Whether you’re an experienced cocktail bartender or bartender, or you think your best drinks are the ones someone else makes for you, you can set up a home bar with just a few cheap, simple tools Make great cocktails.
But before you start your home bar tour, it’s a good idea to spend some time learning about the cocktail menu. If you want to dig into how your favorite drink is made, Imbibe magazine’s digital cocktail editor Caroline Pardilla recommends hitting the bar when it’s open to make sure you get the bartender’s undivided attention (order an espresso martini, so You want to make sure you’re at your sharpest).
“Sitting at the bar, the bartender is making drinks,” says Pardilla. “That way you can not only see how they make the drink, but also ask them questions as they make it.”
While you might get inspired, Robert Simonson, New York Times cocktail writer and author of “Modern Classic Cocktails,” cautions home bartenders not to “aim for the stars” and try to recreate what you’re at a cocktail bar because that bar might use Special syrups, dips, and even hard-to-find custom glassware.
“Keep it simple at home,” says Simonson. “The drinks we make the most at home are old fashioned, negronis and Manhattans. They’re classic and simple. You can perfect the simplest drinks and make them better and better.”
By sticking to a small number of cocktails initially, you’ll also keep your budget in check and avoid buying expensive bottles that you don’t use often. Morten Krag, who runs The Cocktail Blog, says stocking a home bar is like making a shopping list.
“Start making a top 10 list of your favorite cocktails,” Cragg suggests. “For each drink, list the necessary ingredients, bar tools, and glassware. This will help you build a shopping list and ensure you have the supplies you need to make the drinks you think are most important to you.”
The joy of a home bar, says Simonson, is that it can be as big as you want it to reflect your tastes. “The great thing about drinking at home is that if you like drinking out of a fancy coupe glass, you can do it as long as it’s fun for you. If you want to drink in a juice glass, you can do that too. Nope People watch.”
Once you know what drink you want to make, getting the right equipment will ensure you spend more time enjoying your carefully crafted drink. Our three cocktail writers recommend 10 tools to help elevate your home cocktail bar.
Both Krag and Simonson point out that ice — even though it makes up about a quarter of a cocktail — is the most overlooked ingredient. Larger-sized ice cubes—such as the 2-inch cubes made from Tovolo trays—melt more slowly than smaller cubes (ice in cocktail bar slang), preventing the drink from being diluted. The lids on these silicone molds should also help keep odors from other foods in the freezer from lingering in the ice.
Pro tip: Simonson recommends putting the glass in the freezer about 15 minutes before picking up the ice mold to help the cocktail stay cold for longer.
Bed Bath & Beyond $20
The Oxo is a well-thought-out juicer, with a measuring cup base that tapers in the middle for easy grip when squeezing lemons for daiquiris. “The freshness of the ingredients definitely affects the quality of the cocktail,” says Pardilla. “The extra effort of juicing is worth it.”
The juicer also comes with two reamer attachments (the pointed tip helps extract the juice, but not the pulp, from the citrus): a larger one for oranges and grapefruit (try paloma), and a smaller one for lemons and lime.
The Homestia Bar Jigger measures spirits and shakers with ease. As for why you need a measuring cup, Simonson simply explains that “you get the best drink when you measure it right.” This measure holds up to 1 ounce in smaller cups (with 1/2 oz or 3/4 oz clearly marked), holds up to 2 oz in the larger mug (with a line at 1 1/2 oz). It is also available in black, silver or gold.
Martini lovers should pick up a pair of Briout Bar Spoons. The long-handled, twist-up stainless steel spoons are designed for stirring drinks like martinis that don’t require shaking because they contain no dairy or citrus juice.
“Ordinary spoons don’t work,” explains Simonson. “The bar spoon spins in your hand and moves fluidly around the mixing glass.”
The Oxo Cocktail Strainer keeps bits of ice and pulp from getting into your whiskey sour or daiquiri. This stainless steel Hawthorn strainer fits on top of Anchor Hocking pint glasses and cocktail shakers so you can get clearer cocktails.
Crate & Barrel $70
Elevated Craft’s stainless steel shaker has a built-in tong and strainer, and it’s dishwasher safe (although we recommend hand washing). “Not only is it user-friendly, with a screw-on assembly so you don’t have to worry about leaks, but it’s also insulated so you don’t freeze your hands when you shake it,” says Pardilla. “Just make sure you only shake the cocktail for 10 seconds or so, Otherwise you risk shaking it too much and diluting it.”
The 16-ounce Anchor Hocking Pint Mixing Glass has enough room to stir spirits and ice together for drinks like a Negroni. It’s inexpensive, but still weighs a decent amount and doubles as a beer mug on game day. Remember, this practical glass has no pour spout, so the strainer helps transfer cocktails into the drinking glass.
If you often add herbs (we’re considering mint juleps and mojitos here) or fruit to your drinks, A Bar Above’s cocktail shaker is an effective mixer. The 12-inch wooden stirrer easily reaches the bottom of a glass or shaker, and the flat end should be squashed without tearing delicate leaves. You can also use it to crush ice cubes (in a plastic bag or towel) in a pinch.
An inexpensive Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler does a good job of separating the skin from the pit to help you garnish your cocktails. It’s light enough to grab thin slices of orange peel easily, which makes for a wonderful soda to a Negroni or Old Fashioned without breaking your knuckles. I steal mine from the bar and use it a lot in the kitchen to peel potatoes.
Luxardo cherries have been adding color and flavor to beverages for over a century. “It’s worth investing in a decent garnish,” says Simonson, and complex Italian sweet cherries preserved in syrup can add depth to a Manhattan or a Last Word. These glossy red cherries will be at home bars with olives for martinis and fresh lemons for gin fizz.