Making yummy mixed drinks at home doesn't have to be complicated. These are the essential bar tools you need to mix up tons of tasty cocktails without cluttering your kitchen with extra gadgets.
I love to make cocktails at home. And I am a firm believer that you don't need a ton of supplies.
If you stock your bar slowly, with the intention to use everything in multiple ways, you can create a relatively small bar set up that does what you need it to do.
I have no bartender training (other than being a bar server in college and learning through trial and error over the years). And I don't think you need training.
Making yummy cocktails is about learning what you love, how to make things work for you and knowing when to add a new ingredient or tool.
So "cheers" to mixing drinks and sipping with friends!
Why These Tools
Whether you have a specific at-home bar area or just store everything in a cupboard and drawer (like I do), there are a few essential bar tools that make creating and serving drinks easy.
Home bars are a great way to entertain friends and family, but they can also be a source of stress. With all the different tools, bottles, and glasses that go into making cocktails from scratch, it's easy for everything to get mixed up or lost in the shuffle.
These are basic tools that will suit beginners to intermediate drink makers. If you are super into craft cocktails and want to get all the fancy gadgets (the ice crushing bags and cocktail smokers) be my guest!
This post just focuses on the things that are perfect for starting your bar and cocktail-making journey, especially if you don't want your bar stuff to take over your whole house.
Even if you like creating your own unique cocktail recipes (this is my fave rum punch that I researched and recipe developed) you still don't need a bunch of things! There are tons of drink recipes out there (like almost all Moscow Mule variations) that you can make without any tools at all.
I don't think you need to get hung up on doing things "right" and learn how to make the drink recipes you want to make work for you!
These are the essential cocktail tools I come back to, time and time again. And if you don't want to buy these tools, I'll share alternatives you can use instead.
Essential Bartending Tools for Home
There's no need to go out for cocktails when you can make them right at home with the right tools. These must-have bar tools will help you make everything from a classic martini to a fruity margarita.
So gather your supplies and get ready to mix up some drinks!
1. Cocktail Shaker
Elevated Craft just sent me this shaker and I really love it. I don't accept a lot of what people try to send but there were a number of reasons I wanted to check out this shaker.
It's a bit pricey, but if you make drinks often, it's worth it. It's super well made. It's fully insulated. Plus it's larger than a typical shaker which means you can make more drinks at one time.
The top of the shaker has measuring lines which means you can measure up to 6 ounces with just your shaker. And it's dishwasher safe. Boom. But truly, the list of pros go on and on with this shaker.
While you don't shake every cocktail, having a shaker on hand is essential for making fun cocktails at home.
Limes are always a home bar essential but they are mostly there for vibes as they aren't really a tool. Duh.
These are listed in order of importance (but not photographed in that order). And also, the most important tool (#2 below) I forgot to take a photo of. Oops (and I swear I wasn't even drinking)...
2. Jigger or Measuring Cup
This small measuring jigger is my favorite for making drinks. It's easy to use with liquids and you can quickly see how much you are pouring from above without having to bend down and try to see the line.
A traditional jigger works fine too. They usually have two different measurements (one on each side) but Oxo adds even more measurements to make it as easy as possible.
I don't like to be sticky so I would never use the other side without having to at least rinse and dry it first. That doesn't really keep things that quick.
I am not a great estimator so I have to measure everything I put into my drinks so they don't taste like straight alcohol. If you are just starting out, I highly suggest you measure too.
If you don't have a jigger or measuring cup, 1 ounce equals 2 tablespoons. Most cocktail recipes are written with ounces. This means that you have to do math. Math sucks. Buy a jigger.
3. Citrus Squeezer
Fresh citrus is a key ingredient on most cocktail recipes. There is nothing like fresh lime to add the perfect citrus kick to a drink. It helps cut down on the sweetness and adds another layer of flavor that can't be skipped.
Limes, depending on the time of year and the tree, can be hard to squeeze. A citrus squeezer is a tool used to extract juice from lemons, limes, and other types of citrus fruit.
It is a handy tool to have when making cocktails. It will help you get the most juice out of your fruit and you won't need to have the strength of a wrestler to do it.
I've used several different squeezers in the past and this one by OXO is my favorite. It wears well and is dishwasher-safe. It feels sturdy and the hinges don't get loose. You'll see it in tons of my cocktail posts.
TIP: If you don't have a squeezer you can use a pair of tongs (as long as they are decent quality). Place the cut side of the lime half facing your shaker and place it between the tongs. Squeeze the tongs to extract the juice.
A muddler is a tool used to gently mash fruits, spices and herbs to flavor cocktails. The blunt edge makes it easy to bruise whatever you are muddling and release the oils and flavors into the drink.
It's essential for making a mojito as you mash up pieces of fresh lime and mint in the bottom of the glass.
It's great when incorporating fresh fruit into a cocktail.
You can use the end of a wooden spoon or ice cream scooper if you don't want to buy a muddler. But they really don't take up much space and I use them all the time.
While there are tons of different muddler options on the market, it really doesn't matter which one you pick. And you don't need a set. Just one is fine. Whether it's wood, metal or metal with a silicone studded foot, pick the one that speaks to you.
5. Bar Spoon
A bar spoon is a long-handled spoon that is used to stir cocktails. The handle is sometimes twisted which is said to help mix drinks smoothly. A legit bar spoon can measure 1 teaspoon.
