Finally, the bar cart is stocked and ready to go. But before you start shaking that ice, make sure your home bar has the tools you need. Here’s a great list that covers the basics and beyond for every level of home mixologist.
Your home bar may be wildly different than someone else’s, because it’s all about personal taste and cocktail preference. But when it comes to the hardware, well, a fully-stocked bar is only a bunch of bottles without the proper tools for mixing that drink.
Here’s what you should get, starting with a basic bar toolset, and moving on to the fancier stuff for specialty cocktails. Pick and choose what you need, based on your home’s favorite drink menu.
Shakers and strainers:
- Cobbler shaker: A good cocktail shaker is important if you like any ice-cold cocktails served up in a glass, like Gimlets or Hemingway Daquiris. This version is common with home cooks because it has a mixing cup and built-in strainer on top (and a cap to seal it all in).
- Boston shaker: The choice of professional bartenders everywhere, this is simply two metal cups that fit inside each other, forming a seal that’s easy to open after shaking.
- Julep strainer: A strainer designed for Mint Juleps to keep the ice from falling in the face of its consumers. It works well for stirred cocktails such as Whiskey Sours and fits nicely over any mixing glass.
- Hawthorne strainer: Once you shake, then you strain. The springy coil does double duty here, straining out bits of ice and fruit pulp while fitting snugly in to a Boston shaker or any mixing glass.
- Conical strainer: Double-straining means less chance of solids ending up in your drink. The only exception is cocktails with egg white. (You lose foam if you double-strain, so skip this fine-mesh strainer for anything containing egg whites.) You can also use the strainer to dust cocoa powder or powdered sugar on your cocktails.
- A mixing glass: Add an extra touch of loveliness with a cut-glass mixing glass, the perfect vessel for mixing any drink. A spout on one side makes pouring smooth.
- Bar spoon: A fantastic multi-tasker. The long, twisted handle twirls the spoon in the ice as it runs along the rim of a mixing glass. But it’s also a life-saver for fishing olives or cherries out of a narrow jar. You’ll use it more than you think, especially if you like Dirty Shirleys.
More tools and equipment:
- Corkscrew: A must-have for opening bottles of wine or beer.
- Ice cube trays: So many fun shapes and sizes: spheres, colossal cubes, or sticks. Pro-tip: Stay away from freezable rocks or liquid-filled plastic shapes that claim to keep your cocktail cold without dissolving it. No one needs chemicals in their Tom Collins.
- Jigger: Indispensable and so much better (and more accurate) than a shot glass. They come in different shapes and sizes, but an official jigger measures 1 1/2 ounces on one side, and 1 ounce on the other.
- Mallet and ice bag: If you love crushed ice in your Mint Julep, this should move to the top of your want list. A triple-stitched, heavy-duty canvas bag and hardwood mallet do the job nicely, without a mess. Used by bartenders as far back as the 19th century. It’s fun and great stress relief, too. Pro-tip: Don’t mix the drink in crushed ice—the chips are for finished cocktails only.
- Measuring cup: For measuring amounts not covered by a jigger (especially if you don’t like to wing it).
- Juicer: Lots of choices here, depending on how fruity you like your drinks. A simple and inexpensive wooden citrus reamer is the most basic tool you can buy. If you don’t want to work as hard, buy a hand-held juicer. But if you go to Margaritaville on a regular basis, invest in a tabletop citrus juicer and make the best sour mix ever.
- Muddler: Love Mojitos or a classic Old Fashioned? Buy a smooth wooden muddler, which bruises mint, crushes sugar cubes, and mashes fruit into flavorful oblivion. You won’t be sorry.
- Paring knife and cutting board: Find one good-quality paring knife and a small cutting board keep it in your bar cart so you’re always prepared and your drink never smells of raw garlic. It’s all you need for slicing citrus and preparing garnishes.
- Ice scoop or tongs: Just because you’re in the comfort of your own home doesn’t mean you should be touching everyone’s ice cubes.
- Peeler and zester: This depends on what you want your citrus twists to look like. Buy a small handheld citrus zester, which has a built-in channel knife for making picture-perfect lemon twists. Or if you prefer fat, wide, yet beautifully sheer twists, a Y-style peeler is the one for you.
- Bottle pourers: Made out of metal or plastic, these pour spouts fit tightly into the mouth of any liquor bottle and make pouring faster and easier. They’re great for high-volume parties and events, but should be removed from the bottle when the party is over.
- Measuring spoons: For measuring out simple syrup or another liquid. Just in case your recipe doesn’t specify ounces.
- Swizzle sticks: As fun to have as they are to say. A small selection of glass drink stirs, straws, and picks helps everyone mix their drink between sips. Plus, no one can say no to a paper umbrella.
- Wine key: A sturdy, solidly-built wine key. It’s nice to have along with a corkscrew, because they have a way of always being used.
- A microplane: A micro grater is handy for grating cinnamon, nutmeg for Eggnog, or other spicy ingredients over a drink.
- Citrus bowl: A pretty bowl keeps the lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges from rolling around while you’re smashing all that ice. But it’s also colorful and inviting.
- Glassware: Good drinks need good glassware. From high-balls and collins glasses to rocks glasses, snifters or nightcaps, make sure you have what you need.
- Ice bucket: Buy one that fits your personal style and is easy to clean. You’ll have it for years.
- Coasters: Protect wooden surfaces with a good set of coasters or cocktail napkins so you don’t make moms everywhere angry.
- Watch your favorite bartender: Keep an eye peeled in between sips at your local bar and watch what they do, and more importantly what they use to mix your favorite drink. Bartenders love to talk shop (in fact, talking is shop) so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Bar tool set or individual pieces: Although they’re pretty, some bar sets may not stand up to rigorous use and may require special washing or handling. Check the design and construction of the set you’re considering before you buy; chances are you can get better gear for less money.
- Collect over time: Investing in quality bar tools can be done gradually—just like stocking a home bar. Buy the basics, then upgrade when your budget allows. Vintage bar utensils are also with looking into, mainly because they’ve stood the test of time.
- Express yourself: Purchase pieces that reflect your style or match your bar cart. Just like setting a table for a dinner party, a fun bar with a lot of personality is a great way to start off the night. Cheers!