Must Have Bar Tools

How to step up your cocktail game and make better cocktails at home.

There’s nothing better than sipping a stellar craft cocktail right at home. I’m not a professional bartender, but here are a few bartender tips and tools I’ve picked up over the years from really paying attention to mixologists who have mastered their craft.

What Bar Tools Do I Really Need?

Here is a good entry-level bar set that I used when starting out. It’s the perfect starter kit to get you well on your way to making better cocktails at home. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and you certainly don’t need anything fancy. I’ll cover the basics below plus a few nice-to-have items.

Boston Shaker and Hawthorn Strainer

What’s the secret to a smooth cocktail? It’s all in the shake (or stir). A Boston shaker consists of a pint glass and a metal canister. The advantage is more volume and more room to shake. Add a few generous handfuls of ice, and shake cocktails vigorously for 10-15 seconds. The biggest mistake I see is not using enough ice in the shaker. Three small ice cubes won’t chill a cocktail sufficiently.

A standard cocktail shaker is pictured below. It’s usually made entirely of of stainless steel and has a removable top with a built-in strainer. These work great but hold less volume.

A Hawthorn strainer is designed to fit snugly around a pint glass or mixing glass for easy straining. You can take cocktail straining a step further with “double straining.” Double straining is pouring a cocktail through two strainers as you fill your glass.

Pour your cocktail through your shaker’s strainer and let it pass through another very fine mesh strainer before it enters the glass. This prevents any small ice particles or fruit/herb sediment from getting into  your cocktail.

Use Better Ice

Ever go to a nice cocktail bar and get a single large crystal clear ice cube in your drink? It looks cool, but there is actually a science to it. If you’re drinking a cocktail on the rocks, a jumbo ice cube will melt slower, keeping your drink chilled without diluting or introducing too much water or off-flavors.

Clear ice tastes better and melts slower than cloudy ice because it’s more pure. Here’s how to make crystal clear ice at home. You can also buy simple clear ice trays. I personally own this one and it works really well.

Measure Everything

Don’t eyeball or guess on your measurements. In a standard cocktail, 1 part is typically 1 ounce. A double jigger or measuring glass will do the trick. A double jigger is usually broken into a large and smaller side, 1 ounce and 2 ounces.

The good ones also have marking for 1/2 ounce portions. My favorite cocktail measurer is here. This version has 1/4 ounce increments. This is really useful as so many cocktails call for as little as 1/4 ounce additions

As an FYI, a glass shot glass is actually 1 1/2 ounces.

Use a Muddler

Making mojitos? A muddler is the key to infusing cocktails with herbs or fruit. A wooden muddler is great but a stainless muddler will last a lifetime and is much easier to clean. If you’re pulverizing ingredients for cocktails, there’s really nothing else better for the job than a muddler.

Freeze Your Cocktail Glasses

Keep your drinks ice cold by keeping your cocktail glasses in the freezer. At a minimum, I’ll throw a few coupe glasses in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before serving up a martini. This will keep your drinks colder for longer.

You can also quickly pre-chill your glass by filling with ice water. If your glass matches the temperature of your drink, you won’t have the immediate temperature loss.

Lastly, use the proper glassware for the drink. An inexpensive set of double old fashioned glasses and few coupe glasses will serve nearly every cocktail you’ll need. I gave up on using traditional martini glasses a long time ago because they’re clunky and oversized. A coupe glass is compact and less likely to break.

Bonus Items

A few bar tools I can no longer live without are a large bar spoon (great for stirring whiskey cocktails), citrus squeezer, fine mesh strainer, and a mixing glass. All of these are not really necessary but are also really nice to have for experience bartenders.

A fine mesh strainer is great for straining fresh herbs, pulverized fruits, or tiny ice chips. It really makes a huge difference in the final cocktail.

The mixing glass and long bar spoon are ideally suited for stirring cocktails. A nice bar spoon rotates in your hand very easily and allows you to venously stir cocktails with ease. It’s my go-to method for the old fashioned and Manhattan.

Lastly, a decent peeler is mandatory for lemon/orange peel garnishes.