There are drink stashes, and then there are home bars.
It’s common to keep a few bottles of spirits lying around the house, often in a spare kitchen cabinet or at the bottom of the wardrobe. But then there are those who take it a step further, dedicating a section of their home to all-things booze, often even sporting a back bar shelf and counter top.
Whether you’re the former or the latter, there are a few tools of the trade you will be needing in order to properly concoct drinks at home, especially when it comes to classic cocktails.
Here are the most essential home bar tools you’ll need, with a few bonus ones if you’re planning to take it a step further.
You simply can’t make certain cocktails without this one (stirring in ice just doesn’t produce the same result), making this the most essential tool in one’s bar arsenal. It may seem unwieldly for beginners, but you’ll soon grow to love using this baby and look good doing so while you’re at it.
The preferred method for making classics like the Daiquiri, Gimlet, Margarita and all Sours is by shaking, as it incorporates the ingredients in a way stirring doesn’t. Acids such as those found in fruits are better combined through shaking, and to create froth like those found in a Pisco Sour or an Espresso Martini, using a shaker is needed.
Even if you’re only planning on concocting drinks using your own recipes, you’ll find the shaker to be one tool that opens up many more options for you.
If you’re not shaking, you’re likely gonna be mixing the ingredients together. And the best way to do so is in a mixing glass. Sure, you can just mix everything together in the glass you’re serving in, but not always. You might not want the ice cubes used for cooling down a drink to be in the serving glass, for instance, as this can dilute the drink too much.
Alternatively, some folks use a large pint glass as the mixing glass, which is perfectly fine too. As long as you have a separate, large vessel for mixing your ingredients with, that can be your mixing glass. A strainer (see entry further down below) is almost always needed when using a mixing glass, so you can keep the unwanted stuff in and let the good stuff out.
Ever made an Old Fashioned that you really love, then when remaking it the next day using the exact same ingredients, it just doesn’t taste the same anymore? Measurement and ratios have a huge impact on the final taste of the drink, and you’ll be surprised how much difference just 2ml of whisky can make.
That’s where the jigger comes in. Eyeballing the amount of liquid you pour when making your cocktail can only take you so far. At some point, in order to recreate that amazing drink you had, you got to remember how much of what you poured in. A little too much lychee syrup can easily ruin any Lychee Martini, making it taste more like cordial than cocktail. Balance is key, and a jigger helps you achieve that.
Plus, many cocktail recipes out there are given in ounces, which is exactly one full pour from the 30ml side of the jigger. Most jiggers have two sides, the other measuring 45ml at the brim.
Already have cups and mugs at home you say? While some might think that the type of vessel you use to drink from is a matter of preference, it simply isn’t true if you’re trying to appreciate and maximize the enjoyment from each drink. If you’ve already done all the work to make a drink, you might as well be drinking it from the right glassware.
Glass imparts no smell and no flavor to the drink it contains, and the transparency allows for visual impact as well. You first eat with your eyes, they say, and the same is true for cocktails (to an extent, of course). There’s no stopping you from using other kinds of vessels, sure, as long as it suits your purpose.
Use a Glencairn glass for drinking whiskies neat as it allows the aromas to funnel through to your nose better, or a rocks glass when enjoying a Negroni, since the larger width allows for a larger ice block to sit in the drink, which melts slower than a typical-sized ice cube and thus dilutes your drink at a slower pace.
Speaking of ice, one of the most overlooked components in a cocktail, you will need the right kind when making your drink – and that starts with the right kind of mold (unless you’re constantly buying bar-quality ice, which is fine too).
Make bigger ice cubes if you’re placing them in a wider, stouter drinking glass, so that it melts slower while keeping your cocktail chilled, which in turn doesn’t dilute and affect the taste of your drink as much. In a glass, one large ice cube melts slower than many smaller ones, due to less surface area being exposed. This effect is very pronounced in warmer climates, such as in Singapore and Thailand.
Use a bunch of smaller (but not too small) ice cubes when filling a shaker or mixing glass, to maximize transference of temperature and the mixing of ingredients. When filling a tall glass with ice, use as many cubes as you can so that they melt slower overall, again resulting in less dilution.
Freshly-squeezed juices taste better than those you get from a carton, period. The squeezer allows you to press out all the good, citrusy juices from limes, lemons and oranges (used heavily in many recipes), fresh from the fruit whenever you need it.
Using fresh fruits in the making of your cocktails is one simple way to instantly take your drink to the next level, so is the proper usage of their peels, which leads to the next point.
Fruit peels are used as garnish for cocktails, and add (sometimes crucially) to the olfactory and visual sensation of the drink. And to properly obtain peels from the fruit, you’ll need a peeler.
Those with the skill for it can use knives of course, but that’s likely not a safe suggestion for many of us, as you’ll need to cut pretty acutely on the layer of skin so that you don’t get too much of the rind underneath, which is bitter and not pleasant to taste.
Not entirely essential (some will argue otherwise), but a great tool to have in your home bar kit nonetheless. It’s a barware used to manually mash ingredients together before mixing or shaking. It’s essentially the bartender’s version of a pestle, with teeth at the bottom to better penetrate fruits, for instance. They come in wooden, plastic and stainless steel options.
Use it to macerate fruits like grapes and mangoes, or lightly grind peels and herbs to extract the essential oils and flavors within them directly into your shaker or glass. The idea isn’t to go to the extent of pulping your ingredients, so don’t go crazy with the smashing. Stainless steel muddlers can also be used to crush larger ice cubes to get ice chips, which some bartenders prefer to use when shaking.
If you’re muddling fruits and adding herbs and spices into your shaker or mixing glass, you’ll need a cocktail strainer in order to separate the unwanted skins and bits from the liquid when pouring it out.
For some shakers, yes, there may be filters already on the cap, but that’s meant to keep the ice cubes and bigger items in place. The holes are usually too big to keep out seeds and other undrinkables.
There are three types of strainers bartenders would usually use – the Hawthorne strainer, Julep strainer and mesh strainer. The Hawthorne is best used with a shaking tin, the Julep with a mixing glass, and the mesh for double straining (through a Hawthorne first then the mesh, for instance) away very fine bits or unwanted ice chips.
This is essential if you’re stirring drinks in a mixing glass, or if you intend on layering (an advanced technique) your cocktails. The only reason why the bar spoon is so far down the list is because you could technically stir your drinks using a regular spoon or even (gulp!) a chopstick.
But the bar spoon is specifically designed for stirring your drinks. Its length means you are able to stir your entire mixing glass properly without getting your hands wet. The corkscrew design on its stem aids in stirring too, while also allowing liquors or wine (as you would in a New York Sour) to swirl gently down the spine to layer a drink.
Other than these 10 most essential bar tools, there exists many, many more items you can add to your bar arsenal. But these are the most crucial ones, and we highly recommend starting your kit with them.
As you get accustomed to mixing drinks, you’ll get a better idea of what you’ll be needing, then grow your toolkit from there. Just know that the tools are here to aid you. So if you find they’re of not much use in your home bartending journey yet, there’s no need to go out and get them right away.
Check out this 10-piece bar tool set that comes with a stylish bamboo stand to house all your tools in one place.