Bar Basics – Top Ten Basic Bar Tools

You’ve got all the basics of a good home bar, You’ve got the bar books, bought the best liquor, and exotic liqueurs, chilled the mixers, and you’re ready to go right? Maybe, but here are our recommendations for the top ten basic bar tools that will allow you to bartend like a pro.

SHAKER – Shaking a drink is an easy way to quickly mix and chill a cocktail. Shakers are most commonly made of metal which increases the surface area and causes the drink to quickly chill. There are 3 main types of shakers that you can choose between for your cocktail creation needs. Our preferred variety is the Boston shaker, which consists of a metal tin and a slightly smaller mixing glass. The tin cools more quickly than the glass resulting in a tight seal. A related type is a French shaker, which replaces the glass with another tin that serves as a lid, therefore it requires a bit more finesse to use cleanly, sacrificing the tightness of the seal for the style and durability of metal. The third type is a Cobbler Shaker, a 3 part device consisting of a base tin, a lid with holes in it, and a top that seals over the top. This last type of shaker can be more convenient because it eliminates the need for secondary strainers but is less efficient than the other two due to the difficulty in cleaning. But if you’re looking to create a visually striking bar, and less concerned about production speed, there are some amazingly attractive cobbler type shakers that will look stunning on any home bar.

MIXING GLASS – Though shaking a cocktail is a quick way to thoroughly chill a cocktail, it also significantly dilutes and aerates the drink which can result in changes to the flavor and clarity of a cocktail. That’s where the Mixing glass comes in, though you can use a tin or pint glass for this purpose, you’ll get plenty of mileage out of a solid mixing glass. A good mixing glass has flat sides and is heavy enough to allow you to stir smoothly with one hand, so your other hand is free to garnish or whatever needs doing. They range from scientific beaker styles to ornate crystal decanters. The most popular type in the states is the Yarai style mixing glass, named for the decorative Japanese style design usually carved into its exterior.

STRAINER – There are 3 popular versions of strainers that show up behind most bars. They are the Hawthorne, the Julep, and the fine cocktail strainer. The Hawthorne is named after the bar where it was invented and is the one to choose if you can only have one. It combines a flat metal “lid” type strainer that fits over your tin or mixing glass with a metal spring beneath it, the spring compresses against the tin to increase the amount of stuff (fruit pulp, ice shards, and the like) that it catches. The fine strainer is a fine mesh cone with a handle that pairs well with the Hawthorne to catch whatever may slip through. The Julep strainer fits into the measuring glass and is better used for holding back larger chunks of ice, like those from a stirred drink.

BAR SPOON – The bar spoon serves many purposes, from measuring ingredients to stirring to garnishing. Available in a few basic styles, look for something with good weight and balance. You can also find bar spoons with muddlers, forks, or counterweights on the back.

ICE SCOOPS AND TONGS – Please don’t use your hands to fill your glass with ice, not only can it transmit bacteria, or flavors from your fingertips to the ice and into your guest’s drinks, it is also horribly rude. Using the glass to scoop ice is also dangerous, you can crack or chip the glass, and the resulting piece of glass can severely injure your guest. Get a good ice scoop or pair of tongs, it elevates the whole presentation. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, this is a function over form item.

MUDDLER – Muddlers are used to press the juice from fruit, or the oils from herbs and spices. There isn’t a much more efficient way to do this than with a few good press and twists of your trusty muddler. There are a wide variety of variations on this tool, but they boil down to 3 basic types of handle, wood, plastic, or metal and flat or toothed heads. The advantages to each vary depending on their user and usage. 

JIGGER – Making truly great cocktails requires accuracy, and accuracy requires tools. The most common and easy to use is the jigger, which is basically a fancy name for a measuring cup. You can find jiggers with multiple measurements but most jiggers are double-sided with a different size on each end. We recommend a one oz / two oz and one that’s a half-ounce / three-quarter ounce.

JUICER – Fresh juice is so important to the creation of great drinks, and is almost impossible to get hygienically without the right equipment. Get yourself a good handheld juicer, big enough to manage almost any fruit, and you’ll be ready to squeeze the juice for all those flavorful and fruity cocktails your friends will be craving.

WINE KEY/BOTTLE OPENER – Some bartenders insist on carrying two separate devices here, but for a home bar, one good combo tool is all you’ll need. Some things to consider, a serrated blade works better for cutting foil, a stepped opener allows for cleaner opening and less broken corks, and it’s important to get something with a little more size and weight to it, they are easier to use and better for your hands.

KNIFE AND CUTTING BOARD – Any good blade will do, but a serrated or flat paring knife tends to work best. and your cutting board can be wood or plastic, but if you can find one with a rim or gutter near the edge can be helpful for catching the juice and keeps your bar top cleaner.