The Essential Bar Kit
Tools & Glassware
This page is a streamlined guide to assembling a basic bar tool kit. Each tool also has its own individual page with detailed information on the different options available, reviews and purchasing links and comparisons between them.
The primary purpose of a bar tool is to make the job of bartending easier, not necessarily to make the drink better. That’s on you, the bartender. Your technique will have a much larger impact on how your drinks will come out, rather than the tools you use.
Some tools are better for home bartenders, while others are more suited for professionals, not that one is better than the other. I’ll note these discrepancies where applicable, but in the end you make the decision about which tool is right for you. In either case, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, though professionals may want to invest a little more for durabilities sake (and because they look cooler).
Below are links to baseline and higher end options for each tool. If you're just starting out at home, don’t worry about acquiring everything on this list before you start making drinks. In a pinch, you can find workarounds for many of these tools with common kitchen items, for which I’ve included ideas as well.
1. Citrus Juicer - Fresh citrus juice is absolutely vital to great cocktails. To make it, all you need is a basic citrus squeezer. For a few dollars more you can get the ergonomically superior Chef’n Fresh Force juicer, which reduces the strain on your forearms a bit.
Substitution - A citrus reamer, fork, your hands, anything that will extract the juice.
2. Jiggers - You need to measure if you want your cocktails to come out right. Jiggers are basically mini-measuring cups for cocktails. The traditional model bartenders use is a double-sided cone-shaped jigger. I recommend getting two sizes: a 2 oz/1oz and a ¾ oz/½ oz. I prefer this and this. At home, you can also use an all-in-one single jigger - the Oxo angled jigger is the best in this camp.
Substitution - You can measure with anything - measuring cups and teaspoons work great for example. Some common unit conversions can be found here.
3. Muddler - Muddlers are essentially broad, blunt sticks used for crushing fresh ingredients like herbs or fruit to incorporate their flavors into a cocktail. Just about any basic muddler you find will get the job done. I prefer longer muddlers, around 10 inches, that are made of wood, like this one or the ultra luxurious Pug Muddler.
Substitution - The handle end of a hammer works well. But you can really MacGyver this one, anything broad and blunt will get the job done.
4. Shaker - Shaking cocktails is synonymous with making cocktails, though not every cocktail should be shaken, of course. I recommend a 2-piece shaker with two metal tins, particularly for professional bartenders. There's a slight learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, I think it's superior to the 3-piece shaker that many have at home. You can still make great drinks with a 3-piece of course, but I have some issues with it.
Substitution - This is a tough one. In a pinch, you can use any airtight container, such as a Mason jar or salad dressing shaker.
5. Mixing Glass - Mixing glasses are reserved for stirring cocktails. The basic mixing glass is a regular 16 oz pint glass, which works just fine, although today's modern mixing glasses are more intuitively designed with a wider base and pour spout. But their best feature is they are stunningly beautiful. Naturally, these are more expensive. I love this one.
Substitution - You can stir in anything of course, such as a shaker tin, or any glass that’s around 16 ounces or larger, ideally with a wider opening.
6. Barspoon - The primary function of a barspoon is to stir cocktails, though it can be used for other things like measuring in small quantities or scooping garnishes out of jars. My all-time favorite barspoon is this tightly coiled teardrop spoon from Cocktail Kingdom - it’s like stirring with butter. But be that as it may, you might prefer this sleeker looking smooth edge spoon, which is a bit easier to stir with, initially at least.
Substitution - Anything that’s long and thin - a chopstick works great, as does a pen or screwdriver.
7. Strainers - Strainers are for transferring cocktails from the mixing vessel to the glass while withholding the ice and filtering out any muddled ingredients. There are 3 types of strainers which have varying functions. I recommend getting one of each, especially for professionals. However, if you're looking to streamline your kit, you can get away with just a Hawthorne strainer, as long as it's the right size. Even if you have a 3-piece shaker with a strainer built right in, I'd still recommend getting one.
Substitution - This is another toughie. You need something that'll hold the ice in place and allow the cocktail to flow through. A slotted spoon perhaps?
A. Hawthorne Strainer - These have a flexible spring which allows them to fit with a variety of mixing vessels. Bartenders commonly use them for straining out of metal shaker tins, which tend to be larger, but some are narrow enough to pair with mixing glasses as well. I call these all-purpose Hawthornes. This is what you should get if you only have one strainer; the Oxo Hawthorne and the more premium Koriko Hawthorne (which also has excellent gate control) are two excellent options. However, if you also have a julep and fine strainer, get this one prong strainer. It works great, and is a fraction of the price.
B. Julep Strainer - These are typically reserved only for straining stirred cocktails from mixing glasses. They are all quite similar. The Winco Julep Strainer is the basic and totally solid option, while Cocktail Kingdom's Premium Julep Strainer is a bit more, well, premium. You may not technically need a julep strainer, but they are very handy and sure are beautiful.
C. Fine Strainer - This is essentially a small chinois that’s used as a second strainer, not by itself, to catch extra ice chips or bits of muddled ingredients to give cocktails a more pristine texture. It's often used in conjunction with Hawthorne strainers and shaken cocktails because those tend to have more residual solids. Whether to use one is up to you. I, personally, use them all the time. They can be found at any kitchen store and all work more or less the same. Here's one.
The majority of cocktails are served in one of four glasses. You don’t need all those glasses meant for one specific cocktail like a Margarita glass or Moscow Mule mug, unless you really like those things of course.
Glassware designs come in a wide range of personalities. Below I've included some options of what I like, but the aesthetics are really your call. Weird, funky, modern, classic, whatever. You do you.
1. Rocks Glass - Aka Lowball or Double Old Fashioned glass. This really needs no explanation. Anytime a cocktail is served on the rocks, it’ll be in one of these. 10-12 ounces is ideal with a heavy base. It’s nice if the interior is round so you can stir in the glass if you so choose. These are a great standard option, I also like these slightly more ornamented ones.
2. Highball Glass - Aka Collins, Tall or Fizz glass. These are used for “long” drinks which have a larger volume, such as a Tom Collins, or basic highball like a Gin & Tonic or Rum & Coke. The tall narrow shape of these glasses holds in carbonation, and they can easily be sipped from when filled to the brim. Look for something around 12 ounces. Many glasses this shape are meant for juice or water, not cocktails, and are 16-20 ounces, which is a pretty big Gin & Tonic. These from Cocktail Kingdom are lovely.
3. Coupe or Martini Glass - Aka Cocktail or Up Glass. This is a stemmed cocktail glass for cocktails served straight up like a Manhattan or Martini. You have some options here. It's primarily between a classic V-shaped Martini glass or even more classic coupe glass aka champagne saucer (pictured above), with curved edges.
I prefer the coupe in every way, which will come as no surprise if you've looked at any of the cocktail photos on this site. It doesn’t spill nearly as easily as Martini glasses, which can be frightfully precarious, and I think they are far more appealing to look at. But that’s just me, of course. Either way, these glasses should ideally hold between 5.5-8 ounces. Any smaller and they may not fit the whole cocktail. Any bigger and you’re asking for trouble. These Libbey coupes are pretty standard, as are these are the gold rimmed coupes pictured above. But there are lots of stunning pieces out there. If you're a fan of pretty glassware, this is one I'd spend a little extra on.
4. Champagne Flute - These are for cocktails that contain Champagne or another sparkling wine, such as a French 75 (yum!). Like the highball glass, its narrow configuration helps hold in the bubbles. But of course, a Champagne flute's chief benefit is that drinking from one puts people in a festive mood. I like these to be on the larger side for cocktails so you can fit enough bubbles in. 7-8 ounces is good, like these.