Essential Bar Tools for Cocktails at Home

The challenge of a list entitled Essential Bar Tools for Cocktails at Home is that everyone is different. While my favorite cocktail is a dry martini, you might hate gin and want only to make creamy espresso martinis.

The goal of this list of bartending equipment is to cover you, whether you’re just starting out, having a huge cocktail party, or buying gifts for a cocktail connoisseur. I’ll try to give some guidance for must-have cocktail tools to ensure your home bar is ready for crafting a wide range of cocktails that will impress your friends and elevate your cocktail experience.

low ball cocktail on a tray with a copper jigger, bar spoon, and cocktail shaker.
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Home bar tools

You can buy some of these bar tools on their own or as a set. Like with knife sets, cocktail sets probably offer little value unless your bar tools will be on display and you want everything to have a uniform appearance.

 

This list doesn’t include all the things for making cocktails at home. You likely already have some bartender tools like a cutting board and knives, measuring spoons, kitchen towels, napkins and coasters, and a juicer for squeezing fresh lemon juice and other citrus. For everything else, read on:

1. Cocktail Shaker: A good cocktail shaker is probably the hardest bit of cocktail equipment to replace, although you could always use a clean jam jar in a pinch. Or if you only make stirred cocktails like this Perfect Brandy Manhattan, you might not actually need one.

There are different types of shakers, including the classic three-piece cobbler shaker and the Boston shaker, which consists of two separate pieces. The Boston shaker is more frequently recommended by professional bartenders.

2. Corkscrew and bottle opener

3. Jigger: A jigger is an hourglass-shaped measuring tool for consistent pours. Jiggers come in different sizes. My favorite is a Prince of Scots 2 ounce and 1 ounce double jigger that has additional markings at 0.5, 0.75, and 1.5 ounces.

4. Strainers: If you use a Boston shaker, you’ll need a Hawthorne strainer to keep the ice and solid ingredients from getting into your cocktail glass. You’ll also want a fine mesh strainer for double strains when making sours and other cocktails with citrus or herbs.

5. Cocktail picks: for your olives, cherries, and other garnishes. These make great gifts.

6. Zester and channel knife: for making twists. A regular vegetable peeler can also work.

7. Long-handled bar spoon: for stirring your favorite cocktails. You can also use it for layering drinks with different densities like this Elderflower Collins.

8. Muddler: a sturdy tool used to crush ingredients such as herbs or fruit to release their flavors. I often just grab a long wooden spoon, so you can decide whether this is needed.

9. Glassware: While some people say you need specific glasses for each drink, the most important thing is to be sure your cocktail glass is big enough for your cocktail and ice. And perhaps to have a stemmed glass for when you don’t want your hand to warm your drink or your drink to chill your hand!

You probably have glassware that already works. Consider stocking your bar with coupes or Nick and Nora glasses, martini glasses, highball glasses, rocks glasses, and wine glasses. But please don’t go overboard buying glassware.

classic cocktail in a coupe garnished with rosemary.

10. Ice cube trays: The type of ice can make a difference in your cocktail. Large cubes of ice like the one below have lower surface area to volume and therefore melt more slowly. They’re great for lowball cocktails meant for slow sipping like the Negroni.

a cranberry negroni in a lowball glass garnished with and surrounded by fresh cranberries.

In contrast, you’ll want cube ice for a spritz and crushed ice for super cool refreshers like the Bramble. Crushed ice chills your cocktail the quickest but also dilutes your cocktail the most.

You can buy silicone ice trays in a variety of sizes and shapes. Or go deep into ice and make clear ice cubes.

two silicone ice cube trays one with small cube and one with large cube sizes.

11. Lewis bag and mallet: Now we’re getting into the totally optional bar tools. If you don’t have a freezer that dispenses crushed ice, you can buy a Lewis bag – a canvas bag and mallet – to crush your own, although a clean plastic bag and meat tenderizer also work.

Lewis bag and mallet on a countertop.

12. Straws: reusable or compostable, please!

13. Ice bucket and tongs: if you’re throwing a cocktail party, an ice bucket and tongs will keep your ice clean and ready for cocktails.

14. Bartending books. There are a lot of cocktail books out there. My current favorite is the Cocktail Codex, and The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff is a classic. For modern variations, check out the books by J.M. Hirsch.

Bar Tool FAQs

What’s your favorite bar tool?

Using that Lewis bag to make crushed ice is really therapeutic, but I probably use my Oxo citrus juicer nearly every day.

What’s your bartending experience?

I’m just someone who’s enjoyed a classic cocktail since I discovered the Sidecar twenty years ago. I am in the process of obtaining a certification in spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

Conclusion

A well-stocked home bar equipped with essential tools is the gateway to a world of cocktail creativity. As you build your home bar, remember that there’s no right and wrong. And have fun!

Love cocktails and want to explore more? Read all about classic cocktails and bartender basics or join this year’s 52 weeks of cocktails challenge!

Are you an adventurous home cook looking for inspiration in your weeknight meals and weekend baking? Get inspiration here:

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