Friday, 5 October 2012

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: COCKTAIL STRAINERS



For a bar tool with such an ancient lineage—descended from ancient Chinese tea strainers—the cocktail strainer has surprisingly modern origins. Yes, today there are two types of strainers. And if you’re reading this magazine, you already know they are the julep strainer and the Hawthorne strainer. Is there anything new to know about strainers? Even we were surprised when we found that one has only had its name in common use since the 1970s. 

The julep strainer was born first. It is a simple design: a large perforated spoon with a short handle that emerged in the mid-1800s. Though its design was unique, it bore a distinct resemblance to a number of specialized seventeenth and eighteenth century spoons. The French soupoudrer, with a slightly smaller bowl and longer handle was used to sprinkle sugar or other powders onto food. The British mote spoon used to remove motes (specks) from soup and later tea. And even more like the julep strainer, the tea caddy from the same era is occasionally so similar it could be mistaken for a julep strainer in miniature.

So, if the mint julep has been around since the mid-1800s, when was the julep strainer popularized? Certainly not in time for Harry Johnson to use one in that legendary 1869 New Orleans competition where he simply held the mouths of two mixing glasses together and let the drink flow from the crack between them.

An elegant julep strainer appeared in Louis Fouquet’s 1896 book Bariana. However, this strainer continues to add to the confusion about its origins. Occasionally, one of these beauties appears on eBay, usually listed as “vintage 1847”. However, as silver expert Nancy Gluck of Silver Season (www.silverseason.com) explains, the manufacturer’s name “1847 Rogers Bros”is not a production date, but a tribute to their invention of the style of electroplating used on their wares in 1847.

Gluck—whose website focuses on 1847 Rogers Bros products—said that the strainer seen in Bariana is referred to as the “star strainer” because of the star-shaped hole in the handle. She also indicated that this was the most common of three strainers produced by 1847 Rogers Brothers. The other patterns were Clover with a clover-shaped hole punched through the handle, and the Floral that had no hole and a thicker handle twisted with a floral pattern. Gluck also pointed out that none of these were part of a silverware or bartending set, but were each unique and elegant julep strainers.

There has long been debate as to the proper use of a julep strainer, especially since the best-known julep, the American mint julep, does not require a strainer. One theory is that the strainer was meant to be inverted on top of the mint julep to keep the ice away from the drinker’s teeth. Dental care was not as good back then as it is today. And certainly people suffered greatly from sensitive teeth. Another theory is that it was inverted atop the drink to keep the drinker’s mustache from soaking up the drink. Yet another theory hearkens back to an early medical definition, from before the advent of iced drinks, of a julep as a mixture containing no solids. In this instance, a strainer would have served a valuable purpose.

And the julep strainer itself was not only sold as a strainer. In Bariana it was a cuillere passoire, a strainer spoon. In Farrow & Jackson’s 1898 catalogue, it was an ice spoon. Then in their 1902 cocktail book, Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks, it became an ice spoon and strainer.

The Hawthorne strainer appears to have been born in the United States, evolved from its predecessor. The earliest record of a strainer with the spring that now characterizes the Hawthorne is an 1889 patent for a “julep strainer”. In addition to the spring, there were holes in the middle, but they did not spell out “hawthorne”. The first to carry that name appears to be the one made by Bonzer, a British company.

The Bonzer strainer was first sold in the 1930s. The company itself was born in 1927. We have tried to reach them as to why they stamped their strainers with the word “Hawthorne” but as of press time we have been unable to reach Ron Cooper of Bonzer’s parent company Mitchell-Cooper. However, as far as we know, this was the first use of the word Hawthorne connected to this type of strainer.

However, this strainer was simply called a cocktail strainer. The first use we have discovered of the term hawthorn strainer appeared in John Doxat’s 1972 book The World of Drinks and Drinking. It quickly appeared in other cocktail books, but it was not until 1980 that it was written Hawthorne strainer. Even then, the term really did not catch on until the late 1990s, at the advent of the new cocktail Renaissance.

There is a practical point to looking at the origins of the strainers. Next time you can’t find your ice scoop, remember that is a task the julep strainer was originally made for. But not everything is old. Surprisingly, a new use for the Hawthorne strainer is emerging. The spring, separated from the strainer and placed in a cocktail shaker without ice creates an effective agitator for drinks made with egg whites. May new inventions and bartenders’ inventiveness never cease.

—Anistatia Miller &

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: THE STORY OF THE SHAKER

 

Which came first, the cocktail or the shaker? There is no question—unless someone finds a cocktail recipe from the late 1500s—as that is when the shaker first appeared in one of its modern forms. It was called doppelfassbecher, a double-barrel beaker that was used presumably for drinking toasts rather than mixing drinks. It was common in Germany during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, made of silver, brass, or gold. This should not be confused with the doppelscheuer, interlocking silver wine goblets that were made around the same time.

The doppelfassbecher’s design was much like the two-part shakers of today: two metal cups of almost equal size, one slightly taller than the other as it included a lip that locked it into place with the other. Even the height and width was sometimes very similar to classic cocktail shakers. But this is not a coincidence.

