How’s your at-home bar looking these days? While it’s easy to stock up on the spirits you love, it can be a little mystifying to equip your home bar with the essential tools to craft any cocktail. This edition of Weekend Agenda is a helpful guide to the best bar tools, brought to you my our favorite mixologist, Jermaine Whitehead. From jiggers and shakers to bar spoons and strainers, we’ve got hot tips on how to trick out your at-home bar.
Eyeing some cocktail recipes while ensuring you have the proper at-home bar gear? Check Jermaine's summer-inspired cocktails here, and be sure to explore our double-wall stainless steel 10oz Lowball & 14oz Highball.
Building a perfect home bar can be a daunting experience. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of different gadgets out there, and (sadly) it’s often enough to discourage beginners before they can even make their first drink.
Luckily, once you dive into it, the process of putting together your mixology arsenal is actually pretty straightforward. Despite the fact that there are dozens of models and manufacturers for every tool, they all fall into a few, basic categories.This guide covers the essential bar tools for your home bar–the jiggers, shakers, mixing glasses, bar spoons and strainers–that you’ll need to start mixing like pro, or to update your existing collection if you already have a set.
Once you’ve gotten your hands on a new recipe, the first step is ALWAYS going to be measuring out your ingredients (yes always). That’s where the jigger comes in.
They generally consist of two small cups of different volumes, attached end-to-end in the shape of an hourglass. There are three basic kinds of jiggers to choose from: the standard double jigger, the Japanese-style jigger and the angled measuring jigger. Each one has its benefits, and everyone has a favorite.
The standard double jigger is the old-fashioned, no-nonsense choice that, up until relatively recently, was just about the only game in town. They’re cheap (rarely more than $5), and they get the job done.
A step up from that old standby is the distinctly new-school Japanese-style jigger, which is basically a taller, narrower, prettier version of the original. You’ll see these at craft cocktail bars all over the world, and the biggest benefit (other than aesthetics) is that the narrower opening makes it a bit harder to spill. One of my favorites is made by Cocktail Kingdom, which looks pretty sleek in either stainless steel, gold, and matte black.
Finally, there are the angled measuring jiggers, the best of which are made by OXO. These let you get a little more granular with your measurements thanks to their clear markings, and they’re great for general use around the kitchen as well. They come in either plastic or stainless steel for a more refined look.
Next, of course, you need something to put those perfectly-measured ingredients in. Depending on what you’re making, that’s either going to be a cocktail shaker or a mixing glass.
Without getting too deep in the weeds about the chemistry behind it, there’s a simple rule: drinks that only use boozy ingredients (spirits, liqueurs, bitters and the like) should be stirred, and drinks with citrus or other juices should be shaken—cocktails like the Daiquiri, Margarita, and Whiskey Sour benefit from the extra bit of dilution and frothiness it gives them.
There are two standard types of cocktail shakers: the Boston shaker and the cobbler shaker. Boston shakers consist of a metal tin that you fit together with either a pint glass or a smaller metal tin, and they’re about as simple and reliable as can be. There’s not much variation in the products out there, so I suggest going with a heavy weighted large tin and the small tin combo, which is harder to break when opening and when cleaning at the end.
Cobbler shakers, on the other hand, are the archetypal shakers you see in fancy hotel lounges. They come in three parts: a tin, an internal strainer, and a nozzle with a cap. Despite looking great, they can often times be less user-friendly. Cheap models have a tendency to get stuck shut, so instead of pouring your drink, you end up spending five minutes just trying to wrench the shaker open. If you absolutely have to have one, though, the Usagi cobbler shaker from Cocktail Kingdom is probably the best one on the market.
Now, if you’re going to be making a spirits-only drink like a Manhattan, Martini, or Old-Fashioned, you’ll need to stir it in a mixing glass. Spirits mix more easily with each other than they do with juices, so there’s no need to shake, and you want to avoid diluting them too much anyway.
Mixing glasses are pretty straightforward pieces of equipment, and some people don’t even bother with them, opting to use a pint glass instead. We tend to like the ones that are made specifically for cocktails, though, as their shapes and sizes are perfectly optimized for stirring with a bar spoon.
