This post is dedicated to my dear friend and apprentice, Sam, who has impressingly become, in a very short time, a masterful liquid chef and home mixologist. I am proud to have taught him many of my trade secrets and he is well on his way to serving me a quality and well-balanced cocktail. I hope to impart more wisdom onto Sam in the coming months. Also, to Ann, his romantic assistant, and friends Julia, an aspiring mixologist and Christie, a friendly, neighborly imbiber, who have all found a better appreciation of good drink-making skills and cocktails. I just may have to setup shop at their home bar and become their resident mixologist. Though, I'm not sure if they can afford me!
There are some basic tools needed to make good cocktails when stocking your home bar. Some of these items may already be in the kitchen (at least in the back of those deep cabinets) and the rest can be purchased at prices that fit any budget through Amazon, restaurant supply stores, like The Restaurant Store in Camp Hill, The Restaurant Depot in Harrisburg, or even Bed, Bath, & Beyond stores. With these basic essentials, you will be well on your way to can be mixing great cocktails with ease and are sure to please your crowd. Visit this link for bar tools and equipment on Amazon - Bartender Bar Tools & Equipment
There are two basic types of shakers available on the market.
- Cocktail or Traditional Shaker- A metal shaker with a tight-fitting top covering a strainer which fits onto a bar tin. Cocktail shakers are available in many stylish designs and are perfect for use in the home bar.
- Boston Shaker- This shaker serves a dual purpose because it is comprised of a 16 ounce mixing glass and a larger, flat-bottomed bar tin. The glass can be used alone for stirring and mixing drinks over ice and the two pieces are used together for shaking ingredients with the tin fitting over the glass. Remember to always shake with glass side up. The Boston Shaker is typically used by professional bartenders and requires the use of a strainer.
There are two types of strainers.
- Hawthorne Strainer- For drinks that are shaken or stirred with ice and served straight up or over new ice, a strainer is needed to separate not only the ice, but any fruits, herbs or other solid ingredients from the liquid. A strainer is necessary if you are using a Boston shaker because there is not one built in and this Hawthorne strainer is the most common style. The Hawthorne Strainer is a flat-topped, perforated metal device with a continuous coil of wire around its perimeter, which helps keep the strainer in place. The short handle and either 2 or 4 "thumbs" that extend from the top and sides are designed to keep it in place and allow the bartender to use only one hand.
- Julep Strainer- A julep strainer is perforated, made of stainless steel and in the shape of an over-sized soup spoon with holes. It is placed at an angle inside a mixing glass or bar tin while straining cocktails into the glass., i.e. Martini, Manhattan
Jigger or Measuring Glass
Jiggers are metal measuring devices that usually have two cones, one on either end. The larger cone typically holds 1 or 1.5 ounces while the smaller cone holds a 1/2, 3/4 or 1 ounce. The jigger is an essential, aesthetic piece of the bar set up that helps ensure precise measuring of liquids and creating consistent cocktails. I find that the measuring glass is more versatile for home bars because allows you to pour from 1/2 to 4 ounces. They essential if you are using over-sized bottles that have built-in pour spouts because it is virtually impossible to get an accurate measure of liquid.
Many bartenders you'll see do not use jiggers for every drink and instead measure using memory, technique, and years of experience pouring a lot of drinks. A jigger or measuring glass should be used for pouring 'neat' drinks or expensive, high-end liquors, so you are accurate.
Different from your average spoon, a bar spoon typically has a long shaft (for reaching the bottom of tall glasses), a spiral handle (for easy twisting of the shaft and getting between ice particles) and a petite spoon bowl (for floating liquors). This type of spoon is essential for stirring and layering drinks as well as tedious tasks like fishing cherries or olives out of a jar. The first time you use a bar spoon you will never be without one in the bar, they're that essential.
Tip: Make your bar spoon a little easier to use and versatile by bending slightly it right before the neck so that there's a little extra curve than the manufacturer intended.
