Collecting all the paraphernalia associated with mixing cocktails like a pro can be as much fun as looking for that next cocktail recipe to try. However, you do not need everything a professional bartender uses to make a perfectly good cocktail. Luckily, bartending tools are not all that expensive and you can slowly build up your collection as you build up your bar. You can also buy cocktail sets which will have much of what you need to get going. Once you start mixing drinks you’ll soon discover which tools you can’t live without. We’ll start with the essentials.
Jigger: you need something to measure all that booze. With most recipes, accurate measuring is important. There are a couple of different choices, here. Standard bar jiggers come in prescribed measures such as 1 ounce, 2 ounce, ¾ and ½ oz. The other route is to go for the small measuring cups, which are graduated and hold 2 ounces, made by Oxo and other companies.
Mixing glass: half of a Boston shaker, a pint beer glass, or even a large drinking glass will do. Vintage mixing glasses from the 1950s and 60s can be a lot of fun.
Bar spoon: an iced tea spoon will do in a pinch, but a bar spoon, which is longer and sometimes comes with a spiral handle to assist with stirring, makes the job easier. Besides, it looks cool. Avoid the old-fashioned glass stir rods. I know they used them in the old movies, but if you chip one in a glass full of ice, you’ll never know it until it’s too late.
Shaker: a lot of choices here. There are several different types of shakers and one is not necessarily better than another. First there is the Boston shaker which is probably both the most popular and, today, the most iconic. It consists of two parts, a mixing glass and shaking tin. You can also get them with two tins. They are simple and durable but will take a little time to learn to use properly. Next there is the cobbler shaker which has a built-in strainer which is very handy as you can shake and strain without taking it apart. The last is known as a Parisian or French style shaker which looks like a cobbler shaker but without the built-in strainer.
- Easy to clean
- You can see the ingredients you pour into the mixing glass
- Relatively inexpensive
- You look cool using one
- The glass can break (but inexpensive to replace)
- Slight learning curve to use one without ending up with the drink all over yourself and the wall
- Compact design with built-in strainer
- It looks cool even if you don’t
- Can be slow to pour
- All metal design can seize up due to the vacuum caused by the cold and be hard to open after shaking
- Harder to clean
- Like the Boston it has only two pieces so easy to clean
- Very slick design
- You look French using one (you can place this under cons if you prefer)
- All metal design can seize up and be hard to open after shaking
If you want to go novelty vintage, there are some quite unique designs out there including ones shaped like penguins, rocket ships, and zeppelins.
Hawthorne Strainer: used with the Boston and Parisian shakers to strain the cocktail into the glass, leaving the ice behind.
Juicer: you will notice me saying this time and again because it is that important. Always, and I mean ALWAYS, use only freshly squeezed juices in your cocktails. Nine times out of ten it will be either lemon or lime. Don’t use the stuff that comes in the little plastic bottles. Go buy a piece of fruit, cut it in half and juice it with whatever devise you see fit. It’s more than worth the tiny effort it takes to juice a piece of fruit. Also, don’t even think about using commercial sweet and sour mixes or any other mixes for that matter. They were made in a laboratory and have no place in your bar. Besides, they taste awful. I mean, really dreadful. Horrible, nasty, acrid, ghastly, and unspeakably vile.
Cool to Have Extras
Muddler: nowadays used to mash (muddle) fruits and herbs in the mixing glass before adding the liquid ingredients. If you want to go really old school, you can use it to pulverize and mix the sugar in your Old Fashioned.
Julep strainer: traditionally used to strain a drink after stirring in your mixing glass. A Hawthorne strainer will usually work just as well, but using a julep strainer will really set you apart from most other bartenders and impress your friends.
Small fine mesh sieve: this handy little tool is used to strain the pulp from your freshly squeezed lemon or lime and to double strain your cocktail to keep any pieces of mint or other muddled things out of your cocktail.
Channel knife: for making twist garnishes. For larger peels, use a standard vegetable peeler or paring knife.