Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
24 Bar Tools you need and 5 You Don’t
Part 1 – Beginner Bar Tools
The first part of this series focuses on Bar Tools that any Home Bourbon Bartender will need. Part 2 focuses on Intermediate Bartending Tools and Part 3 focuses on Advanced Bartending tools.
- Shakers & Stirrers
- Juicers & Peelers
- Miscellaneous Essential Bar Tools
- Bar Tools You Don’t Need
Craft Cocktails Aren’t Cheap!
I’m going to address the elephant in the room: going out for drinks has gotten expensive! The craft cocktail craze, which went from underground to mainstream in the past couple of decades, has been a welcome renaissance from two-ingredient drink days of yore. Recall a whiskey sour that was mostly a shelf-stable mix, likely in a neon yellow highlighter hue.
Nowadays, beautifully designed, lovingly prepared and flawlessly mixed concoctions with fresh fare, made-from-scratch mixers and an array of interesting ingredients has greatly improved consumer palates. On the flip side, thanks to another super fun recession, it is less intoxicating when the bill arrives.
Enter Home Bartending
Enter home bartending. Many of us majorly brushed up on these skills during the good ol’ COVID days, out of necessity. For others, it’s a delightful home hobby. Now it can be a great way to save on spending, and for some there are greater aspirations to create never-before-seen drinks served with fire, flare and fabulousness. There are tools from basic and beyond necessary to achieve any level at home.
To help weed out the infinite options we all have, thanks to the wonders of online shopping, there is a short list of items one can live without. There’s really no need for a gizmo that only gets used once in a while or a superfluous utensil that achieves the same result rendered by something you already have.
Wherever you are with your home bar, and for whatever reason, here is a guide for what to have on hand. The plethora of tools and equipment can get weird, with so many shiny, wiry, perforated and Inspector Gadget-worthy options to choose from. To keep it sweet and simple, all recommendations are broken into three consecutive posts, starting with tools for the beginning bartender then moving to intermediate and advanced levels.
Bar Tools For The Beginning Home Bourbon Bartender
In this stage, one is typically learning to master the basics of what to shake, versus what to stir, and committing to memory standard mixology formulas. Everyone will need one of the below-listed tools to begin building bartending prowess.
Jiggers – An Essential Home Bar Tool
Mixology is not like cooking where one can throw in a little of this or a dash of that and see how it tastes. For cocktails, it’s remarkable how much even a quarter of an ounce can make or break a drink. Therefore, exact measurements, usually handled in ounces, are important. A jigger is your tool to keep things precise.
These come in a variety of shapes and styles from a standard, squat, double jigger to eye-catching bell jiggers with a fancy handle. The slender, easy to use Japanese jigger is my preferred weapon of choice. The narrower mouth helps prevent spillage, while the elongated shape makes it easy to flip from one side to the other, to utilize the separate measurements. Keeping two or three is sufficient for your home bar.
Shakers & Stirrers – Beginner Bar Tools
Many bourbon cocktails are crafted as “build-in-glass,” meaning ingredients are added to the same glass that will be used for drinking, then stirred and served. For example, The Old Fashioned.
Then there are drinks such as the Manhattan, which need to be stirred to chill but strained up. Or, if you plan to serve a cocktail on a single large cube, that would not work so well for stirring your drink in the glass. Most of all, mixing glasses help make more than one drink at a time. That’s important now that you’re a bonafide home bartender because all of your friends are coming over.
Three criteria apply to any mixing glass I plan to have: size, durability and aesthetic. First, size. Most stirred drinks are about three ounces. Then add that much or more with ice and the glass gets pretty full, pretty fast. I would go for at least 23 ounces. However, a more nicely sized 28 ounce glass, will help to keep the contents within its walls, once the motion of stirring gets started.
Second, durability. I was once the proud bar manager with the privilege of showcasing some beautiful, dainty, glass mixing glasses. As lovely as they were to behold, the delicate glass cracked far too easily. There are stainless steel versions of these things, which are great for durability but also lead to the third criteria.
Last but not least is looks. Many home bars are proudly on display, and a gorgeous, decorative glass item makes a great centerpiece.
Were I a wizard, I would wave my magic wand and -poof! The perfect cocktail would come into existence. But even without sorcery, a great bar spoon can feel just as powerful. The weighted ends balanced perfectly from the slender, twisted handle, gracefully balanced between a bartender’s fingers is the start of mixology mastery.
That’s an eloquent way of saying, “get yourself a good bar spoon.” For home bartending length is a key consideration. Think drawer and shelf space. Lengths can range from 12 to 20 inches. The latter looks quite fetching, resting in a tin on a bar with nearly limitless space. For the home bar, I have certainly made the mistake of getting a lovely, long tool, only to be annoyed that it didn’t fit anywhere when trying to store it.
In addition, several of these may be double ended, with a spoon on one side and muddler, trident or decorative orb on the other. At almost any level, the spoon is really all you need, so I recommend sticking with simpler options.
Why is it that nearly every cocktail gift set contains one of those dreadful shakers where the strainer is built into one end? That is technically called a Cobbler Shaker, which is cute, compact and require no extra strainer, but if you aim to go pro, stick with a Boston Shaker. Specifically, go for one where both pieces are made of metal. The other option has one side of glass, which, in my humble opinion, is just asking to be shattered, in addition to being awkward to handle.
