Let’s be honest, the only truly essential item of equipment for your bar is a vessel in which to pour your beverage. And, no, your mouth doesn’t count. Even I draw the line at that though I have been neanderthal enough to use my hand as an ice scoop and a finger as a stirrer.
We’ll be discussing glassware in another post but that said, there are a few things you’d be well-advised to invest in before all your friends desert you for more sanitary quaffing pastures. And with a few of the right tools you may even create an air of good taste. Don’t fear, though, this doesn’t have to be expensive. You’ll find plenty of deals now-a-days or scope out local yard sales, flea markets and such. That’s where I’ve picked up many of the things in my own home bar.
The Bare Essentials:
The most common types are the Cobbler Shaker and the Boston Shaker but if there’s just one piece of equipment you buy, then it should be a Cobbler Shaker. This is the classic 3-part shaker with a container, a tight-fitting top with a built-in strainer and a cap. Thing about this is that it can be multi-purpose. The cap doubles as a jigger, the container can be used for drinks that are stirred or you can mix, shake and strain the perfect martini. Expect to pay $10 – $20 for a 28 oz shaker. And this is one item I recommend you buy new. There are some funky vintage items out there but my experience has been that they sometimes leak.
Stirrer / Bar Spoon:
OK, we know you need to forget the finger and maybe you can make do with something you already have in the kitchen but a professional bar spoon is worth springing for. I’ve seen them for as little as $2 or $3 new and the longer handle (usually 10 1/2″ – 11″) will work with just about any glass or pitcher, and you’ll need the spoon for those times you’re creating layered cocktails.
You can always use the back of your bar spoon for mashing up a manhattan but a professional muddler will do a much better job of crushing leaves and fruits to release their flavors and will even crush ice. I prefer a stainless steel muddler with a texturized head. It’s easier to use than the old-style wooden ones and easier to clean. They come in a variety of lengths but, if you only get one, I recommend 10 inches and there’s no need to pay more than $10 – $15 new.
Corkscrew / Bottle Opener:
It won’t do you any good to have a well-stocked bar if you can’t open some of the bottles. Combination corkscrew/bottle openers run the gamut from waiters’ corkscrews to winged corkscrews to all kinds of fancy (and expensive) gizmos. My suggestion is to stick with a decent wingback. They’re easy to use, reasonably rugged and you shouldn’t have to spend more than $10.
Paring Knife and Cutting Board:
More than likely you already have both of these in the kitchen. You’ll need them to cut fruit for muddling or garnishing, or to peel strips of citrus for twists.
Ice Bucket, Tongs and Ice Scoop:
Perhaps, like me, you don’t have a wet bar. So when I’m entertaining I keep ice in a lidded bucket. Tongs look elegant and many ice buckets come with them but most people like a lot of ice in their drinks and then an ice scoop is a better option. New ice buckets start around $20, though you can certainly pay a lot more.
See more about these items on our video.
Less Essential Items:
The glass and metal tumbler combo that is the preferred tool of most professionals because they’re faster to mix with and easier to clean. For your home bar this probably isn’t an issue but if you choose to use this shaker, then you’ll definitely need a…
Cocktail (Hawthorn) Strainer:
For drinks that are served neat, the Hawthorn is a flat metal disc with a coiled spring around its edge to help hold it in place as you strain your cocktail into the glass.
Assuming you want to be precise with your measurements when you create your cocktails, a jigger is the way to go. Usually double-sided with a 1 oz cup on one side and 2 oz on the other, stainless steel jiggers can be had for less than a couple of bucks. Of course, you can also just use a shot glass if you already have one.
As time goes on there will be other gadgets you might want to include in your bar equipment: A julep strainer, blender for frozen drinks, even absinthe accessories or a soda siphon. Just have fun with it and remember the important thing about your bar is to make it a place where you can enjoy good drinks with good friends.