This is part of my Cocktail Basics series. These posts are here to help you build better cocktails by demystifying ingredients and explaining core concepts.
If you love crafting cocktails at home, you need to make sure you’ve got the best cocktail tools. The good news is, you don’t need tons of specialty gear to make fantastic cocktails. Here’s my go-to, can’t-live-without tools for you need for making cocktails at home.
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Here are the Essential Tools you For Making Cocktails
Something to Mix In – What’s the Best Kind of Cocktail Shaker?
In a pinch, you can mix a drink in just about anything, assuming it’s big enough to hold the spirits and ice. But an actual cocktail shaker is one of the tools you really need for making cocktails. It’s designed for the job at hand, and it really does make things simpler. A well-made stainless steel shaker will also keep your drink cold far longer than other materials.
- This isn’t rocket science but a well-designed shaker really will make your cocktail life so much easier. Look for a shaker that holds 16-24 ounces. You’ll be able to mix at least two servings in that size. Much bigger than that and it can become unwieldy UNLESS you’re deliberately planning to mix up larger batches of drinks.
- While the shaker doesn’t need to be fancy, it does need to have a two-piece lid that seals completely but comes off easily. Trust me when I tell you that a shaker that doesn’t seal makes an epic mess and one that won’t open is a tragedy.
- There’s all kinds of novelty shakers or fancy shakers out there. Unless they are also very sturdy and made from good quality steel, don’t plan to use them for actual drink making. They’ll likely leak, warm up rapidly or break.
The Best Cocktail Shaker
I love my shaker. It’s very basic but it’s never let me down. I’ve been building drinks in it for years. I stir nearly all my cocktails, so I don’t actually “shake” it very often. But when I do, it doesn’t leak and the lid comes off easily. When I’m stirring instead of shaking, I stir, pop the strainer lid on and then pour.
Here’s the shaker I use, you can’t go wrong with this.
Alternative/Optional: A Boston Shaker
This is an open, flared cup. In order to shake a drink in it, you have to stick a pint glass in it or a second, smaller tumbler into it. Lots of bartenders love these, because they can shake and then pour in one go. I’ve gotten the pint glass stuck far more times than I like to think about, so I personally don’t use this for shaking drinks, just stirring. Pour ingredients in, stir briskly with ice, and then use the separate mesh or julep strainer to keep the ice out of your glass.
We’ve got one of these and it’s great for dirty martinis. Bottom line, if you’re only going to have a single shaker, go with the first one. It’s the more versatile. If you’ve got room, or if you regularly mix up more than one type of cocktail, the Boston shaker is a great to have.
Something to Stir With – Why You Need a Cocktail Spoon
So, you can stir your cocktail with anything long enough to reach the bottom of your shaker. In a pinch, a chopstick, sturdy straw or wooden spoon handle get the job done. But I have never for one second regretted buying an actual bar spoon. It only does one job but it does it really well. It’s easy to move the entire shaker of ice with one of these, which is honestly more important that it seems. The spoon itself is sized for adding the equivalent of a “dash” or 1/4 teaspoon of ingredients to a drink, which is very useful for cocktails that call for tiny pours. Many recipes will actually say “add a bar spoon of X”.
We’ve got several, which is convenient, but not absolutely necessary.
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Something to Measure With – You Need a Jigger
You could technically use liquid measuring cups or a shot glass to portion out your drink ingredients. You could also just count out your pour, like a bartender. But unless you’re a dab hand at mixing drinks, measuring will yield a more consistent, and therefore better, drink. It will also make it far easier to tweak drink proportions or ingredients, since you’ll know exactly what your ratios are.
Many people love the double ended cocktail jigger. I am not one of them. They’re messy, sloshly and imprecise. I use one of these angled measuring jiggers and frankly, so should you. They offer far more precise measuring and you really have to work to spill your hooch out of it (though I’ve managed it).
They pour nicely, which you will be grateful for when you’re mixing your fourth round of drinks at a cocktail party. If you don’t buy anything else I’ve suggested, do yourself a favor and get this. And unlike the two sided jiggers, you can use this measurer for cooking and baking, too.
I’ve kept the list of tools you need for making cocktails small, focusing on the essentials. Once you’ve got those covered –
A Few Cocktail Tools You MIGHT Need:
A muddler – if you’re into juleps, mojitos or even an old-fashioned, a muddler is darned useful. If you don’t drink cocktails that need muddling very often, you can get away with using the blunt end of a spoon, but a muddler does its job really well. It’s useful for bruising herbs, too.
A julep strainer – for straining as you pour into a glass or julep cup.
Cocktail Picks – Not all cocktails need a garnish and not all garnishes need picks. But if you’re going to take the time to make a classic cocktail, you might as well go all the way. And cocktail picks are a great way to add some style or personality to your drinks.
We have these awesome picks and people are always asking about them.
Cocktail Books and Recipes
A great cocktail recipe book – in my opinion the best cocktail recipe book is The New Cocktail Hour. I enjoyed making and drinking cocktails for years before I got my copy and I still learned so much from it. It includes just about every drink recipe, from classics to trendy and it’s well-written and entertaining. My copy lives in the liquor cabinet and is very well-used. If you buy one cocktail book, make it this.
You don’t strictly speaking NEED a book to make cocktails, my site and many others happily feature cocktail recipes. But a book offers way more recipe ideas as well as methodology and background information.
There’s very little you absolutely must have to make a cocktail. But having the right tools makes the job easier, and this list of the most useful bartending tools will help you mix drinks with ease and precision.