A muddler is thick stick (looks like a small baseball bat), made of either wood, stainless steel, or plastic, that is used to mash ingredients in the bottom of a glass (or as a weapon or hitting ice - jk) . Often used to mix sugars, bitters, and to extract juices and oils from fruit and mint. Muddling is an essential step in making an Old-Fashioned, Mojitos, Juleps, Caipirinhas, and other muddled drinks.
When buying a muddler choose a thicker one that has a diameter of about 1 1/2-2 inches at the widest point or one that has a jagged bottom to penetrate hard fruit. These will give you more crushing and mixing power than the thinner muddlers. Be careful not to muddle too hard and rip or tear fruit, mint, or leafy ingredients. This will release an unwanted bitterness to the drink. For limes, I recommend squeezing the desired amount of juice instead of muddling lime because of the bitterness extracted from peel.
The speed pourer, or bottle pourer, is more of a luxury item for most home bartenders, but can be handy when hosting parties and offer the ability to pour liquor for the bottles very quickly and easily. Commercial bars and restaurants place these in the majority of their liquor bottles, especially for their well and most popular spirits. For wide bottles and over-sized bottles (see above), don't use a pourer, instead keep cap on and jigger pour from bottle. Recommended for expensive, high-end liquor as well.
In order to prolong the shelf life of your distilled spirits, it's best to replace the speed pourer with the original cap if you will not be using it for some time.
Ice is sacred to the bar and items like ice buckets, crushers, scoops and tongs are essential. Electric ice crushers work well, but to eliminate one more appliance you can get an insulated ice crushing bag called a Lewis bag and whack it with your muddler or better yet, a wooden mallet, to the consistency you desire for crushed ice drinks, such as Mint Julep and Mojito in summer. Another option is to put ice in a shaker tin and crush with muddler keep your hand over the top to prevent shooting ice from injuring someone or shake ice in a shaker with closed top. Talk about getting some frustration out!
Most juicers will produce nearly the same results and range from hand juicers to spinning juicers to electric juicers. If you buy a juicer, use it and don't leave it sitting in the back of the cupboard. Fresh fruit or vegetable juice can make the best cocktails and is recommended over bottled juices whenever possible. The higher end juicers will extract more liquid, but be careful of getting too much bitterness from peel. I like the juicers where you press the opened fruit over a spinning wheel Your cocktails will thank you for your effort.
Soda Siphon/Soda Stream
When it comes to adding soda water to your mixed drinks you have two options; bottled sodas which can go flat if not used right away or a soda siphon. The siphons transform regular water into an effervescent, carbonated beverage by using CO2 cartridges inserted into the handle. With a quick squirt into your Tom Collins or LIT, your drink is topped off nicely with a perfect amount of freshly carbonated water (Cover Photo)
Use a cutting board for preparing garnishes. Designate a small board for bar use only so that you don't end up cutting fish or chicken on it and give it a nice cleaning after every use in order to have the freshest tasting fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Keep a set of pairing knives sharp and in the bar for cutting slices, twists and all your garnishes or buy a good chef's knife which will cut through any fruit like pineapples. A good knife is one of your most valuable tools. I have one of these for all of my food and beverage needs and they are a great, reliable knife that gives you clean cuts.
Canelle/Channel Knife or Zester
Zesters are useful for grating items like nutmeg or chocolate onto the top of cocktails or for fine lemon zests. Choose a small, handheld one that has a fine-toothed, sharp grating surface and a sturdy handle. Another option is the canelle knife, which can serve a dual purpose. A good canelle knife will include both a zester and a channel that makes cutting citrus spirals easy. Cutting lemon twists is easy.
A complete set of metal or plastic measuring spoons or cups is sometimes necessary for dry ingredients, such as herbs and spices, and small amounts of liquids, like teaspoons or tablespoons of simple syrup.
Sippy Sticks, Stir Sticks or Cocktail Straws
These short, thin straws or stirrers are used when serving many mixed drinks and, occasionally straight up cocktails, to guests, allowing them to keep their drinks mixed to the end.