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If you’re starting a home bar from scratch, you might be tempted to go ahead and buy one of those all-in-one bar kits that usually contain a cocktail shaker, plus a few unfamiliar tools you’ve been convinced are necessary for making impressive cocktails. Depending on your tastes though, you may want to re-think that all-in-one purchase for a piecemeal approach to acquiring the right bar tools. One warning: if you come across a high-tech tool, think twice. Trust me, just a few of the following simple tools will serve you, and your cocktails, well.
1. Jigger, or measuring shot glass
Don’t be deceived by the casual, free-pouring bartenders at your local dive bar. If you want to make a high-quality cocktail, you’ll need to be precise with your pours. Classic cocktails earned their place in history with standard measurements, and although you might discover that you prefer your own Negroni variation to the classic formula, you’ll still want learn the proper recipe ratios for the next batch you whip up.
Recommended drink: Classic Negroni
The Negroni’s classic 1:1:1 ratio is easy to remember, you can’t possibly screw it up. Get our Negroni recipe.
2. Bar Spoon
The cocktail shaker is the classic first purchase, but if you favor spirit-forward drinks, you shouldn’t find yourself shaking anytime soon. The old fashioned should be stirred, as should a Manhattan, a martini, and a Negroni. Chances are, if you’re looking for something stiff, it won’t contain fruit juice and won’t need a shake.
Recommended drink: Old Fashioned
The original cocktail can be built in the glass, stirring spirit, sugar, bitters, and a splash of water with ice to reach the perfect dilution. Get our our Old Fashioned recipe.
3. Mixing glass and julep strainer
If you’re frequently making multiple drinks at once, or you’re looking for a way to avoid diluting the flavor of your cocktails, invest in a high-quality mixing glass. You won’t regret the decision to spend an extra few bucks on a good mixing glass; plus, there’s no faster way to impress your friends than treating them to a manhattan poured through a julep strainer, served up. Note: If your friends complain about drinking out of a martini glass or coupe, remind them that they’re drinking whiskey and the glass shouldn’t matter.
Recommended drink: Manhattan
The Manhattan has many variations, but master the traditional recipe and you’ll have the perfect drink to practice your stirring technique. Get our Manhattan recipe.
4. Cocktail Shaker
An all-in-one cocktail shaker with a built-in strainer is easy to use, and results in less drippage than most options. Otherwise, a classic tin shaker will do; but be sure to pick up a Hawthorne strainer to hold back ice as you pour.
Recommended drink: Mai Tai
A good shaker purchase warrants a classic shaken drink. Stock up on orgeat and grenadine and have some friends over for a Tiki night. Get our Mai Tai recipe.
5. Small Cutting Board, Paring Knife, Citrus Squeezer
A cheap knife will do for cutting limes and lemons, which you’ll find yourself constantly re-stocking thanks to their versatility in cocktails. To make cutting garnishes less of a struggle, however, you might want something a little bit nicer, especially when it comes to orange peel garnishes for your spirit-forward drinks.
We suggest you have one cutting board that’s exclusively for bar use, but don’t worry, we won’t say anything if you pull out your kitchen cutting board for the task. To make your life easier, we suggest choosing a smaller board for cocktail use since you’ll only need the bare-minimum surface area for cutting. Plus, smaller equals easier clean up. A win-win!
You may find multiple size citrus squeezers available, but make sure to go for lemon-sized or greater to maximize your use.
Recommended drink: Margarita
Put your tools to work by making a few well-balanced margaritas, shaken vigorously in order to incorporate the fresh lime juice. Get our Perfect Margarita recipe.
6. Wooden Muddler
The muddler may seem like a tool meant for an aggressive motion, but muddling for cocktails usually involves only a light press to release the oils from herbs (such as mint), or the juice from fruit (berries, peaches, etc.). A small, simple wood muddler will last you all summer, and well into the year.
Recommended drink: Mint Julep
Pick up some fresh mint and treat yourself to a mint julep. Nothing will make you feel more like a bartender than gently clapping your hands together on some mint leaves to express the oil and maximize the aroma of your creation. Get our Mint Julep recipe.
7. Citrus Channel Knife or Y-Peeler
A channel knife isn’t really a knife at all, but a fun garnishing tool that has deep grooves to cut away at the skin of citrus fruit. When cutting a lemon twist garnish, be sure to direct the spray of lemon oil over the surface of your drink. This will make even the booziest cocktails easier to sip.
Y-Peelers are perfect for cutting an orange peel for your old-fashioned, but a word of warning: don’t approach peeling an orange the way you do a carrot. Take your time. Pull the fruit through the peeler slowly, keeping your fingers out of the path of the blade.
Recommended drink: Yellow Bicycle
Perfect your lemon twist with the Yellow Bicycle cocktail. Get our Yellow Bicycle recipe.
8. Double-Hinged Corkscrew and Champagne Stopper
Always skip a cheap plastic corkscrew for something sturdy you can take with you to the park or on a hike. You won’t regret it. To avoid the pressure of finishing the bottle, we recommend a good, tight-sealing champagne stopper will make sure your bubbly stays bubbly for at least a day or two. When comes to day three, it’s time to drink up!
Recommended drink: French 75
You can’t go wrong with a glass of champagne on its own, but experiment a bit with 1 oz. of your favorite liqueur, topped champagne. Or, try a classic cocktail with our French 75 recipe.
Original story by the CHOW Food Team, updated by Patrick Sullivan.