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You don’t need to sidle up to the bar of a craft cocktail spot to have an excellent cocktail. With a home bar stocked with your favorite liquors and an armory of bar tools, stellar home cocktails are near. “With this small investment, anyone at home can create a great classic cocktail and even experiment with their own recipes,” says Michael Gaines of Los Angeles’ Las Brisas and Solita. With the guidance of Gaines and a few fellow industry experts, we’ve put together a list of essential gear to build a drinks lover’s home bar.
Here are the best bar tools you can buy.
Best Muddler: Top Shelf Bar Supply Ergonomic Hardwood Drink Muddler
Long enough for highball glasses and cocktail shakers
Wood will split if not cared for properly
Almost too large for rocks glasses
“I always prefer wooden to metal muddlers,” explains Hilda Ysusi of the now-closed Broken Barrel in Woodlands, Texas. “They are much easier to clean and don't impart any flavors to the drink.”
Her particular favorite muddler is similar to this one made with beech wood. The rounded carved wood is comfortable to hold, and a wide bottom crushes up fruits and herbs with minimal effort. “I love it because it has a flat end. There are no ridges, so it muddles everything perfectly without pieces getting stuck,” Ysusi explains.
The thick wood handle curves naturally, fitting comfortably in your hand to let you muddle drinks quickly and easily. The durable wood is designed to last through years of tough muddling.
Best Jigger: Cocktail Kingdom Leopold Jigger
Feels great in your hand
Markings are tough to see
A jigger helps you measure out the perfect amount of alcohol for your drink. Chris Chernock, who handles the bar at Los Angeles’ beloved Broken Spanish, says, “I absolutely cannot live without my Leopold Jigger. Jiggers come in all shapes and sizes, but if you've ever held and worked with the Leopold, you'll instantly notice the weight and balance of the jigger itself, which is ideal for bartending in high-paced environments. It's not light by any means, feels solid within your hand, and has all the measurement markings I need, including the elusive quarter-ounce measurement, which isn't as common as some might think.”
Made by Cocktail Kingdom (one of the leading barware brands in the world and the owners of the award-winning Katana Kitten and Mace bars in New York City), the jigger is copper-plated and banded with a design inspired by vintage jiggers. “It's super classy, easy to clean, and comes in plenty of colors to match your personal preference, although classic silver is my go-to,” says Chernock.
Though the jigger is on the pricier side, Chernock confirms that the quality makes it worthwhile.
Best Juicer: Breville the Juice Fountain Cold Plus
Crafts fresh juice quickly
Powerful and efficient
Large, high-capacity jug is dishwasher-safe
Takes up counter space
While many bartenders prefer using a quick hand juicer, Pia Days, owner of Chocolate Tenders bartending company in Los Angeles, loves a stainless steel cold press juicer. “With 1,000 watts, it’s very powerful and efficient,” she explains. “It can juice whole fruits and vegetables, which significantly cuts down on labor and time.”
The heavy-duty Juice Fountain Cold Plus has a centered knife blade that quickly breaks down fruits and vegetables. Not only can the juicer produce fresh lime and lemon juice for daiquiris, but it can also tackle a range of fresh vegetable and fruit juice for creative cocktails, juices, and more.
This unit is particularly appealing, as it allows you to batch enough juice—fruit, veggie, or whatever you please—to keep you making cocktails through the night. In addition, you don't have to worry about squeezing lemons and limes between each round of drinks. It’s also easy to clean. The jug is dishwasher-safe, and the other parts disassemble effortlessly for a quick rinse with warm water.
Best Shaker: Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Copper Set of 2 Weighted Tins
Holds two full drinks
Boston shakers are tough for beginners to use
There are various shakers you can add to your home bar, including cobbler, glass-on-tin, and tin-on-tin. The latter is a crowd favorite in the mixology world. “Most bartenders, myself included, love Koriko weighted tins,” says Eric Hobbie of Las Vegas’ Clique Hospitality. “They have the best seal, and they are light to hold.”
Though the tins are easy to handle, built-in weights help balance the tin and ensure the container is tightly sealed throughout the shake. “Shaking a tin can take a toll on your joints and tendons, so the weight matters,” explains Hobbie.
Made up of two stainless tins—a large, 28-ounce tin and a smaller 18-ounce size—this shaker comes in sleek copper-plated, classic stainless steel, gold-plated, or matte black. Wael Deek, from New York City’s Osteria 57, agrees: “The Koriko tins keep the contents of the drink nice and cool. It’s just a great shaker overall.”
Best Strainer: MAKO Stainless Steel Hawthorne Cocktail Strainer
Easily filters ice, herbs, and citrus
Fits on glasses and shakers
“While I believe most, if not all, cocktails taste best if made in a shaker,” Broken Barrel’s Ysusi says, “a strainer is key to make sure you can pour drinks perfectly into the sipping glass.”
When it comes to straining her cocktails, she recommends the Mako Hawthorne Cocktail Strainer. "It's affordable, reliable, and very durable,” Ysusi says. “The coil is not stiff, so it is easy to handle.”
The Hawthorne-style bar strainer has small holes and tight coils that quickly filter out ice, as well as herbs and citrus, while easily fitting your preferred shaking vessel. The 100 percent stainless steel strainer is designed to be an industry workhorse, built with durability to last through hundreds of cocktails. Cleanup is easy: Just pop the strainer in the dishwasher.