Religious persecution, during the 1600s, drove massive German emigration to Britain. But the German-British connection went all the way to the throne. From the 1714 coronation of Hanoverian  prince George I to present, every king, queen, or consort has descended from or married with German ancestry. Thus, it is no surprise that the doppelfassbecher made its appearance in Britain, in the late 1700s, particularly in London. Many examples made in Sheffield, a city renowned for its metalwork, can be found. And it was in Britain that the doppelfassbecher met the cocktail and became the cobbler mixer.

By the mid-1800s, cobbler mixers were purveyed by Farrow & Jackson Limited of London—wine and spirits merchants who also billed themselves as engineers of all sorts of bar and cellar fittings. Unlike the doppelfassbecher, this bar tool did not have a pattern of barrel staves etched into it. However, it still retained the horizontal bands around it that represented barrel hoops. These early cobbler mixers are the obvious missing link between modern all-metal two-part shakers and the sixteenth-century originals.

An 1856 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle gives an early glimpse of the cobbler mixer’s place behind the bar: “The barkeeper and his assistants possess the agility of acrobats and the prestidigitative skill of magicians. They are all bottle conjurors.—They toss the drinks about; they throw brimful glasses over their heads; they shake the saccharine, glacial and alcoholic ingredients in their long tin tubes…”

The earliest references to cocktail shakers that we have found appeared, in 1868, in two British publications. The first, from Meliora: A Quarterly Review of Social Science, notes that: “This endeavour to get up a system of stimulation has given rise in America to the manufacture of ‘cocktail’ (a compound of whiskey, brandy, or champagne, bitters, and ice), dexterously mixed in tall silver mugs made for the purpose, called ‘cocktail shakers.’”

In the British periodical Notes and Queries, from that same year, we found the earliest description of cocktail shaker’s use: ‘“What is a cocktail-shaker?” I never possessed a pair of ‘cocktail-shakers’ myself, but a young officer in the Blues [the Union army during the American Civil War] a fellow-passenger in a Cunard steamer in which I crossed the Atlantic in 1865, did possess, and was very proud of, a brace of tall silver mugs in which the ingredients of the beverage known as a ‘cocktail’ (whiskey, brandy or champagne, bitters and ice) are mixed, shaken together, and then scientifically discharged—the ‘shakers’ being held at arm’s length, and sometimes above the operator’s head—from goblet to goblet, backwards and forwards, over and over again, till the requisite perfection of homogeneousness has been attained. These are the ‘cocktail shakers’ and our friend in the Blues was so great a proficient in the difficult art of goblet-throwing, and the compounds he made were so delicious, that ladies on board, who in the earlier stages of the voyage had been dreadfully sea-sick, were often heard to inquire, towards two p.m., whether Captain --------- was going to make any ‘cocktails’ that day.”

From the description, the young officer combined the ingredients, shook them in the shaker, then separated the cups and used them as throwing glasses to give the mixture a series of finishing throws. This is particularly interesting since most bartenders at that time were masters of throwing, but none was noted for shaking drinks.

German immigration hit American shores in the 1680s, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. During the 1800s, eight million Germans sought a new life in the “land of the free”. More than just about any other ethnicity, Germans dominated nineteenth-century American bar operations. Think of it. Willie Schmidt, Harry Johnson, and George Kappeler were not the only Germans who plied their craft in New York’s famous watering holes. Between 1860 and 1900, the number of bartenders and saloon owners west of the Mississippi rose from under 4,000 to nearly 50,000. Forty percent were recent German immigrants, and twenty-five percent of those were of German descent. Thirty percent of saloon proprietors in Colorado were German and no doubt knew the proper use of a doppelfassbecher as well as the joys of quaffing vermut. And if they didn’t, according to the San Antonio Express in 1886, there were a number of bartending manuals printed in English and German for them such as Harry Johnson’s Bartenders Manual.

Around the turn of the century, there was a brief dip in the shaker’s popularity as the art of throwing faded away into obscurity. Seasoned imbibers were heard to lament that bartenders had forgotten the old arts and were content to stir their drinks. Mixing glasses appeared in many consumer advertisements as well. Fortunately, this lapse was not long-lived.

Perhaps the largest boom in cocktail shaker sales occurred in the United States just before, during, and after Prohibition as more people entertained at home. Teapot-shaped shakers rose in popularity, not to hide cocktail implements from the police, but to avoid scorn from temperant aunts and mother-in-laws.

It should now be clear how the doppelfassbecher evolved into the Boston shaker. What is less clear is how the two-part shaker (read: cobbler mixer), became the Boston shaker while the three-part shaker took on the moniker of cobbler shaker. The three-part cobbler shaker, as we know it today, was named in 2003 by Dale DeGroff, based on the illustration of a three-part shaker that was captioned “cobbler mixer” on page 21 of Farrow & Jackson’s 1902 book Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks. While this is a new application of the name, it is far more helpful than the book he took the name from, which also had a two-part “cobbler mixer” and a one-part mixing cup presumably made to be used with a mixing glass. But that’s tale to be uncovered at another time.

—Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown

[This article was originally published in German in 2010 in Mixology Magazine.]


© MIXELLANY LIMITED 2012