Bar Tools, Glassware, Corkscrews

"Step one is to take a deep breathe and say "I am smarter than a damn plug of wood"."Meathead

Claire Bretecher, a profound French cartoonist, once drew this pathetic, wordless sequence: She is lying on her mattress on the floor, bawling her eyes out, while his scowling memory hovers in a thought balloon overhead. She gathers her strength, pulls herself together, rises, and boots the scoundrel out of her mind. Resolved, she marches determinedly into the kitchen, takes a bottle of wine from the small rack under the counter, and, newly confident, threads a simple, T-shaped corkscrew into the bottle. For the next five frames she struggles vainly with the cork, wedging the bottle between her knees and yanking, holding it on the floor between her feet and pulling. Dismayed, she carries the bottle back to her mattress, corkscrew lodged tight in the unbudging cork, and again begins bawling while his scowling image reappears overhead.

You know the feeling. It has happened to you, man or woman. It has happened when the boss came to dinner, in a hotel room, or on a picnic. It need never happen again.

Where Bretecher's woman screwed up was not by choosing the wrong man, but by choosing the wrong corkscrew. That simple, T-shaped device is frustration incarnate. Samuel Henshall, who patented it in 1795, should be immortalized in the wax museum beside the Marquis de Sade.

A replacement is necessary, because in this age of microchips and rocketships, most fine wines are sealed with a plug of resilient, spongy wood cut from the bark of the Quercus suber, more commonly known as the cork oak tree.

Cork hugs the glass neck of the bottle with tenacity. When kept moist by the wine in a reclining bottle, corks can last 25 years or more before they have to be replaced.

So if you have acquired the civilized habit of a refreshing glass of wine with your meal, here are a few tips on selecting and using cork pullers.

Tips on technique

Once you have a good corkscrew, there are a few pointers you should know for smooth operation.

  1. The first step is to prepare yourself mentally. Breathe deeply, and repeat three times, "I am smarter than the cork."
  2. Then peel away all the foil or plastic capsule and wipe the top. Mold and other gunk hang out on cork tops and can give the wine an odd taste.
  3. Keep your tip sharp. Sharp tips on corkscrews prevent cork bits in the wine.
  4. Make sure the tip of your corkscrew is aligned with the rest of the helix so that it is not boring its way down while the rest of the helix is tearing a wide hole. Always insert the helix in the center of the cork and be certain it is going straight in.
  5. If something goes wrong, stop and think. Remember that you are smarter than the cork. Do not force the issue. If only half the cork is coming out, screw the helix in deeper. If it is pulling out the center only, remove the corkscrew and drill another hole where you can start over again, or screw the helix down the side and try to pull it from there.

Choose your weapon

The T-shaped Henshall screw is a worthless piece of junk. Right now, get up and go into your kitchen and throw yours out. The good news is there are several designs for corkscrews that work flawlessly. A few are even idiot-proof. You would not cut your lawn with a pair of scissors, and neither should you try to pull a cork with a device originally designed to remove perfume stoppers. Go out and buy a real cork remover. There are three features to look for when selecting a cork remover.

  1. Worms not augers. The part which is inserted into the cork should be a helix formed from a heavy wire that looks like a coiled worm. These wire worms do not tear the cork as they wind through it. Augers, whose thread is more like a screw, tear corks and should be avoided.
  2. Mechanical advantage. The device should give you a mechanical advantage with levers, gears, or screws. Its design should translate a gentle motion on your part to forceful action on the cork.
  3. Wide and long. Make sure the worm is wide enough and long enough to get a good grip on the whole cork. Narrow worms tend to pull out only the center of the cork, while worms shorter than 1.75" only screw through part of a long cork, and often tear it in half.

I have personally used all of these devices many many times.

Other Bar Necessities

Here's a list of what you need to make sure you can make professional quality drinks and serve them in style. For some drink ideas, visit my drink recipes pages.

champagne flutes
If you enjoy champagne and/or sparkling wine, quality champagne flutes are an important addition to your home bar. These tall slender glasses not only look elegant, they retain the fizz longer. read more
Libbey cocktail shaker kit
Cocktail shakers often come as a kit with all the tools you'll need. Our favorite among the countless cocktail shaker kits is one from Libbey, featuring a 20 ounce glass mixing glass, stainless steel shaker, and stainless steel Hawthorn-style cocktail strainer. It's dishwasher safe, although hand washing is best. read more
bar glassware and tools
Recommended tools and glassware for maintaining a bar at home. read more
Wooden Muddler
Many classic drinks such as mint juleps and mojitos use fresh mint leaves. More modern drink recipes use herbs such as basil. To extract their flavors they are placed in the shaker or glass and crushed with a mini-baseball bat called a muddler, a must if you enjoy mojitos and other muddled cocktails. read more
Schrafft's Luncheonette-Style glass
Schrafft's Luncheonette-Style Glass with Holder Gift Box Set of 2) are a wonderful addition to your home glassware collection. These nearly-forgotten glasses, supported by gleaming stainless-steel holders and accompanied by elegant, long-handled spoons, are perfect for milkshakes, ice cream sodas, or hot rum drinks. read more
Winged screw corkscrew
When it comes to selecting the right corkscrew, there are countless design options available in the market. One type that I recommend is the winged corkscrew. It has two wing-like levers that pull the cork up through its frame when they are depressed, and they are very inexpensive, usually under $10. read more
Ah-so cork extractor
The ah-so device is one of the most unique tools for removing a cork and was once the rage in California. The device has two prongs that are wiggled between the cork and the bottle neck, and with a quick twisting motion, easily yanks the cork out of the bottle without puncturing the cork. Most of the time. read more
Double Screw Corkscrew
The double screw style corkscrew is one to avoid. The double screw is so-called because it removes the cork by screwing the helix into the cork and then a latch is thrown so a thread around the top helix pulls it out. read more
Oster Electric Corkscrew
The Oster battery operated wine opener is a really clever device. With the touch of a button it can open 30 bottles between charges. read more
Pump Cork Extractor
The compressed air hypodermic cork remover looks like a giant needle to be inserted through the cork. The "syringe" part is like a bicycle pump, and pumps air into the bottle until the internal pressure pushes the cork out. While they usually work fine, they can break off in the cork in the bottle or worse. read more

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