Home Bar Essentials – All The Bar Tools You Need Plus Alternatives
When it comes to creating great cocktails at home, the right tools make all the difference. You don’t need much, just a few key pieces for your home bar that will last you for years to come. Let’s take a look at my favorite bar tools, as well as some of the alternatives you can use in a pinch. *Links to all products at bottom of page!
THE TOOLS YOU WANT:
THE ALTERNATIVE TOOLS IF YOU’RE IN A PINCH…
The first tool we’ll look at, and in my opinion the most important, is the jigger. For the first several years I tended bar, I never used one. I thought they were silly, only to be used by people who couldn’t count as they poured. It wasn’t until I began making cocktails more complex than a dirty martini that I realized how truly crucial they are. Sure, a lot of bartenders can pour 1, 2, or 3 oz with a bottle and a speed pourer on it, but different bottles have different weights to account for. Bottles pour differently depending on how full they are. Some bottlenecks don’t fit speed pourers at all. And good luck trying to count .25oz, .75oz, 1.25oz, 1.75oz and so on. Sure, some world-class bars pour cocktails into glasses and eyeball the measurements (looking at you, Employees Only), but this takes loads of training and repetition to get right. What a jigger really is, especially behind a busy bar, is a security blanket. No matter what cocktail a guest asks for, no matter how complex, if you have a jigger, the whole bar team can execute the cocktail consistently every time. There are different qualities of jigger, however, so we need to make sure you pick up the right one when you go to make a cocktail. My favorite is the Leopold Jigger from Cocktail Kingdom, my go-to webstore for most tools. This is one of the only jiggers I’ve found that has a line for .25oz, which is great for many recipes calling for just a touch of something. Before using this jigger we always just estimated somewhere below the .5oz mark, which is difficult considering the slant of the jigger’s wall.
Alternatives: Most kitchens are equipped with some sort of tool for liquid measurement, so look around until you find something that has liquid ounces or mls and simply convert what you need to. A measuring cup set should do the job. In the US, the main measurements you’re looking for are 2oz, 1.5oz, 1oz, .75oz, .5oz, and .25oz.
Ok, so you have your jigger. Now what? You need something to pour the booze into — your shaker! Most cocktails you make are going to involve citrus, meaning they’ll be shaken, not stirred. We’ll look at stirred tools in a bit, but for now let’s highlight these very affordable and durable Koriko Weighted Shaking Tins. I’ve used these tins, or a variation of these tins over the past six years, making thousands and thousands of cocktails in each set. Only after around 2 years and hundreds of cocktails per night and some industrial-strength dishwasher heat do these shakers lose their integrity and become difficult to seal. A great set of shaking tins will seal together so tightly that you can throw them across the room to another bartender and they should stay together. This very seal also allows you to make that satisfying *snap* when you break the shakers apart. These shakers feature a weighted cup at the bottom that makes your shaking easier and are durable enough to slam them together when doing a double-shake, which I hope everyone will try at least once! I recommend buying at least one set per household, but being that they’re so affordable it doesn’t hurt to get a couple sets in case you want to make two cocktails at once, or one set is in the dishwasher.
Alternatives: Using one large plastic cup and a small glass should seal together to a degree, but won’t allow you to shake very hard without leaking. However, if you have a protein shaker or Nalgene bottle, these should work perfectly as they have screw-on or strong sealing caps.
Once you’ve shaken your delicious cocktail until well-chilled, you need to pour it into a glass. But how do we keep that pesky ice out? Enter the Buswell 4-Prong Hawthorne Strainer. I really love this strainer because the prongs allow you to use it on large mixing glasses and other large vessels as well, like small pitchers. The coils on this strainer are tight and can be removed for cleaning out herbs, fruit, and other debris that can be left over from muddling and shaking.
Alternatives: hell, just use your hand. You can create a barrier between the ice and your glass with your fingers if your hands are clean and this type of thing doesn’t gross you out. However, you’re probably making cocktails for more than just you, so if you snap the shaking tins apart but continue to hold them together so that just a small gap is allowing liquid out, you should be able to pour your drink. This will allow some ice chips out, but it gets the job done without a strainer. You may remember seeing high volume bars and nightclubs do this in the early 2000s. Thankfully most now use strainers. Lastly, if you have a large tea strainer or chinois, you should be able to pour your cocktail over it while holding it over the glass–just be mindful of where the liquid is pouring out of the bottom.
