Don’t make the mistake of thinking that simply having a top-shelf liquor or mixer is all you need to be a good bartender. Without the proper mixing tools, drinks will come out too strong or too weak, they won’t look right, and they will take much more time to perfect. Thankfully, bar tools are relatively inexpensive, and with just a few tools, your home cocktail making experience can be enjoyable for both you and your guests. Here is a short list of essential tools for the home bartender just starting out:
A jigger is your essential liquid measuring tool for your any home bar. A drink recipe that calls for a ¼ ounce of a strong, bitter liqueur can oftentimes be ruined by simply adding ¼ ounce too much. Most professional mixologists will use a jigger for any drink that uses more than one liquor to ensure consistency and quality. You should, too. There is nothing wrong with free-pouring a rum and coke, but when attempting more complex drinks, a jigger is essential. There are a variety of shapes, sizes, and price points available with jiggers, but you don’t have to spend much money to purchase a good one. An hourglass-shaped jigger like the one pictured is available in most liquor stores and should retail between $2 and $5. Fancier options are available, but not necessary.
A bar spoon is another quality tool that is essential when making cocktails at home. The two bar spoons pictured cost $6 and $125 respectively. They both stir drinks well and accomplish their tasks—so why the incredible price difference? One bar spoon is made of stainless steel in large batches, while the other was handcrafted out of silver coins by artisans. However you choose your bar spoon, just find one that feels comfortable in your hand and has a heft and length to your liking. With a bar spoon, you can float liqueurs in drinks, as well as stir drinks that call for it. Classic bartending theory states that any drink made out of all liquor (the Manhattan or the Rob Roy, e.g.) should be stirred over ice.
A bottle opener makes opening beers and other beverages much easier, and it will make a home bar run much smoother during parties and other events. A plastic-coated bottle opener, like the one pictured here, runs $6 to $8 and keeps hands from getting chilled if the opener sits on ice.
A strainer, like the julep strainer pictured or the more common Hawthorne strainer, is used to pour liquids out and keep solids behind. This is useful for drinks that incorporate fresh fruit or herbs for flavoring. Strainers run from $5 to $50, but they all serve the same purpose. OXO strainers are particularly popular with professional mixologists.
A muddler is a short, usually wooden bat used to macerate fresh fruits and herbs in drinks, and it’s a very welcome addition to any home bar. Muddlers can cost as little as $3; just make sure not to wash a wooden muddler in a dishwasher, as it risks getting ruined.
A Boston shaker is the style of shaker favored by professional bartenders. Featuring a metal tin and a tempered mixing glass, a Boston shaker is easier to use than an all-metal shaker during parties. Metal shakers begin to contract as they get cold, which can result in problems getting the top off and pouring the drink. A Boston shaker avoids that issue and is the perfect choice for drinks that are shaken (Drinks with cream, juices, simple syrup, liqueurs, egg or dairy items should be shaken with ice prior to serving). Boston shakers start at about $10 and go up in price from there.
With this short list of tools, you’ll find that you are prepared to create even more complex and interesting drinks, and your parties and entertaining functions will run smoother. In all, these tools can be purchased collectively for less than $50, making this one of the cheapest and best investments in your home bar that you can make.