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Must-Haves for your Home Bar

Mix things up at home with a list of proper tools for your home bar.

Written By:  Chris Chamberlain

Photographers:  Christen Clemins

Any craftsman will tell you that it is almost impossible to do good work without the proper tools. If you want to take your home mixology game to the next level, by all means, concentrate on your ingredients, such as top shelf liquors and fresh-squeezed juices. But nothing will make you a better and more consistent cocktail professional than access to the correct tools of the trade. Plus, who doesn’t like to buy gadgets?


Classic cocktails are designed for specific glassware. We say avoid the tall, thin-stemmed martini glasses (properly named, cocktail glasses), and seek out more moderate 4- to 6-ounce glasses. Note: Smaller drinks stay colder!

Old Fashioned — short, squat, sturdy tumblers that are ideal for their namesake cocktail—or just about any drink on the rocks
Highball — tall and skinny, perfect for two-ingredient cocktails, like gin and tonic or bourbon and ginger ale. They also work great for Bloody Marys or just an ice tea, if you’re teetotaling
Coupes — round-bottomed versions of cocktail glasses
Collins — slightly taller and thinner than a highball glass

Essential Tools

Barspoon — Primarily used to stir drinks with ice in shakers or pitchers to chill and properly dilute the spirits, a barspoon is also a measurement in some recipes, equivalent to five millileters of liquid.

Cocktail or Boston shaker
— Just about any drink that doesn’t contain a carbonated component, like soda or cola, can be mixed in a cocktail shaker. Whether you buy a pair of simple shaker tins or a Boston shaker that uses a metal bottom and a glass top (or even an integrated shaker, with a separate top and built-in strainer), you’ll want something sturdy because you’ll be filling it with ice cubes and shaking the heck out of it to mix and chill your drinks.

Cocktail recipes like Manhattans or Old Fashioneds that contain pretty much only booze and no fruit juice as ingredients, should be stirred, not shaken. You can accomplish this in your shaker tin with a long-handled barspoon.

— Precise measurement is the key to making proper cocktails. No matter what you’ve seen in the movies, the best bartenders do not often free pour from bottles. Jiggers allow for consistent measurement and repeatable recipes. Buy a Japanese-style jigger, which are two-sided tall, skinny cups that allow you to measure out quantities from a quarter ounce to two ounces.

Knife and cutting board — You’ll need these to cut up the fruits that you will juice for fresh ingredients. You aren’t buying your juices in a bottle, are you? Up your game!

Muddler — From Juleps to Mojitos to Old Fashioneds, many classic recipes call for crushing mint, limes, sugar, or other ingredients in the bottom of a glass or cocktail shaker as the base ingredients for a drink. You’ll want to buy a sturdy one, and dishwasher-safe versions are smart options.

Strainer (Hawthorne) — The Hawthorne strainer is probably the most familiar of the three types of strainers most bartenders use. A spring helps to hold the strainer in place at the top of the shaker as you pour the cocktail out, holding back the used ice. A little-known trick is that the spring is removable, so you can drop it into your shaker to really froth up classic cocktails, like an Egg Flip.

Zester — Specialized graters/zesters allow you to grate fresh nutmeg over your egg nog, slice a strip of lemon peel to express over a Sazerac, or zest a lime to add the proper amount of oil and acid to balance out a cocktail.

Optional Tools

Juicer — You don’t need to invest more than $20-30 in a decent juicer. However, you should definitely buy one.

Julep strainer — One of two specialized strainers are great to have around for specific cocktail recipes. The Julep strainer has large holes and was originally designed to be placed over the glass when drinking juleps to keep the crushed ice from hitting the drinker in the face. Now, it is used to strain drinks from shakers or mixing glasses that don’t quite fit a Hawthorne strainer.

Fine mesh strainerThese are more like your standard kitchen strainer, with a finer mesh to hold back the pulp from your fresh-squeezed juices. Some recipes actually call for double-straining to remove any tiny shards of ice or bits of fruit.

Large format ice trays — The best cocktail bars have specialized ice programs, where they have access to all sorts of sizes and shapes of cubes for specific drinks. Whatever comes out of your ice maker or trays will work fine for most recipes, but larger cubes do cool better and dilute a drink less over time.

Lewis Ice Bag and Mallet — This low-tech tool is the best way to acquire crushed ice for a classic drink recipe, like a Hemingway Daiquiri, Mint Julep, or Bourbon Smash. It’s also a great way to work out your aggressions as you fill the small, sturdy canvas bag with ice cubes and smash it with a wooden mallet until the chips are the perfect consistency.

Mixing glass — These short pitchers are fantastic for stirred cocktails, and they make it easy to strain your drink using a Hawthorne. While they are lovely to look at, there isn’t much that they can do that a simple shaker tin can’t accomplish.

Styled by Hannah Messinger.

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