Next up is our trusty barspoon. Much adored and tattooed on bartender forearms around the globe, barspoons are good for more than just stirring; they are also a form of measurement, which ends up being just over 1/2 tsp. There are loads of classic and modern recipes that call for “a barspoon of” an ingredient, so it’s good to have one for that purpose. The other main use of a barspoon is for mixing your non-citrus cocktails in a mixing glass or other large vessel. This is done by inserting the barspoon into the glass vertically with the spoon side down, bowl of the spoon facing the center of the glass, and languidly stirring between your fingers until your cocktail is nice and chilled–generally 30 rotations or 30 seconds. Beyond these two obvious uses, a barspoon can be used to crack large pieces of ice, while holding the ice in your palm and slapping it with the spoon, and is great for pouring soda water down the long length of the spoon to achieve a “lift” on your fizz when making the infamous Ramos Gin Fizz. There are many different lengths and designs of barspoons and each will serve its purpose, but I think this 30cm Teardrop Barspoon is a great starting point for a home bar.
Alternatives: If you find yourself wanting a Manhattan or some other stirred cocktail but don’t have a barspoon, I find that chopsticks will do the trick quite well. Long, straight and thin, they mimic the design of a barspoon and can achieve a similar result. Long skewers, tablespoons or wooden spoon handles will also suffice, albeit with a slightly noisier stir.
Speaking of stirred cocktails, the normal vessel for stirring them is called a mixing glass. This is typically the most expensive item in your bar tool lineup. Mixing glasses are the beautiful, large, crystal-looking glasses you see on the bar tops of many restaurants, often used as storage containers for strainers, barspoons, muddlers and peelers until they are called upon for a stirred cocktail. Can you make a stirred cocktail in a shaking tin? Absolutely. Does it look as cool or allow you to stir easily? No. Mixing glasses feature a vertical wall and sloped bottom to allow the curvature of the barspoon to glide effortlessly around the interior, thereby moving ice more easily and chilling/diluting your cocktail in the most elegant and efficient manner. They also just look great on your bar. As with their friend the barspoon, mixing glasses come in many different shapes, sizes, and designs. You can find them all over the internet and probably pick one that matches the design style of your home. One of my favorite things to buy for a new bar is the mixing glass because I can match it to the bar’s vibe and design. To keep things simple, I’ll go ahead and recommend this Yarai 17oz Mixing Glass because it is an industry standard and a capable size for mixing 1-3 cocktails at a time. But feel free to go nuts and browse through all the other gorgeous options Cocktail Kingdom carries, right here.
Alternatives: As I mentioned above, a shaking tin will do the trick, but you want to look for something with a wider base, so that the stirring is a little easier. Any large, flat-based vessel will work, just remember that you want your strainer to fit the top and not fall inside while you’re pouring.
Everyone loves Mojitos and everyone loves Old Fashioneds. Both of these crowd-pleasers are easy to make and don’t require a whole lot of ingredients. What they do require, is a muddler. From pressing oils out of mint leaves and citrus peels, to squashing sugar cubes and berries, your muddler will be by your side for many a cocktail. The general design of a muddler is simple: tubular, 10-12″ long, with one side for holding and the other for muddling. But as with all other tools, there are variations. Some muddlers have a tenderizing end and a flat end. Some have a flat end and a round end. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have a flat base that you can press into the bottom of the vessel you’re using to make your cocktail. One type you might want to avoid is a varnished or finished wooden muddler, because these finishes can wear off and impact the taste of your cocktail. Let’s go with the cheap and effective Bad Ass Muddler, which is made of durable food grade plastic and is dishwasher safe.
Alternatives: If you don’t have a muddler, it’s not the end of the cocktail. Just pop open a drawer and find a large wooden spoon or a spatula with a round wooden handle that you can use to press/squash your ingredients with.
AMAZON SHOPPING LIST: