Cocktail Making 101: Equipment
Basic Home Bar Tools
Cocktail making at home should be easy and fun, and it definitely doesn’t require a huge arsenal of fancy gadgets. But to make a well-crafted cocktail, there are a few basic bar tools that every home bartender should keep at his or her disposal and learn how to use effectively. Stock up on these essentials, and you’ll be ready to make any cocktail you or your guests desire!
HOME BAR TOOL #1: THE SHAKER
In order to shake a great cocktail, first you need a great shaker. In a pinch, you can use a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid - but if you’re going to be working towards learning more about at-home cocktail making techniques, we think it’s worthwhile to invest in a good shaking tin.
When shopping for a cocktail shaker, you’ll notice that there are different types - they have differing shapes, sizes, weights and an overall different construction. The three most common types of cocktail shakers are the Cobbler, Boston Shaker, and Parisian.
A cobbler shaker is probably the easiest to use, and it’s what you’ll see most commonly for household use. Cobblers come with three pieces: the shaking tin itself on the bottom, a built-in strainer, and a small cap at the top. They’re known for being easy to use because the cap at the top is small, and therefore easier to remove when you’re ready to pour your drinks - a common difficulty with Boston shakers. However, we find that many cobbler shakers can leak, and they don’t give us the control in straining that we would prefer.
The Boston shaker is likely what you’ll see most often at a cocktail bar. This simple design consists of a shaking tin and a mixing tin (or sometimes it’s a tempered glass mixing vessel instead). With this style shaker, you’ll need a separate strainer (see below), but we prefer this because we can use a higher quality strainer that won’t get clogged with muddled herbs or pieces of ice at the all-important moment of truth - serving. The two pieces go together at a slight angle and form a seal. The difficulty can then become separating them again once the ice and cold liquid inside have caused the metal to seize up a bit. Using a version with one glass half and one metal half can make this easier - or see our tips in our article on shaking technique for more detail.
Parisian shakers combine the best features of the previous two types - the ease of opening you get with the cobbler, and the precision and quality you get from a separate strainer like the Boston. It’s constructed from a single shaking tin at the bottom and a gracefully curved top piece that fits inside to create the seal. However, Parisian shakers can tend to be more expensive if you want a quality model that won’t tend to leak.
Our choice for everyday cocktail making at home is the Boston shaker. With a little bit of practice and a few easy tips, mastering the use of this shaker will provide the most versatile and spill-proof option for shaken cocktails.
HOME BAR TOOL #2: THE MIXING GLASS
This bar tool is, in our opinion, somewhat optional - but really, really nice to have. You can really use just about any container to mix a cocktail, as long as it’s big enough and has enough room for stirring. We often use one side of our Boston shaker. That said, a dedicated mixing glass has its perks (plus, they’re gorgeous) - read on to learn some pros and cons.
Many bartenders use a simple pint glass for mixing, and this is certainly a good option at home, too - who doesn’t have a couple of extra souvenir pint glasses sitting around the house?! But, there are drawbacks to this option. First, for the most part you’ll only be able to mix one, MAYBE two small cocktails in a pint glass. So if you’re having company over and need to make a larger batch, this will take more time. Second, a pint glass isn’t going to be quite as sturdy as some of the modern style mixing glasses that are available today, which means some of that stirring and swirling could tip your cocktail right off the edge of the countertop.
A good mixing glass will allow you more space to stir, more volume (more cocktails? Yes, please), a sturdier base, and some added perks like a pour spout and, in some cases, etching or molding that looks pretty but also creates more grip when you go to pour with potentially wet hands. They’re also made with strainers in mind, so they’ll typically fit your strainer better than another vessel that’s made for another job. Well worth the investment, we’d say.
HOME BAR TOOL #3: THE STRAINER
If you’re going to use a Boston or Parisian shaker, or a mixing glass of any kind, you’ll also need to find a strainer. There are two basic strainer types: Hawthorne (pictured below) and Julep.
