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.
Wondering what tools you need for making cocktails at home?
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 all the tools you need for making cocktails, plus a few fun extras.
What you need for making cocktails at home
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 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, get stuck, 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
What’s the difference between a closed cocktail shaker and a Boston cocktail shaker?
A Boston shaker is an open, flared cup, while traditional closed, two-piece shakers include a fitted lid with a built in strainer. In order to shake a drink in a Boston shaker, you have to stick a pint glass or a smaller tumbler into it. Lots of bartenders love these, because they can shake and then pour in one go, assuming the drink is served in a pint glass on the rocks. If you’re making margaritas on the rocks, a Boston shaker and pint glass is efficient.
I’ve gotten the pint glass stuck far more times than I like to think about, so I don’t use this for shaking, 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 a Boston shaker and it’s great for dirty martinis. I know many bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts who use nothing but Boston shakers, so I’m not trying to discourage you from trying them out. And if you love a Boston shaker, that’s awesome.
In my opinion, if you’re only going to have a single shaker, go with a two part shaker like the one I linked to. It’s more versatile and easier to use if you’re new to drink mixing. If you’ve got room, or if you regularly mix up more than one type of cocktail, the Boston shaker is great to have, too.
If you do use a Boston Shaker, you’ll need to buy a mesh Hawthorne strainer. It fits over the shaker and filters out the ice. Look for a Hawthorne strainer with tight coils. It should fit snugly into the shaker.
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Something to Measure With – You Need a Cocktail 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. 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). The angled measuring jigger holds up to two ounces and is marked off at half-ounce intervals. Mine also marks off tablespoons, which is helpful and makes it more versatile.
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.
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 actual cocktail spoons. 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”.
Although I don’t use them for it, I’ve learned that a sturdy bar spoon can also serve as a tool to break or crack ice. That comes in handy when you need cracked ice or a cube is slightly too large for the glass.
We’ve got several, which is convenient, but not absolutely necessary.
Cocktail Books and Recipes
It’s really helpful to have a trove of classic and contemporary cocktail recipes on hand.
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. And it’s nice to have a book on hand when you’re mixing up drinks, especially if you’re making new recipes.
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.
I’ve kept the list of tools you need for making cocktails small, focusing on the essentials. Once you’ve got those covered, though, here are some other really helpful cocktail tools.
What other tools do you need for making cocktails?
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 wooden spoon or the flat end of a honey dauber, 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.
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