You might think that great cocktails start with the booze but in reality, it’s all about having the necessary tools at hand.
Now if you are just starting out, getting every tool you could possibly need is a bit daunting and possibly unnecessary. The basics – a shaker, a jigger, a bar spoon and a strainer – should really see you through.
As you progress or if you are making cocktails on a regular basis, then you might want to up your game and slowly start to invest in a solid arsenal of tools.
With the right tools comes confidence, but only get what you need, as you need it. Really, there’s really no use in getting tools you might use only once (which is why we haven’t included an absinthe spoon or a swizzle on this list – although if you are into Tiki Cocktails, a swizzle is a very fun tool to use).
The tools you have, like the booze you buy, are both personal choices but there is no need to spend a fortune – like everything in life, it’s often not what you have, but how you use it.
Also known as a bar strainer, a cocktail strainer is used to remove solid materials from the liquid. It’s typically used after a drink has been stirred or shaken to remove fruit, ice, or other solid materials that the bartender doesn’t want in the final cocktail. There are three basic types of cocktail strainers:
The Hawthorne strainer is the most commonly used strainer and consists of a disc, a handle, two (or more) stabilizing prongs, and a metal spring. This metal bar accessory is used to remove ice and other solid ingredients (such as muddled fruit) from a cocktail as you pour it into a glass. When in use, the metal spring will fit inside the mixing tin, helping to filter out ice and other solid ingredients.
The Julep Strainer consists of a perforated bowl-shaped cup with a handle. This tool was originally used to serve Mint Juleps before the drinking straw became popular. The bartender would serve the Julep with the strainer placed over it so the drinker wouldn’t get a face full of ice and mint. Now, this strainer is used for making cocktails. It generally fits into a mixing glass better than a Hawthorne Strainer so it’s best used when you’re straining from a mixing glass.
Fine Mesh Strainer
If a cocktails recipe advises you to double strain, this is where a fine mesh strainer comes into its own. It is great for filtering out bits of fruit, small pieces of ice and other solid materials that can sometimes sneak past the main strainer. When in use, it’s usually held right beneath the main strainer.
Also called a stirring spoon, this specialized spoon was originally designed to (you guessed it) stir cocktails. Bartenders also use it to measure, layer, and sometimes muddle cocktail ingredients. Because it’s made with stainless steel, it’s durable and easy to clean. Plus, it won’t affect the flavor of your customer’s drinks like other spoons might. A long thin spoon moves much more easily in a glass so it produces a smoother cocktail than something that is jostling around and moving the ice. There are three types of bar spoons:
This type of bar spoon has a simple design, a twisted handle and a red plastic cap placed on the end. It’s usually easy to find and it’s functional and cheap.
This spoon is more sturdy and has a little bit more style. Usually, a hammer or disk is attached to the end of the handle that bartenders use to muddle or layer ingredients.
This bar spoon is slimmer and more elongated. The end of the handle has a variety of designs including a fork for grabbing garnishes like olives or a pretty teardrop design.
A cocktail shaker is used to chill and mix drink ingredients. Shaking a cocktail is a great way to thoroughly integrate all of a drink’s ingredients in order to create one blend of flavour. The majority of cocktail recipes call for the drink to be shaken. There are three basic cocktail shakers:
Also known as the three-piece shaker, this tool includes a large metal shaking tin, a snuggly fit lid, and a small cap to cover the strainer. This strainer is integrated but it can be a bit slower to use, the lid can sometimes get stuck, and there are more parts to clean. On the upside, the cap can sometimes be used as a jigger as it usually holds roughly about 1oz of liquid.
This cocktail shaker is a two-piece tool. It’s composed of one larger mixing glass and one smaller one. Usually, the larger mixing glass is tin and the smaller mixing glass is a standard pint glass. When using this tool to shake a drink, it’s essential to make a watertight seal (or you’ll be wearing the cocktail). Also, be careful when separating the two parts because the glass is often a little fragile. This shaker is quick to use and easy to clean but requires a bit more skill than the Cobbler Shaker. It doesn’t have an integrated strainer, but the glass can also be used as a mixing glass if you are in a pinch.
Also known as the Parisian Shaker, this bar tool is a simplified version of the Cobbler Shaker. It has only two pieces and it doesn’t have a built in strainer. It’s quite sleek in its design and many believe the French Shaker is the original cocktail shaker.
A jigger is a two-sided tool used for liquor measurement. The standard jigger comes in two sizes—one ounce and ½ ounce, or 1 ½ ounce and ¾ ounce. Some jiggers also include extra markings, allowing you to measure quantities like ¾, ⅓, ¼, and ½ of an ounce. Cocktails really require exact measurements, so a jigger should be your go-to tool.
Whether you’re cutting citrus zest to twist over a drink, prepping lemon wedges, or slicing a lime for juicing, a small knife is always useful behind the bar.
A garnish is an important component of almost any cocktail. A zester is an awesome tool for creating a classic twisted zest and for infusing the drink with the oils from the fruit.be aware though, they are often far sharper than they look.
Ice Tongs/Ice Scoop
Ice tongs or an ice scoop serve the obvious role of getting ice into the glass in an hygienic manner.
Used for stirred cocktails, this cut-crystal, beaker-shaped mixing glass with straight sides, a hefty base, and a spout is a great addition to any bar. If you do not have a mixing glass available you can always use part of a Boston shaker but a crystal mixing glass will always look far prettier.
Many signature cocktails require the mashing of fresh ingredients. A muddler is a classic and simple tool that’s essential behind any bar. They come in different materials such as stainless steel, wood, and plastic. Some have a smooth head and others have a grinder head for maximum flavour extraction.
Named for its shape, this tool features a sharp, stainless steel blade. It’s made for removing fruit and vegetable skins, making it the perfect tool for creating beautiful drink garnishes.
Lewis Ice Bag
If your drink recipe calls for crushed ice and you’ve only got ice cubes, it’s time to break out an ice bag. Now while you can put the ice cubes int a tea towel and bash it onto a hard surface, the joy of a Lewis Bag is that it is waterproof, easy to use and it absorbs a good amount of the ice’s moisture so the final drink is less watery.
There are very few cocktails that do not include an element of citrus. behind the bar, a juicer, also known as a lemon squeezer, citrus squeezer, or Mexican juicer, uses a levered design with a hinged bowl and handles to effortlessly extract fruit juice. It’s also fairly easy to store and clean.
Whether you’re looking to grate chocolate, cinnamon, or orange skins, a Microplane is a great addition to your home bar arsenal. This tool allows for quickly and efficiently extract flavour for craft cocktails.
Drink Picks & Stirrers
Although they may be tiny, drink picks are still essential tools for bartenders. They’re a crucial component for certain cocktail garnishes such as the olives in a classic martini or a Maraschino Cherry. Drink stirrers are great for integrating ingredients built in the glass.