Bartools: Perfect Black and Tan

blackandtanI’ve discovered my kryptonite.  I can see kitchen gadgets, drinkware, tools and any number of other items on the shelf but if their use is obvious I can ignore them.  At a recent trip through Williams Sonoma I wandered near the barware and nestled among the cocktail shakers and bottle openers was this simple coaster sized piece of steel.  It was sold unboxed, with neither instructions nor explanation.  The sole concession to marketing was the engraving around the edge promising the “Perfect Black and Tan”.

It was $9.95 and I was hooked.  From the photo it appears to be slightly flat but this could not be further from the truth.  The outer ring is designed to sit comfortably around the rim of a pint glass and leaves enough space for a collins or a slightly wider than normal bar glass.  The middle ring is recessed from the rim and has equally spaced holes in the bottom of the depression.

The center is a raised dome of steel, perfectly rounded.  Being of a single piece of steel there are no welds, seams or rough edges.

Not being a beer drinker I was not immediately familiar with the Black and Tan as a beverage. If you are (like me) unknown to this drink it is a combination of lager and stout most notably Guinness and Harp.  Porter and pale ale are also allowable but the original is as given.  The drink is supposed to be served in a pint with a relatively clear separation between the two beers.  A “Perfect” black and tan would have a firm line between the two without blending between.  The Guinness is usually presented on top despite the arguably higher specific gravity (thickness).

pousse CafeTo achieve this process the bartender will pour the Guinness over the back of a bar spoon or down the angled edge of the glass to slow the beer’s fall.  This is the same process would would use to create a Pousse Cafe only simpler because you’re using only one layer.

So the intent with this little gadget is to give you a bar spoon like surface to spread out the overall pour and prevent splashing and then allow it to drain evenly through the holes across the surface of the lager preventing a single point of contact from mixing the two beers.

This is a fantastic design and a well thought out item.  It is easy to clean, use and store.  Beyond those elements it is useful for more than simply the original intention.  You could use this item to create similar separated drinks in any other format so long as the glass allows for the drain openings.

I have not attempted an actual pousse cafe with this as most of them use significantly smaller quantities of alcohol and much smaller glasses.

Tools: Trav-L-Bar

One of the most frustrating things about drinking well is the general inability to make that experience carry over outside your home.  It’s all very well to allow people to see your collection, witness your skills with a shaker and partake of the libations you can craft when you have your entire collection at hand.  It is another very different animal to be able to replicate this kind of presentation on the fly.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this particular kit when my parents were cleaning out their garage, the provenance is uncertain but it’s entirely likely that this came down from my grand parents.  (Or my brother picked it up at a yard sale)  If you want a similar kit they sell on Etsy and Ebay for 40-60 will all the original parts intact and some even have the original tags.  This kit had more of the original pieces when I received it but i’ve modified and adjusted for my own uses.

drink photos 214 Here we see the outer case, plain brown but leather and of a very good wear.  The handles and latches are sturdy and comfortable.

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These are my shots of the interior.  I find it to be very well laid out with ample room for all the tools and kit one could want.

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Here is a much fuller shot of the internals.  On the right three compartments suitable for 750ml bottles of most descriptions, on the left there are straps for 4-6 cups as well as a bottle opener and cocktail spoon.  The part I like best is that the straps at the top left are adjustable so you can fit larger or smaller glasses as you need.

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This is part of my standard kit.  The Boston shaker I regularly use and my Oxo measuring cup.  The bitters and Grenadine will obviously fit but I find them a poor use of space given their size and the limits of the case.

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Here is the other half of my tools.  Left to Right we have 3 New Deal Distillery Shot glasses received as part of my many trips down distillery row and 1 Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery glass which I bought as part of my Devil’s Bit St. Patrick’s Day excursion.  The metal tray from the original case along with a cheap Hawthorne Strainer I picked up at Kitchen Kaboodle.  The Cocktail spoon is also from the original case, the jigger is a standard 1 1/2 by 3/4 jigger which I’m probably going to switch out, the oxo measure is just so much easier to use.  A waiter’s friend replaces the bakelite bottle opener which is currently floating around my mother’s 3rd kitchen junk drawer right now.  I don’t mind, having the corkscrew and foil knife has been handy and if this breaks I know I can get another fairly cheaply.

