Bar Tools for the Aspiring Home Bartender
Imagine yourself behind a beautiful bar; its highly polished oak top shimmers against the warm orange light of flickering oil candles and thick leather barstools invite those looking to enjoy a late-night libation.
The back bar is fully stocked, every kind of spirit you can think of is infinitely reflected in the giant, impeccably clean mirror suspended against the back wall.
The well is filled to the brim with glistening ice cubes, frost still on them as though they have just come out of the freezer. Surrounding them are every type of juice, syrup, bitters, and tincture you can think of.
There are bowls and bowls heaped with herbs, botanicals, and spices to choose from, and a mountain of freshly cut limes, lemons, and oranges to garnish your creations with.
You smile as ideas swarm in your head, the possibilities are endless, the drinks tonight will be like nothing you’ve made before. You take a few particularly enticing bottles off the back bar and head to your well, square up to the black bar mat, and your heart sinks...
There are no tools! No jiggers to measure with no shakers to cool the drinks down, no muddle sticks to coax flavors out, no strainers to remove pulp and unwanted rough bits; the night will be spent drinking beer out of a can and staring longingly at what could have been.
Tools are an essential part of cocktail bartending; without them, even the most abundantly stocked bar is a waste and even the most competent bartender is lost.
Sure, you could improvise, toss ice and liquid from one glass to another until cold, muddle ingredients using a wooden spoon, put the drink through a kitchen colander to take out the bigger chunks, but the overall effect would be seriously diminished compared to what someone with a good set of tools and a limited list of ingredients could accomplish.
This article will go through some (though not all) of the most important tools available to a bartender and explain how to properly use them and why each piece makes the difference between a great cocktail and a mediocre glass of swamp water.
The Shaker Set
There are many different kinds of shaker sets, and the style that you use is completely up to you and what you are most comfortable with. Not all will be discussed at length here, but the most common types are;
Most often found in the home bar setting, cobbler shakers are made up of three parts; a large bottom piece, a metal top with a built-in strainer, and a cap. While these can be used to shake cocktails, there are many problems associated with them; they are hard to separate post-shake and the straining element does not do a good job of removing smaller particles.
These are just some of the reasons why you will never see these types of shakers in a cocktail bar.
Often considered the original cocktail shaker, this type is commonly mistaken for a cobbler shaker, but are quite different as they do not have a built-in strainer and are easier to separate post-shake, due to their superior design. While these are good to use in certain situations, they are not ideal for home use, as they take quite a bit of practice to master.
Boston Shaker/Tin-on-tin Shaker:
The most commonly used shaker variety in cocktail bars, Boston shakers consist of a large metal tin that acts as the top with a smaller glass component for the bottom, which fit together well and creates an extremely effective seal.
Tin-on-tin shakers are very similar, except the glass element is replaced with a smaller metal tin. Every bartender has their preference, and both have their merits, but it is often agreed that either of these types of shakers are far preferable to the ones already discussed.
The advantage of the Boston shaker is that the glass allows you to easily see what has been added to your cocktail, and what level of liquid is in the glass. On top of this, the post-shake seal is more easily broken, although some may argue this point.
A knock against the glass bottom is that there is the potential for breakage, but this rarely happens, especially if one is vigilant about the condition of the glass itself (i.e. no visible cracks or chips). This type of shaker is highly recommended, and while it takes a bit of practice to get a handle on breaking the seal post-shake, once you are comfortable doing this, it becomes second nature.
Why Shaking is Important
Shaking does much more than just chill the contents of the shaker. Most importantly, it properly mixes all the liquid components together into a cohesive whole. However, this step does so much more than just swish ingredients around.
Shaking adds air to the liquid, which helps to calm the otherwise bracing flavors of the spirit, juices, bitters, and whatever else your cocktail consists of. Shaking also dilutes the cocktail with water, making the overall flavor more agreeable to the palate of the drinker.