We prefer the Hawthorne strainer for its’ ease of use overall. A good strainer will sit firmly on top of a variety of mixing glass sizes (thanks to good sized wings or prongs), have a strong, flexible coil with moderate tension for adequate straining, be well balanced for easy and comfortable use, and it should have a finger tab at the top to provide a good grip and control over your pour.
Julep strainers are also simple and versatile pieces of equipment, and many prefer to use them when straining from a mixing glass as opposed to a shaking tin because they are a better fit inside the glass. The Julep strainer got its name from its origins as a tool to allow bargoers to easily sip mint juleps without ending up with a face full of ice and mint. With its curved, spoon-like shape and simple perforations, a Julep strainer certainly looks elegant when pouring a stirred cocktail from a mixing glass!
For us, the Hawthorne strainer does the trick 99.9% of the time. But strainers are relatively small and inexpensive pieces of equipment to have, so if you want a complete bar setup for any and every possible need, it’s worth the small investment in a julep strainer!
No matter whether you choose a Hawthorne or a Julep, or both, you’ll also want to keep a small, fine-mesh strainer on hand. These are useful for when a cocktail needs extra refinement - use whenever a cocktail recipe specifies “double strain”. This is often the case for recipes that include fresh fruit juices, to remove any traces of pulp, or egg whites.
HOME BAR TOOL #4: THE JIGGER
For measuring out your cocktail ingredients, a good jigger is a must-have. There are several different styles, and really this one comes down to personal preference. The three most common styles are the Classic Double Jigger, the Japanese-Style Jigger, and the Bell Jigger (shown left to right in image at right).
The classic double jigger has a simple hourglass shape with a wide mouth on both sides, which for some, makes it harder to pour from without spills. The Japanese -style jigger is taller and more slender, which can help with ease of pouring. You’ll likely see Japanese-style jiggers used by most bartenders. And finally, the Bell Jigger not only looks stylish, but the curved bell-shaped cups and slender neck allow for a nice grip when pouring, and a balanced feel in the hand.
In addition to these three staples, you’ll also find one-sided jiggers, which are essentially shot glasses with ounce by ounce measurement markers, and specialty jiggers with spouts or other features like adjustable measurements.
For us, we like to stick to the basics - a simple Japanese-style or bell jigger will do the job perfectly. You may want to get a couple, as they come with different capacities on each side. Most commonly, you’ll see 1/2 oz & 1 oz capacities, or 3/4 oz & 1.5 oz.
HOME BAR TOOL #5: THE BAR SPOON
It might seem like a special spoon for stirring cocktails is a bit superfluous. But a great bar spoon is essential to getting a good, smooth mix - and it looks darn lovely in the process.
The distinguishing characteristic of a good bar spoon is the twisted stem, which aids in stirring and also allows mixologists to layer drinks by pouring spirits down the handle, over the spoon and into the glass.
As with all the other bar tools, there are several types of bar spoons out there. Our favorite is the Japanese bar spoon - its long, elegant handle and pearl-shaped tip offer a beautiful presentation when stirring cocktails for your guests, and ideal balance for stirring.
Other options are the American bar spoon, which is generally shorter and only has the twisted handle in the center. The plastic cap at the end is made for comfort. This is typically considered a beginner’s bar spoon. Lastly, there is the European bar spoon, which has a flat base that can be used as a muddler for soft herbs or fruits. However, this muddler won’t replace a dedicated one for more substantial ingredients.
And there you have it! A run down of all the basic bar tools you’ll want to have on hand for your home bar. While there are certainly more tools that you can (and probably will) collect over time, this list is a great start for getting your bar cart outfitted for most types of cocktails.
We’ve selected some of our favorite tools to offer in the shop - these are all Adelina approved based on our research and testing to be top quality, and entertaining-ready. Now it’s time to find some killer recipes and practice using all your new toys! Cheers!