I swapped out the metal cups because frankly the ones that didn’t smell like leather smelled like cheap steel or aluminum which I didn’t want getting into my drinks.  Also this lets me show off a nice collection of shot glasses from local distilleries (at least the ones who have shot glasses).

The three compartments on the right side allow for a couple of options when traveling.  First off is the fairly basic cocktail, the shaker will hold a small squeeze bottle of juice or a dropper of bitters and the other two compartments easily hold your base alcohol and your liqueur.

I have done very passable Kamikazi’s out of this kit with just lime juice, cointreau and crater lake vodka.  There are a number of other options here including the classic martini, rusty nail, Pink Gin, old fashioned, or sidecar.

If you can do without the shaker a third bottle slot opens up which lets you get a bit more creative.  I’ve not gone without the shaker yet since most of the parties i’ve done with this kit so far require more than just two bottles but the option is there.  I’m curious to see if the mason shaker will fit in this case but not enough to bring up my timetable on buying one.

At a recent birthday party I wanted to take my cherry limeade with me but rather than take the 5 bottles that make up the entire drink I simplified and made two smaller bottles, one with the limeade and a second with the alcoholic components.  This allowed me to keep the majority of the drink on hand without overloading the case but did limit my options for what to create on the other end.

Tools: Shakers

I’ve not had a serious opportunity to use many shakers in my testing so far but I can speak reasonably about some of the benefits.

My current shaker is a lovely Boston shaker that was purchased for me at Crate and Barrel for about $20.  What makes this model interesting as Bostons go is the rubber seal rim around the glass portion.  This makes the seal between the glass and metal a lot tighter and doesn’t rely on the fit of the glass itself.  One down side is that the rim is starting to crack after only about 4 months of infrequent use and I’m not sure a replacement is possible.  The hawthorn Strainer that I have also doesn’t fit well into the glass making me think it’s a bit more narrow than a standard pint glass you might find elsewhere.

I have a metal on metal Boston purchased by another friend which I have only used once or twice having received both at around the same time.  I like having some visibility on what i’m shaking which also means the metal on metal has stayed in the cupboard.  I may take the larger half and a pint glass as a replacement if the rubber rim on my crate and barrel job fails entirely.

I had previously a nice metal shaker of a more traditional style with the strainer built into the top.  It was fine for myself but once I started mixing for friends it became a hindrance as it was not full sized and could hold at best a third of the volume of my current rig.  I would go back to that style again as I enjoy not having to wash an extra tool but it is my understanding from more professional bartenders that this style tends to gum up or freeze shut with prolonged use and can be more of a chore to clean between drinks than a separate strainer.

My next purchase is likely to be a Mason Shaker.  At 32oz this monster lets you mix some serious drinks.  I attempted to do some larger drinks at a recent convention and I think after 2 servings my current selection simply cannot hold the volumes required.  Being fitted to a Mason jar allows for both the built in strainer as well as glass sides to observe the process.  It’s not classy by any stretch but it will do when one needs to mix 4-5 drinks at once without having to stop and re-ice your shaker between runs.  I can foresee this being a much more two handed affair but at $29 i’m actually impressed with some of the quality i’ve seen.

An insulated shaker may be my next purchase.  The loss of heat in the shaking process means wet ice, watery drinks and the like.  Instead of having to change ice more frequently or change out shakers for one more recently inside the freezer this option seems like a way to keep the cold where it should be.

All picky business out of the way you really cannot undersell the benefits of shaking over any other method.  I have had drinks poured from one solo cup to another and there simply is something magical in the conversion going on inside a shaker.