambert, head bartender at bijou joint Bar Americano in Australia’s Melbourne, says having the right tools is important for consistency.
“Like any job you need the right equipment or weaponry to complete certain tasks” he says.
“I started off with just the basics for measuring, shaking and muddling drinks. Having the right tools for the job allows a bartender to recreate and consistently maintain a high standard of drinks.”
Alex Kratena, head bartender at World’s Best Bar Artesian says: “Cocktails are like cooking: 60% is ingredients, 40% is technique. Therefore we need deep understanding of ingredients and to use the right tools and technique in order to execute delicious cocktails. Cocktails are also often executed front of house and they are enjoyed through senses, but also experienced and rationalised by reflection – the right tools are essential.”
Bringing everything including the kitchen sink behind the bar can be justified if you’re making drinks that require the big guns, but knowing when to look up and pay attention to your customer is an equally valuable tool. And if you have “all the gear but no idea”, well, then you’re really wasting your time.
“Gadgets can be useful,” says Lambert. He cites “sous vide equipment, smokers and rotovaps (rotary evaporators)”. Lambert adds: “They can definitely share their place in a bar – but are they necessary? That depends on what type of venue, atmosphere and drinks you are trying to create. “I think bars and bartenders get bogged down with the notion that certain types of gadgets will make their drinks a higher standard. But you’re only as good as the understanding you have for a piece of equipment.”