This tool is so frequently used it is one I highly, highly recommend springing for a quality one. A solid shaker will make a tighter seal when in use. Ones with a weighted bottom make shaking easier, creating a sense of balance while everything is rigorously flinging back and forth within the vessel. What I’m trying to say is, get a Koriko brand shaker.
Now that you have a Boston Shaker, you need a Hawthorne Strainer to finish the job. Just like everything else ever manufactured in the modern world, there are a zillion options here as well. To keep things easy and seamless, I still recommend the Koriko Hawthorne strainer to accompany your Koriko Shaker. It’s as if they were meant for each other, right?
If you do choose to peruse other options, the primary considerations are the width of the strainer, which needs to be a good fit for your shaker, the handle and coils. Among these, coils are key, as a tighter, more substantial design does a better job of filtering out bits of ice and other solids.
Juicers & Peelers – Beginner Bar Tools
Get thee a juicer and enjoy the effects of fresh-squeezed citrus in your drinks, versus bottled juice. A handheld press is the perfect piece for your home bar. It forces out the maximum amount of juice, is a sturdy tool and easy to clean. Such a gadget tackles only half of a citrus fruit at a time, but that’s usually all that is needed for diy drink-making. If you need to graduate to bigger and badder toys down the road, a table-top manual press outperforms an electric juicer any day.
Speaking of citrus, let’s not forget the aromatic wonders derived from the peel. Many of us already have one of these for cooking. When it comes to bartending, a y-shaped design makes for safer-handling of the fruit and allows for a better grip to get a nice, thick peel.
Miscellaneous Essentials – Beginner Bar Tools
Cutting Board & Paring Knife
These items are self-explanatory and just nice to have on hand specific to bartending needs. Again, size is a good consideration for storage and display. Treat yourself to a quality, sharp knife for accuracy in slicing and shaping citrus wheels and peels.
Cater to everyone’s post-COVID germaphobia and use an ice scoop and not your hands. Metal ones will last much longer -and allow me to shamelessly request we all have a bit less plastic in our lives please – and are a better tool against chunks of frozen-together cubes.
For you pyromaniacs, myself included, even a base level bar set could use a touch of fire. A lighter is always available among my stash for simple garnishes like a flamed orange peel or charred herbs.
5 Bar Tools You Don’t Need – Beginning Home Bartending
Before moving into to the intermediate and advanced lists, here are five bar tools you simply don’t need. I hate clutter, so allow me some extra peace of mind by suggesting what to forgo. I will sleep better knowing everyone’s drawers and cabinets and countertops are a little more clear.
Muddlers are dangerous. This is not only because, as a sturdy handheld bar tool it could give someone a good bop on the head, but because they make it far too easy to wreck a drink.
Add fruit or herbs to the bottom of a cocktail glass and, with muddler in hand, the compulsion to smash away at the ingredients may take over. The true intention of a muddler is to release essential oils out of delicate leaves or fragile bits of fruit, However, when handled improperly, an herb will also release bitter components, like chlorophyll, or that bitter pith stuff from an orange can seep into other ingredients. Better ways to deal with ingredients that call for muddling is to simply press with your fingers or the back of a bar spoon. So save some space and feel free to skip this item. If you’re wildly curious about using a muddler, I recommend adding a bar spoon to your collection that has one built into the handle. Just be careful – around both human heads and produce.
Don’t bother. I know we all see these at bars; but that’s because they are bars. For a high-volume setting, cranking out hundreds of drinks per shift, a pour spout helps control volumes and speeds up the pouring process. They also get sticky, messy and become a great place for mold and germs to find residence. At our home bars, these are not necessary. Pass.
Lewis Bag & Mallet
I may be asking for a mob protesting in my front yard for saying this, armed with torches and pitchforks because that’s how we handle things in Kentucky, but I’m still saying it. A mallet and canvas bag are totally fun to use every May when the ponies run. However, that is once a year and traditionally used for only one drink, so I can’t justify having a set on hand to stock a home bar. Now if you throw a major Derby throwdown every year, and guests pounding away at ice is a highlight of the festivities, by all means. But even seasoned Derby partiers do just fine blending up ice for their juleps that is ready to use in bulk. Again, save the drawer space and delete this from your shopping cart.
I can’t think of a more pointless waste of space than a rimmer. Really. A couple of small plates will do just fine and are way easier to clean. Say yes to minimalism and no to rimmers.
Conclusion – Bar Tools For Beginning Home Bourbon Bartenders
Take heed, my drink-making friends, and you are off to a fantastic start! The right, high quality tools will serve you well for years to come. Bourbon mixology is a bottomless rabbit hole, so make sure you’re well-equipped to enjoy the journey.
We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this series on Beginner Bar Tools for the Home Bourbon Bartender! Be sure to check out Parts 2 & 3 in our complete Home Bartending Guide! Also, read our article “Bourbons for Cocktails – The Top 10“, so that you pick the perfect bourbon for every cocktail, every time!
Aften Locken is a bourbon nerd and a cocktail geek, mixing the two together in ways that will make partakers say “wow” and stay thirsty for more. She has worked in the beverage alcohol industry for six years as a bourbon educator, presenter, tour guide and experience designer. Her mixology endeavors include the design and execution of showcased cocktails for the 6th Floor Millionaire’s Row at the Kentucky Derby, premium bar management for VIP attendees of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, regular cocktail class series for bourbon enthusiast groups and promotional videos for premium brands. In the bourbon realm, she creates and executes premium bourbon experiences and education offered through Bourbonpro.com.
Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?? If any of these are true, then check out BourbonObsessed.com today!