So you just moved out on your own, or you just moved and had to toss out all of your old booze when you left. In any event, youâ€™re starting over from scratch and you want to make sure you have all of the essentials, whether youâ€™re mixing yourself a nice cocktail after a long hard day at the office, or you want to make sure you have everything you need before you have some friends over on a Saturday night.
Now that weâ€™ve covered some of the essential bar spirits in Part 1, and some of your essential bar mixers in Part 2, letâ€™s chat about some of the gear youâ€™ll need for your bar. Thereâ€™s a little more to this than you might think, and thereâ€™s definitely more than just heading over to Amazon and searching for â€œbar setâ€ and buying whateverâ€™s cheap. Invest in your bar tools, and theyâ€™ll love you back by living forever, being there for you as you learn to sling cocktails, and helping you make even the most complicated drinks.
So that being said, hereâ€™s some of the basic tools youâ€™ll want in your bar:
This is the kind of shaker that bartenders actually use. Usually they come with a glass or cup inside of a larger aluminum or tin cup, and when the two are taken apart and put together rim-to-rim, theyâ€™ll create a seal that you can use to mix liquors, mixers, and ice together in without spilling it all over yourself. You can even pick up Boston Shakers with a rubber gasket around one rim or the other to help keep that seal â€“ consider it training wheels if you think itâ€™ll help, but I found it useful to just jump right in and get a nice one. They can run anywhere from $20-$40 USD and on up, depending on the type you look for. Look for something on the cheap end while youâ€™re getting started, yeah?
To this point, some people will tell you to pick up a cocktail shaker. I disagree â€“ cocktail shakers have their place, donâ€™t get me wrong, and if you already have one Iâ€™m not telling you to throw it away, but I am saying that if you donâ€™t have one, anything you can do with a cocktail shaker you can do with a boston shaker â€“ the only thing youâ€™re missing is a strainer, which is in the lid of a cocktail shaker. That may sound nice until you realize that strainers are cheap and having a separate one gives you more control. So, speaking of thatâ€¦
A good strainer will let you mix drinks in your Boston Shaker and toss in things like lemon, lime, or orange zest, mint leaves, or other solid objects that you want to mix but you donâ€™t want in the end product. The combination of a real strainer that you can wash independently of your shaker and a Boston Shaker will make you a much better bartender, amateur or otherwise. Most bartenders only wind up dragging out a cocktail shaker if theyâ€™re going for speed, or they have a billion drinks to make.
Sounds awful, doesnâ€™t it? Itâ€™s not â€“ and once you have one, youâ€™re well on your way to understanding exactly how much alcohol is the right amount in your mixed drinks. Yes, I agree, metered pours at your local bar are horrible horrible things, but if youâ€™re a beginner you donâ€™t want to ruin a perfectly good drink by completely screwing up the ratio of alcohol to mixers or adding entirely too much alcohol in general. A jigger can help.
It looks like a lop-sided hourglass, but both sides are actually containers. When you have the large end up, it holds 1 or 1.5 ounces of liquid. When you flip it over and put the small end up, it holds about an ounce of liquid. This way you can meter how much liquid you pour into your mixer so you donâ€™t have to eyeball it. Donâ€™t worry though, the more you use it the less youâ€™ll have to use it, and the more youâ€™ll get a feel for how much you really want in your drinks.
Long-Handled Bar Spoon
For literally $2-$5 USD you can pick up not one but several 6â€ to 11â€ bar spoons that will reach all the way down into the bottom of your Boston Shaker or the bottom of your glass for stirring. I spent about $10 USD and picked up a pack of 5, and use them for just about everything, not just mixing alcoholic drinks. Seriously â€“ I use it to stir coffee in a French press, or iced tea in a tall jug.
But anyway â€“ the benefit of having a bar spoon is that you can mix drinks from the bottom of a glass without getting the tips of your fingers dirty, and you can flip the spoon over and pour over the back of the spoon to layer drink ingredients on top of each other. But trust me on this one â€“ I can hear you saying â€œsheesh, Iâ€™ll just use a spoon,â€ but once you realize that your spoon isnâ€™t long enough to get to the bottom and you wind up trying to stretch your fingers without losing grip on your spoon? Youâ€™ll wish you had one. Just buy a few, thank me later.
Iâ€™m a little less sold on things like speed pourers and muddlers â€“ I donâ€™t think the average apartment bartender whoâ€™s making vodka tonics and manhattans more than theyâ€™re making a ton of mojitos (although I love me a good mojito) really needs a muddler and isnâ€™t drinking often enough to make a bunch of speed pourers worth the while. I have a speed pourer on my bottle of olive oil â€“ thatâ€™s about it.
Aside from all of this though, youâ€™ll definitely need a few other basics that should probably be in your kitchen anyway, like an electric blender, regular spoons, tall and shallow glasses for different types of drinks, and so on. Thereâ€™s a good argument to be made to have a Julep strainer as well as a Hawthorne strainer, so Iâ€™ll let you decide whether you want to pick one up. Most bar sets have a lot of these tools in addition to a muddler and a Julep strainer and things like ice tongs (which I donâ€™t think is quite as useful as an ice bucket, frankly, or any container you can use to keep ice in) so if you do spring for a bar set, make sure you get quality tools, and not the first one on the shelf at Target, okay?
There you go! Every classy geekâ€™s guide to setting up his or her own apartment or home bar. Of course, if youâ€™re going all out and have a small bar fridge and drawers for your ingredients and everything, this can all scale up, and youâ€™re likely not the target of an article like this anyway â€“ you probably already know what you want to stock and what you donâ€™t!
But for those of us who donâ€™t have a ton of kitchen spare to spare (my rice cooker takes up a lot of space) hopefully Iâ€™ve helped you run down some of the basic spirits youâ€™ll need for any bar, mixers you probably donâ€™t need to keep in the fridge but will find useful when you have friends over and they ask you if you know how to make a Manhattan, and the basic equipment youâ€™ll need in order to make it, and then make yourself a Bloody Mary the next morning when all of your friends are gone and itâ€™s just you and the vacuum cleaner. Godspeed.