A bar spoon is one of the underrated yet necessary tools found behind the bar, allowing bartenders to mix drinks and integrate ingredients together in a method different to shaking that provides a different drinking experience and amalgamation of flavours; for example, have you tried a shaken and stirred martini side by side? There are a few types of bar spoon available to the professional and home mixologist yet the basic functionality is the same. Here’s the low down on the bar spoon.
The spoon itself is one of the oldest eating utensils and was separately developed by multiple cultures around the world. The bar spoon evolved from this once rudimentary cooking and eating tool into two different styles of sophisticated bar tools, both emerging from Europe. The first was originally call the sucket spoon, named after a desert where fruit was served in a syrup in Germany. The spoon had a fork on the opposite end to help one with plucking the fruit from the syrup. This tool migrated to Great Britain where bartenders noticed that their guests could use it to stir and also eat the fruit from their cobbler cocktails. This is the spoon which migrated to the USA and evolved into the American bar spoon.
The second iteration of the bar spoon came from France, where it was called a mazagran spoon. Here the spoon was created with a flat muddling head on the opposite end to the bowl to help crush the stubbornly hard sugar that was being used in the coffee drink called the mazagran. This bar spoon is now the European bar spoon.
Styles and Variations
In addition to the two bar spoons mentioned above there is a third style of bar spoon called the Japanese bar spoon. The uses of a bar spoon remain the same no matter which one you use, however each has different elements that it brings to the table.
American Bar Spoon - A simple bar spoon with the signature twisted handle and a small plastic red cap on the end opposite the bowl. These spoons measure 1 standard teaspoon, 5ml.
European Bar Spoon - Featuring the signature twisted handle of the bar spoon this style has a muddler located on the opposite end to the often flatter bowl. This can be used to muddle sugar and fruits, and is often used to layer cocktails and shots. These bar spoons usually measure 2.5ml of liquid.
Japanese Bar Spoon - Again with the bar spoon’s signature twisted handle Japanese bar spoons are slightly sleeker and more elegant than their Western counterparts. The end opposite the bowl often has a pearl shaped weight to assist the user, however, they can be found with small forks for picking out garnishes.
Besides these significant stylistic variations in bar spoon there are a few elements to consider when selecting a bar spoon for your bar.
Length - A bar spoon should be long enough for you to comfortably use without your hand hitting the rim of the vessel you’re stirring in; almost all of them, besides some terribly cheap versions, will allow this. Some are much longer than others, the Japanese bar spoon usually is, and these can add to the theatre of cocktailing.
Measurement - A bar spoon is a measurement quoted on many recipes and getting these measurements right is always crucial. The measurement of “a bar spoon” is, more often than not, 5ml of whatever you’re measuring. However some of these, like the European bar spoon, can measure different amounts. Be sure you know what the measurement of your bar spoon is and adjust your recipes accordingly.
Other Functions - Do you want your bar spoon to do more than stir? If so you may want to look into the different functionalities and tools that are available on the other end of the handle.
Using a Bar Spoon
The bar spoon seems to be a simple tool to use, just stick in and stir, right? Technique is by far the most important element of a bar spoon, and the goal of stirring a drink is to incorporate whilst simultaneously chilling the ingredients. Stirring drinks instead of shaking them provides you with a smooth elegant texture whilst not clouding the drink. In order to learn proper technique, look professional and stir with the efficiency and consistency required behind the bar, follow these directions.
- Fill your stirring vessel almost to the top with ice. Then add your ingredients.
- Slide the bar spoon down the side of the glass, concave side facing inward.
- Hold the spoon with the stem between two of your fingers, with all your fingers placed on either side of the stem. Some like to hold it between their index and middle finger, others with their middle and ring; it’s whatever is comfortable for you.
- Now you want to stir the spoon around the perimeter of the glass, keeping the bowl facing inwards. Use your wrist to perform this motion and it should be a fluid and consistent motion, don’t force the stir as this will have the spoon jumping around with the ice and not fulfilling its job. This is the “technique” and is the hardest part to learn - so practice, practice, practice!
- Place a strainer over the top of the container and strain your chilled and integrated cocktail into your serving glass. Garnish and serve!
Once the technique clicks, you’ll feel it; and it will feel really good! The general practice is to stir 30-40 times before decanting into the serving glass. Some like to stir twenty times in each direction, some will do it in one direction, it’s entirely up to you.
A bar spoon’s second use behind the bar is layering and this is more often used with shots rather than cocktails and this is where the European bar spoon, with it’s muddler, works really well. Hold the muddler flat to the top of the liquid you wish to “float” your next layer on top of. Pour the next layer slowly, using a speed pourer, onto the muddler, the large surface of the muddler will dissipate the new layer gently on top of the lower layer. When using the spoon end of a bar spoon turn it upside down and place the edge of it where the lower layer meets the glass, holding the spoon as flat as possible. Pour the next layer slowly over the back of the spoon, raising the spoon as the layer builds, keeping it on top of the top layer.
Most well known stirred cocktails are long time classics and well known. The following cocktails are the ones that, as a bartender or bar enthusiast, you should know and all will require your best stirring skills. Therefore, they are also cocktails you can practice with.
- The Negroni
- The Manhattan
- The Martini - now more often found shaken
- The Boulevardier
- Sazerac Gimlet - can be served shaken or stirred
- Rob Roy
- Rusty Nail