Best Bar Spoon: Cocktail Kingdom Teardrop Barspoon, Stainless Steel
A versatile bar tool
Tough to store
“I love the classic Teardrop Barspoon,” says Nick Touch, bartender at The Family Jones Spirit House in Denver, Colorado. “It is nicely weighted, has a simple and elegant design, and the bowl can be used for 1/8-ounce measurements. It's sometimes referred to as the standard ‘bar spoon’ of modifying ingredients, such as absinthe.” You will often see the term "add a bar spoon of ingredient" in cocktail recipes.
At nearly 12-inches long (30 centimeters), the Teardrop Barspoon is tall enough for any cocktail glass and features a swirling stem that runs the length of the handle to allow for smooth, steady stirring. A weighted teardrop at the end helps balance the spoon, making it easier to pour and stir with control. Alternatively, the weighted end helps stir up liquid contents in a glass that's too small for the spoon. It will be a workhorse in a range of stirred cocktails—think martinis, Manhattans, and mixed drinks that require building the cocktail right in the glass, like highball and lowball drinks.
Best Blender: Kitchen Aid 2-Speed Hand Blender
Makes blended drinks in a snap
Useful in culinary applications
Can get messy
While you may immediately gravitate towards a classic push-button blender, a handheld unit is a great alternative for frozen drinks. Touch loves his KitchenAid 2-Speed Hand Blender, with its 8-inch blending arm with a fixed blade and a two-speed motor. Use it to quickly crush ice in your favorite blended drink (like a piña colada) or purée a boozy smoothie.
The two-speed motor lets you decide how blended each drink will be. The removable blades separate from the blender with the push of a button, making it easy to spray clean or pop into the dishwasher.
The blender comes with a three-cup blending jar, but the adaptable blender can be used in a regular shaker tin. Outside of mixing cocktails, the mixer is versatile in the kitchen. Use it to make sauces (perhaps pesto), blend soups, or mix smoothies.
Best Opener: V-Rod Bottle Opener
Simple and effective
Not particularly attractive
Rochelle Tougas of Houston’s FM Kitchen & Bar says this tool tops her list of favorites thanks to its simplicity. “I was gifted one by a friend when I was working at my first ‘dive-esque’ bar, and that thing really came through with helping me to work fast and efficiently. The one I received was very thin, making it easy to grab and go. There are times I feel my blade is just an extension of my arm!”
This V-Rod-style opener is the staple of working bartenders. The unique shape helps it do everything from open beer bottles to remove corks and spouts. The tool is magnetic and can easily attach to metal bar carts, fridges, and more. “It's a dependable staple tool,” says Tougas. “Not having it makes you feel a little off-kilter the whole night.”
What to Look For When Buying Bar Tools
There are many attractive bar tools on the market, but not all of them are built to last. Often, these tools are designed to look great—and that’s it. Brands will often add low-end finishes and lacquers designed to be pretty on a shelf. Once you try to use them behind the bar, the paint and lacquer can crack and flake into your drink.
Look for bar tools with high-quality construction. They should be dishwasher-safe and made with durable stainless steel or copper construction crafted to withstand years of use.
Essentially, bar tools are supposed to make cocktail hour easier. An undersized shaker or jigger without measurement markings may look great, but when it comes time to mix your drink, these tools will end up making the experience more stressful. The key is the details: Shakers should be large enough to hold more than one cocktail. Jiggers should hold multiple measurements, and strainers should fit in a variety of vessels. When in doubt, ask your local barkeep what brands he prefers.
How do you store bar tools at home?
When you’re making cocktails, lay out your tools in an organized fashion, so everything you need will be ready to go when it’s time to make drinks. When you’re done for the evening, wash and dry (leaving tools wet will cause the metal to rust or flake) and store. Some folks use bar tool bags, though a large box (perhaps a single-bottle wooden wine box) will do the trick just fine. Make sure to store your bar tools separately from your kitchen tools, so you don't get them all mixed up.
What is a muddler for?
A muddler is made from either wood or hard plastic. The elongated, heavy muddlers are designed to help you quickly crush fruits, herbs, spices, and sugars to integrate them into your drink. A mojito may ring a bell as an essential muddler drink, but juleps, caipirinhas, and a range of other cocktails can also benefit from having a muddler around.
How many ounces are in a jigger?
A standard jigger holds 1 ounce of liquid, but the double-sided jiggers often wielded by bartenders have both 1- and 2-ounce measuring cups. Jiggers will also be marked with smaller quantities, including 1/2 ounce, 3/4 ounces, 1 1/2-ounces, and so forth, which allows you to calculate exact measurements, keeping your drinks balanced and consistent.
How do you use a cocktail shaker?
First of all, there are several different types of shakers, and each works slightly differently. The two most popular are cobbler and Boston. Both have two main tins—fill these with fresh ice and build your cocktails in the shaker or as directed by the recipe.
The three-part cobbler shaker has a lid with a built-in strainer. After pouring in your ingredients (you can use the cap to measure parts), place the lid on and give it a good shake. Release the lid and strain the liquid directly into a glass.
A Boston shaker consists of two tins. Build the cocktail in the larger one, and then place the smaller tin securely upside down in the other one (it will seal naturally) and shake. You'll need an additional strainer to pour, although experts sometimes use the other tin as a pseudo-strainer.
Not all drinks need to be shaken. A good rule of thumb is if the drink has citrus or egg whites in it, it requires a shake. If a drink has carbonation, it typically does not need shaking (this will cause the bubbles to fall flat). Outside of those rules, it's completely up to you. Some martini drinkers swear by stirring, while others prefer it shaken. A couple of benefits of a shaken cocktail are that it more thoroughly integrates flavors and cools a drink down quickly.
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Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years and has her BarSmarts and WSET certification. She has spent a decade working in bars and as a sommelier.