When stocking the home bar, most people seem to start with the booze. And rightfully so. But great cocktails not only need the right ingredients, they need the right tools. These tools, when used properly help you create consistent, quality drinks.
Before you start freaking out about having to buy a bunch of new shit for your bar, keep reading. While we certainly highlight best options, we'll also give you some home options as well - and tell you why they're just as important.
Check out the six essentials below. See something we're missing? Tell us, we'd love to hear from you!
ice ice baby
If you read our ice ball post, you know we're kinda obsessed with ice. Without getting too obsessive, let us just say that ice cubes are called cubes for a reason. Perfectly-shaped cubes are great for shaking, stirring and obviously look nice, but there's more to it than that. Freezing your own ice lets you control the water that goes into your cocktails (we suggest filtered/bottled). You can find these silicone trays pretty much anywhere these days. Go get some. Good ice is the foundation of a great cocktail.
If you're going to make a good cocktail and make it time and time again, you need to know your proportions. Classic cocktail recipes were developed over many years and the proportions are critical. Maybe you have years tending bar professionally and know how to count a good pour, but we're guessing you don't. A set of jiggers gives you all the standard measurements, but you can find tons of alternatives out there these days. Hell, break out the measuring spoons if you have to - you'll just have to convert to ounces. There's an app for that.
You can find jigger sets on Amazon for under 10 bucks.
shake it off
No, this is not a reference to Taylor Swift. It's referring to cocktail shakers. Every bar should have a good one. Just like jiggers, there are plenty of sizes and styles out there. A Cobbler Shaker is the three-piece kind with a little lid and a pour spout. Don't spend your money on it - they tend to leak. Instead go with a Boston Shaker or a French Shaker. Both are comprised of two pieces - the Boston being a large metal cup and pint glass, the French being two metal cups. When using, always shake with the larger cup on the bottom. If you don't have a shaker on hand, you can honestly just use a jar and a lid, but shakers are cheap, so get one eventually. As a general rule, cocktails with fruit juices get a shake, those without get a stir.
We found a great (and cheap!) assortment of shaker tins for you here.
stir it up
Not every drink is shaken. In fact, many of the best cocktails are not. Shaking drinks with ice dilutes them - which can be a good thing, but when working with delicate boozy balances, you may want to just chill without as much dilution. That's where a cocktail mixing glass or pitcher comes into play. They're perfectly sized for cocktails and the pitchers have a convenient pouring spout. The other side of the stirring equation is the bar spoon. A bar spoon is not just for stirring, but is good for layering drinks and often referred to in many cocktail recipes as a unit of measure. It's about a teaspoon, just so you know.
So, yes, you can spend about 30 bucks on a fancy mixing pitcher (here), but if someone really gives you shit for stirring drinks in a pint glass with an iced tea spoon, then stop giving them drinks. They don't deserve your kindness.
Like in many circumstances, no one piece is much good without the other. This is definitely the case for a good strainer - or three. Strainers are the other side of Boston or French Shakers and needed for cocktail mixing glasses and pitchers. But not all strainers are equal. A "cocktail strainer" or "Hawthorne strainer" typically refers to basic everyday bar strainer. It's got a spring around the outside and some pattern of holes to let the liquid go through with prongs around the perimeter to keep it on the top of your glass. These work well when straining from a shaker tin or glass. A "julep strainer" is made from a handled piece of domed metal with larger perforations and are great for straining from cocktail mixing pitchers. They were originally used before the prevalence of drinking straws (hard to imagine, right?!), when they would be held on the top of the glass while drinking to keep the ice and mint in the glass while you sipped from the rim. A "conical strainer" or a fine mesh strainer is used for keeping bits of mint out of a mojito or straining citrus pulp and/or ice shards from a more refined cocktail.
We've found a ton of very affordable strainers here, but we also suggest you take a look around your kitchen - there's a good chance you've got something you can use in the meantime. Have a tea strainer? Use it.
The final, and perhaps least important, element of our list of six equipment essentials is a muddler. It's not called for as often as the other pieces and is easily the simplest one to find a replacement for in your home kitchen. Even the handle of a wooden spoon will do in a pinch. But a good muddler is made for muddling - unlike that old spoon. It has a flat bottom and a sturdy handle, great for pressing wedges of lime and releasing the aromatics from fresh herbs.
We've found a bunch of good ones for you starting at just a couple bucks here.
Yes, there are some additional tools that come in handy beyond these primary ones above, but they're all essentially kitchen gadgets that get repurposed for cocktails. A few of our other favorites are a good citrus juicer, a microplane grater for nutmeg, etc. and a good, sharp peeler for getting strips of zest from citrus.
Let's not even get started with glassware...