Cocktail Kingdom Teardrop Barspoon, 30 cm - As I said, this is my #1 choice.
A barspoon, with its long and often twisted handle, is one of the most familiar components of a basic bar tool kit. Its primary function is to stir cocktails, naturally. The lengthy handle is for reaching to the bottom of a mixing glass, and the twist in the middle is there so bartenders can get a better grip of the spoon, to make stirring easier.
The Professional Stir
In today's cocktail bars, most bartenders stir in a particular way so the back of the spoon glides along the perimeter of the glass, but never enters the center. This pushes the ice around in one fluid, continuous motion which has some practical benefits related to chilling and dilution, in addition to looking very, very cool. I've dubbed it the "professional" stir. You'll also sometimes hear it referred to as the "Japanese stir". You can learn how to master it - which is fairly tricky - on the Stirring page. It's not exactly imperative to making good cocktails, though I will say, it is quite rewarding.
Barspoon Substitute - While the barpsooon is probably my favorite cocktail tool, the truth is, the actual spoon portion is fairly inconsequential to the actual stir, which is why the barpsoon is the easiest tool to substitute for. You can use just about anything that's straight, solid and slim (and clean). A wooden chopstick is probably the best stand in, but a screw driver, pen or something similar will also perform admirably. Or you can pick up one these stirrers from Cocktail Kingdom, with no spoon on either end.
Other Barspoon Uses - In addition to stirring, barspoons can accomplish other tasks behind the bar (which cannot but achieved with a chopstick). The most important one for me is measuring. Sometimes a recipe will call for a “barspoon's” worth of an ingredient, which is about ¾ of a teaspoon. Some other uses are:
Scooping up garnish, like an olive or a cherry, out of a jar.
Removing a piece of ice or muddled fruit floating in a glass that you'd rather not have in there.
Floating or layering ingredients on top of one another without mixing them by pouring them over the bowl of the spoon. Tequila Sunrise anyone?
Modern "Tightly Coiled" Spoon
This is the style used by most bartenders use nowadays, including myself. The many modern bar tools, it was introduced by cocktail kingdom and is fashioned in the image of a Japanese barspoon. The spoon's tight coil gives you a great grip for superior stirring torque, but with smooth grooves that won't chafe your fingers, which can happen with coarser grooves. For beginner stirrers, these spoons still may carry a bit of a learning curve, but it's not a steep one.
The biggest difference between tightly coiled spoons is the variety of headpieces they come paired with. Some have a flat "hammer" end for muddling herbs, others have the "trident" for spearing garnish (and looking cool), then there's the skull, (solely for looking cool), among others.
Other Teardrop Barspoons (Not pictured). Like many of Cocktail Kingdom's popular products, these have their imitators. These are all made in a similar fashion and are a bit more affordable. From what I've seen, they all work perfectly fine. Other variations with different head pieces can also be found online.
Headpieces on other Variations - In addition to various headpieces, Cocktail Kingdom also offers their tightly coiled barspoons in different lengths and finishes. Here are some, but not all, of the available options. You can peruse them all on their site.
Lengths: 30m, 40cm, 50cm
Finishes: stainless steel, copper, silver, gold, gunmetal black
Head Pieces tops: trident, muddler, Skull and others.
Twisted Spoons vs. Smooth Edge Spoons
Many modern barspoons are designed to cater to professional bartenders and the way they stir. These have twists which are more tightly coiled and have smaller grooves. This provides a firmer grip and better control so the spoon can be whipped around the glass more quickly.
On the flip side, there is another camp of barspoons that aren't twisted at all and have perfectly round and smooth edges. These can be easier to stir with, particularly for newcomers, because there aren't any pesky grooves to navigate. The spoon just spins naturally between your fingers. However, you can't stir quite as fast. One style isn't better than the other; it's simply a matter of a bartender's style, environment and personal preference.
The Teardrop Style is Easily the Best
The most popular and, in my opinion, best barspoon headpiece is the "teardrop". Its rounded sides keep the spoon spinning effortlessly in your hand. The first time I used one, I literally said: "this is like stirring with a stick of butter." I recommend it so wholeheartedly to bartenders of on every and all skill and interest levels. If you’re going to spend a little extra on one bar tool, I'd put this one on the short list.
“Red Cap” Spoon
This the barspoon you most often see at retail stores, and what many have at home, which is odd because it's a headache to stir with. It may be twisted, but it is nothing like the tightly coiled spoons above. The handle is flat, not round like the others, so it’s very awkward to twist around in your hand. Those thick grooves won’t do you any favors either. Supposedly the red cap is there to make layering easier, but I've never gotten confirmation on that. I sort of think this spoon is made to look like a barspoon by people who don't know what a barpsoon is supposed to do. Side note: the red cap also comes right off, if you don't want it. And if you do want it, it'll probably come off anyway.
But now that I've spewed all that hate, I will say, in this spoon's defense, it is cheap and it is possible to learn to stir with. And once you can stir with this, you can stir with anything.
For being so functional and affordable, this style is not as widely available as you'd think. Here are a few options:
1. 11 inch Barspoon with Knob - This is the spoon I learned to stir with.
2. RSVP Endurance Barspoon - This is sort of a cross between a barspoon and a chopstick. It's also perhaps the prettiest smooth edge spoon I've ever seen. Since the bowl is so small, I'd mainly recommend this for home bars.
There are dozens of these out there and they are all pretty much the same. Here's the Winco version:
Untwisted "Smooth Edge" Spoon
A spoon with no twists is great to learn to the professional stir with because you can easily push it around the glass without getting tripped up by the grooves from the coil. This gives you a feel for the motion your hand should be making. I learned to stir with a spoon like this.
Of course, these don't have to just be for beginner stirrers. They are excellent all-purpose barspoons. Their only drawback is you can't stir quite as fast as you can with a tightly coiled spoon. But that will only be an issue to bartenders working in high volume cocktail bars. And even then, it won't make that much of a difference.
3. Thermometer Spoon - The smooth edges on this spoon are purely a bonus. What's really cool about it is it has a thermometer dial at the end so you can see how cold your drink is getting, which is great for nerds like me. I learned a lot about chilling and dilution with this spoon (put your mixing glass in the freezer!). A fun game is to see how cold you can get your drink, without over-diluting it. This makes a great gift for the cocktail enthusiast.
Alternative Use: Ice Cracking
While it's not great for stirring, many bartenders, myself included, use this spoon for cracking big ice cubes apart because it has a heavier, broader bowl. Cracked ice is also a good substitute for crushed ice.
It's also helpful to expedite dilution. At Clover Club we always add a few cracked cubes into the mixing glass when stirring cocktails. In fact, that's all we use this spoon to do. We call it a "cracking spoon." There are also "ice tappers" built specifically for cracking ice. But I'm pretty partial to using this spoon.