And some classic cocktail recipes will call for a bar spoon of an ingredient. That is very old-timey however so you could just use a teaspoon if you ever see that call out.
And not all "bar spoons" are legit bar spoons. You may just be using a long-handled spoon so it's best not to count on it for measuring (like the one pictured above).
The tall thin handle and small spoon make it great for mixing drinks with large ice cubes.
A strainer is used to strain solids out of liquids. So for cocktails, it can not only strain out the ice used to shake up the cocktail but also larger pieces of fruit or herb that you don't want to get stuck in your teeth when sipping your delicious beverage like a Cucumber Margarita.
This type of strainer is called a Hawthorne strainer and I use it only once in a while. When making cocktails at home, I'm not that worried about there being strawberry seeds in my cocktails.
And your cocktail shaker will typically have a strainer built-in when pouring your cocktail over fresh ice.
You can double strain a cocktail by using this strainer along with the built-in strainer of your shaker to make sure you catch large chunks of whatever you are trying to catch.
You would use a different type of strainer when making flavored simple syrups though. Cheesecloth, a coffee filter or reusable straining cloth like that pictured, will help to remove any solids from the fruity sweetened liquid you will use in your recipe.
7. Wine Key
A wine key is really all you need to open your wine. I know there are all kinds of electric openers but I find that those take up a lot of space or have to be kept plugged in.
I consider it a life skill to know how to open a bottle of wine with a regular old wine key. Practice at home while you're drinking your weekly bottle and you'll be ready to go when you have guests over.
8. Wine Saving System
I also think you should have wine saving system in your bar tools. That's not the actual name. I don't know what you really call it. But you want to be able to make your wine last as long as possible and a wine saving system will help you do this.
The stopper is inserted into the bottle and air removed. This creates a seal that prevents the wine from oxidizing, which will help to keep it fresh. The wine stopper system is a great way to keep your wine fresh and flavorful.
The one shown is the Vacuvin system which I have been using forever. I know there are a bunch of other options, but this one has always worked great for me. It also doesn't take up much space and is super easy to use.
A Champagne Stopper is also a great idea if you love to drink sparkling wine but won't finish the whole bottle.
And you should know that if your wine has been open for a few days and you feel like it wouldn't taste that great you can always infuse it with fruit and herbs. It's a great way to get a few extra days out of your favorite wine.
9. Large Ice Cube Tray
They say ice can make a big difference in cocktails. I would argue that home cocktail makers really won't be able to tell the difference too much.
But science also says that the larger the ice cube, the slower it melts. So when drinking whiskey, bourbon or scotch, or even tequila, a large ice cube is great.
I only use these when making a cocktail in a glass, I don't use these in the cocktail shaker.
Over the years I've tried a variety of large ice cube trays. These large square cubes are my favorite and the tray is easy to use in the freezer. This set came with several trays but I usually only keep two trays in the freezer at one time.
These are better than the spheres since they don't take up as much space and make more ice cubes at one time.
You can skip this if you don't typically enjoy liquor on the rocks.
There are a few extra things that are helpful but I would consider them honorable mentions.
I am putting a zester as an essential bar tool because I do use it and it is wonderful. But I wouldn't go out and buy one to keep in your bar. I just want to call it out in case you already have one in another drawer.
A zester is great for finishing off cocktails with some fresh spices. It's heaven as you bring the glass to your lips and your nose gets hit with those gorgeous spice notes.
Another tool that you probably already have is a sharp knife. It can be a pairing knife or something a little bit larger. You probably don't need something as hefty as a chef's knife.
A sharp knife will not only help you to cut open your citrus before squeezing but can help you when creating garnishes for your drinks.
With these essential bar tools, you'll be able to make delicious cocktails at home in no time!
Cocktail Mixing Pitcher
Do you need a cocktail mixing pitcher? I would say no. But they are so pretty and are great for making several classic cocktails at one time.
They can be used in conjunction with a bar spoon to mix up martinis for a crowd. But you could do the same in some other large glass that you already have (a large mason jar) or even the base of the shaker (and just ignore the lid and stir instead of shake).
They also look great when you are setting up a DIY drink station for a party.
There's no need to go out for cocktails when you can make them right at home with the right tools. These essential bar tools will help you make tasty mixed drinks and cocktails in the comfort of your own kitchen. So gather your supplies and get ready to mix up some drinks!
Frequently Asked Questions
As you can read from my answers above, a cocktail shaker is key as well as a jigger and citrus squeezer. But then you can choose to make do with things you already have or add-in tools that you find you prefer using.
A legit bartender would probably tell you yes. I disagree (to reiterate, I'm not a trained bartender just someone who likes to make and drink tasty cocktails at home). I typically use the built-in cocktail shaker strainer to ensure that the ice used to chill the cocktail doesn't get into the serving glass to water it down. But beyond that, I think it is a personal preference whether you feel like you need to strain out any bits and pieces of ingredients used to make the cocktail.
They are that long so they can reach the bottom of a tall glass to fully mix the ingredients.
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More easy cocktail posts
- Need to know the Best Vodka for Moscow Mules? These are my choices.
- The Best Tequila for Margaritas doesn't have to be expensive or hard to find!
- Not sure where to start? Make a stupid easy Vodka and Coke.
- Learn how to use a Cocktail Shaker at home to make all sorts of mixed drinks and cocktails and mocktails.