It is also an important step when using ingredients that require emulsification, such as egg whites, cream or oils, as, without a firm shake, these elements tend to separate from the rest of the components, making for a less than enjoyable drinking experience.
All in all, the shaker, no matter the type you use, is the backbone of the bartender’s toolkit.
There are a few different kinds of strainers, but far and away the most common type consists of a Hawthorne strainer paired with a fine mesh strainer.
This piece sits on top of the metal component of the Boston shaker post-shake and helps to keep the ice in the metal shaker, rather than introducing it into the cocktail glass. Used shaker ice melts much faster than virgin ice, so using bruised ice in the finished cocktail rather than keeping it in the shaker can result in an over-diluted cocktail.
This tool is often a flat, round metal top with a handle coming off the back, and a spring-like coil which attaches to the bottom, allowing the liquid to flow through while keeping the ice at bay.
Consisting of a mesh basket attached to the end of a metal handle, fine strainers filter out all the smaller debris which are not caught by the more porous Hawthorne strainer. By removing these smaller pieces, it finishes the cocktail by ensuring that the drinker is exposed only to the liquid components.
Why Straining is Important
Strainers are extremely important to the finished product as they make for a much more pleasurable drinking experience. Straining not only helps to remove all the larger pieces of debris and pulp leftover in the shaker from elements such as herbs and fruit juice, it also helps to smooth out the texture of the drink, and aids in layering, making sure that the foamy components remain on top, where they not only look better but also properly introduces the flow of elements to the drinker in a much more consistent way.
Spoons and Why They’re Important
Bar spoons serve several purposes. Their main function is of course stirring. While the glass portion of a Boston strainer is often utilized as a stirring vessel (there are also vessels available which are made specifically for stirring), a regular spoon is often too short to comfortably reach all the way to the bottom of the glass, an important part of the proper stirring technique.
Bar spoons feature extended handles, which are often very skinny and lightweight, making for extremely easy stirring. They also are very useful for measuring ingredients like sugars or concentrated components like tinctures, extracts or oils. A bar spoon offers a smaller measurement than a teaspoon and is often all that is needed to boost or balance the flavor profile of a given cocktail.
Muddle Sticks and Why They’re Important
A good muddle stick is advisable as many ingredients that require muddling need to be properly worked so that their flavor is appropriately introduced into a cocktail.
A good, heavy muddle stick with a bottom featuring ridged edges is preferred, as these types of sticks can be used in situations that require a light touch, such as when introducing herbs, but also have the ability to cut through harder ingredients, as is the case with some spices like anise or cardamom pods.
Hand Juicers and Why They’re Important
A good juicer is essential for making sure you are getting every last drop of juice out of whatever citrus you are working with. Nothing large is needed, as a small hand juicer consisting of a top and bottom part connected by a hinge works wonders in a low volume or home bartending setting.
This is extremely preferable to juicing with your hands or even a small plastic stand up juicer, as these techniques are messy and often don’t extract the full amount of juice within the fruit.
The better the juicer you use, the less you’ll have to work, and the more time you’ll get to spend mixing up cocktails.
Building Your Toolkit
While building up a collection of proper bartending tools may seem daunting, it is extremely gratifying when you finally have everything you need and will make it much easier to whip up a cocktail at a moments notice.
In the end, this will increase your skills as a bartender, as you will be much more likely to have a casual cocktail if you know you can make one with relative ease.
The more you familiarize yourself with your toolkit, the more confident you will become, which will inevitably make your cocktails taste better.
At Crafty Cocktails, we highly recommend that you have a good set of tools at your disposal before tackling one of our boxes, as our recipes are of cocktail bar quality, and depend greatly on having the right equipment.
Assembling all these tools can be a pain, but luckily, we’ve already thought of that.
Check out the store on our website and choose from the large variety of tools we offer, or simply buy a whole kit in one go, and get everything you need with the simple click of a button!
Stop making shitty cocktails with shitty tools and make a night in, a night out.