The main considerations when purchasing a mixing glass are size and sturdiness, and when it comes to those nothing can really beat the Yarai mixing glass from (...you guessed it) Cocktail Kingdom. It’s the perfect volume for one or two drinks, and the thick glass can stand up to a lot of abuse. Plus, it’s damn good looking. My favorite version of this is actually their tin version, keeps the cocktail nice and cold (your hand won’t warm up what is being mixed easily) and it is impossible to break so it travels well and can withstand clumsy fingers (me).
Besides having your antique cocktail glasses in the collection, there needs to be sturdy glasses that function properly yet still have the visual aesthetic that your guest wouldn’t shy away from either. The MiiR Lowball and Highball glasses fit that bill perfectly! The 10oz Lowball fits a fancy ice cube and keeps all cocktails at the correct temperature and the highball is the same model but works better for the bigger drinks, think punches and shaken beverages. Not only do they work well for cocktails, their durability is perfect for a beverage that suits your mood! Beer? No problem. Coffee? Give me a challenge, of course! You name it they do the trick.
Next, you’re going to need a proper bar spoon to actually stir your cocktail. Essentially, bar spoons are just long, thin spoons that have a smooth, spiral coil along the handle, which allows the spoon to rotate freely in your hand as it makes its way around the glass.
This is a category where there are some pretty awful products, so be careful when you’re shopping online. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything with a red plastic cap on the end of the spoon, because despite being iconic and ubiquitous those are almost always cheaply made and uncomfortable to hold.
More premium options, like the 20-inch copper-plated trident bar spoon from Cocktail Kingdom (yes, it literally has a trident on the end for spearing garnishes and generally looking awesome!), are quite a bit pricier. That said, they’re excellent quality and an attractive addition to your home bar. My personal favorite for home drinks is from Standard Spoon. Its slim profile is easy to insert around the ice in a mixing glass, and the aerodynamic body is great for near-friction-less stirring. The weighted end provides for a beautifully balanced bar spoon.
Unleash the flavours of your fresh ingredients with the help of a muddler. This wooden bar tool is used to crush ingredients such as mint. There are muddlers that are coated but it’s best to just stick to a plain wooden version to avoid getting extra bits in your cocktails once the coating starts to wear off. Standard spoon has a wonderful maple wood muddler that is great but if you want to spend a LOT more on the high-end ebony wood muddler, that option is also available.
To add the perfect finishing touch to your cocktails, a y-peeler is great to have on hand. Y-peelers are ideal for carving thin twists of citrus that look good and add some extra flavour to your creations. I highly recommend the cheap plastic options available at grocery stores or Target. They are very effective and don’t break that easily.
Finally, you’re going to need to get your hands on a few cocktail strainers so you can transfer the drink into your glass. Depending on whether you used a shaker or a mixing glass, you’ll have to decide on some combination of Hawthorne strainer, julep strainer, and mesh strainer.
Hawthorne strainers are the most common variety, and are typically used any time you shake a cocktail. The spring around the edge lets you adjust the size of the opening, so you can control how much stuff (muddled fruit, ice shards, etc.) ends up in the final product. OXO makes a fantastic Hawthorne strainer with an ergonomic finger rest that we can’t recommend enough.
When you want to ensure that your cocktail is more finely filtered, you can pair a Hawthorne strainer with a conical mesh strainer in a technique called double straining. You simply hold the mesh strainer over the serving glass with one hand, and strain the drink through it with the other.
For a fancier version, you almost always want to use a Hawthorne strainer with a spring. These have an indentation on the arm of the strainer that is perfect for fitting on the mixing glass and shakers. These also work really well for when you want to “throw” your cocktail, which is a cross between mixing and shaking your cocktail –– this is a SUPER pro move that takes a bit of practice and a lot of patience. As usual, Cocktail Kingdom has one of the best on the market, and it’s sturdy enough that it might just outlive you.
With these bar tools, you should have no problem getting your home bar up and running. Each and every one of them has served us well over the years, and they’ll cover your needs for the vast majority of cocktails, whether classic or contemporary. So get out there, get kitted up, and get mixing.