The Subtle Science Of Mixology
From bitters to simple syrups, champagne flutes to tiki glasses, The Boston Shaker has got it all. We headed to their store to learn more how to create balanced cocktails and the tools you need to make them.
I enjoy a well-made cocktail. It may be my ego overinflating the capabilities of my palate, but I do prefer my drinks to have more flavor and complexity than you tend to get with well liquor and a soda gun. Craft spirits? Oh, yes please. Bitters? Mm-hmm. A rhubarb shrub? Fancy! Muddled herbs? Hell yes.
So knowing that, fair reader, it’s probably no surprise to you that I took my palate (and ego) to The Boston Shaker, a store known for its specialty cocktail tools and ingredients. The small shopfront in Davis Square belies the dazzling array of drinking glasses, cocktail tools and tonics held within; as you move through the the shop, your eyes are only met with more and more objets d’arte. From funky mermaid tiki glasses, to bespoke bitters, to tiny metal tasting spoons, the store seems to carry anything and everything useful, interesting and beautiful for your bar.
A trip into The Boston Shaker is a bit like finding yourself in Oz, with everything around you transforming from a bland black and white, to colorful, shiny fun – albeit confusing shiny fun. Like, what are these cherries in a tiny porcelain jar all about? Why do you have all these weird twigs for sale? And what exactly is a bitter?
Lucky for all of us, the store is filled with a supremely helpful crew, ready to let you sample and test just about anything, and full of answers for your every cocktail need. I had store manager Lonnie Newburn play (cocktail) Wizard to my Dorothy on a recent visit to the store, and he took a minute to chat more with me about the store’s offerings, upcoming plans – and his most recommended cocktail bars.
There are so many fun and different things to see as soon as you walk in the door. What is your favorite product that you sell in the store?
It has to be the Boston Shaker! Not only is this versatile tool where we get our namesake; it is also the standard shaking or stirring vessel for the cocktail industry.
And what is the strangest tool that you sell?
We carry many unique cocktail tools, but one of the stranger ones has to be the Swizzle Stick. This sort of natural immersion blender is made from a caribbean tree, the Quararibea Turbinata or Swizzlestick tree, and used to mix a style of cocktail called a swizzle. The tree's branches naturally grow in a 5 prong pattern, creating the unique design.
A swizzle cocktail falls in the sour family and is built like a mini punch in a hurricane or highball glass. They are usually served over crushed ice and churned or 'swizzled' by spinning the swizzle stick in the bottom of the class to mix, chill and dilute the cocktail. An example of a classic swizzle cocktail would be the Queen's Park Swizzle. The cocktail and tree originate from the caribbean and thus usually have tropical ingredients.
Between the shaker and the swizzle, you have so many different choices of tools to try out! But what are the first 5 pieces we should buy when setting up an at home bar?
We recommend building a home bar with these five classic tools: A Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Measuring Jigger, Barspoon and Julep Strainer. Together this set can be used to measure, shake, stir and strain any cocktail.
Your store grew out of a consumer desire for bitters and tonics – and a lack of places to buy them in the Boston area. Where do you see business going from here?
The Boston Shaker has always carried the tried and tested tools and ingredients to help everyone create their desired cocktail. We are constantly expanding our inventory to meet the evolving cocktail supply demands of professional mixologist and home bartenders alike.
However, our mission has always been to provide insight and education along with the barware we provide. In the future we would like to have a stronger focus on educating our customers by providing more in depth product demonstrations and cocktail techniques classes. We look forward to providing more digital media content and expanding our Cocktail Class offerings to both the home bar and restaurant bartenders.
So, I’m an gin & tonic drinker, but didn’t know about tonic syrups until I came in to your store – I’m sure there are plenty of other secrets cocktail fans can find here. What is one facet of cocktails that you wish the amateur bartender knew?
While we do introduce beginner bartenders to the right tools and ingredients, we regularly instill the cocktail curious with the knowledge on how to create balanced tasting cocktails by following classic proportions or measurements.
Almost all modern cocktails are derived from a classic recipe which is focused on the ratio of ingredients given their proof and flavor intensity. Following a classic recipe such as a Daiquiri (1.5oz Rum (Spirit) 1oz Lime juice (Sour) and .5oz Simple syrup (Sweet)) and building your technique around it will certainly lift the curtain and reveal how many cocktails are in the same family and have very similar if not the same proportions, only with different ingredients.
And similarly, do you have any tips for those wanting to experiment with mixing and creating cocktails?
Use more bitters! These awesome flavor extracts are the spices of the cocktail world and can dramatically improve the aroma and flavor of a cocktail. Get dashing!
Finally, I have to ask – what are your top 5 favorite cocktail bars in town?
- Backbar (Union Sq.)
- The Automatic (Kendall Sq.)
- Highball Lounge (Downtown Boston)
- Rosebud (Davis Sq.)
- Brick and Mortar (Central Sq.)
Head on down to The Boston Shaker at 69 Holland St, Somerville, MA.
Open everyday 11am – 7pm. 617-718-2999.