Often times, I have many of my regulars at the bar ask me what sort of tools they should purchase for making home cocktails. I know that, because, there are so many kits and bartending sets out there that it can be confusing for first-timers looking to get started.
That being said, here is a list of the most basic and essential tools that I think would be beneficial to anyone climbing deeper into the world of home cocktails:
MIXING GLASS: Any basic pint glass should be fine for use in stirring cocktails such as the Manhattan and the martini. Also, you will find that the mixing glass fits perfectly into the metal part of the cocktail shaker, which makes it a versatile tool for shaking drinks.
TIP: Be careful to make sure that the glass has been heat-tempered for safety and to avoid any breakage.
COCKTAIL SHAKER: Although, you will can find plenty of cocktail shakers on the market ranging from six dollars to well over a hundred. For casual home use, you should be fine with any quality shaker set; however, if you find yourself shaking drinks more than once a week, you might want to look into picking up a nicer shaker designed for more frequent use.
TIP: Koriko Weighted Tins are extremely high-quality and ring in at around $15 for a set.
BARSPOON: A good barspoon is not only essential for properly stirring cocktails such as the Negroni or the Martinez, but it can also be used for other tasks, such as smashing sugar cubes and to swizzling drinks served on crushed ice.
TIP: A good barspoon can be surprisingly difficult to find, but BarProducts.com and CocktailKingdom.com both have great spoons at affordable prices.
HAWTHORNE STRAINER: A good Hawthorne strainer is exactly what you need to pour out of the cocktail shaker when you are done shaking, plus it helps to keep from making a mess when you are pouring out the finished drink.
TIP: Stay away from many of the high-priced Hawthorne strainers on the market. The low-priced ones available at under five-dollars work just as well for home use, at just a fraction of the price.
JULEP STRAINER: Even though, you could probably get by fine with just a Hawthorne strainer, it is good to get into the habit of using the right tools for the right job. Besides, a decent julep strainer is very inexpensive, so it is a good idea to pick one up to use whenever straining stirred drinks from a mixing glass.
TIP: If given the option of picking up a larger or smaller julep strainer, I recommend picking up the smaller one, because I find that since smaller ones slide deeper into the glass, they make it a little bit easier to pour with.
JIGGER: The key to quality and consistency in all drinks is to make sure that they are measured properly. More often than not, the difference between an average drink and a phenomenal drink is just making sure that all of the ingredients have been measured.
TIP: Oxo makes a great 2oz measuring cup that is very easy to use and can save you from having to buy several different jiggers. You can find them at most housewares and cooking supply stores.
HAND-JUICER: The key to vibrancy in any citrus-based cocktail is most reliant on fresh juice, and the best way to ensure the freshest juice delivered in the most convenient manner is in the form of a good hand-press. They are easy to use, easy to clean and can also be used for making various kitchen dishes, and thus, not just for cocktails.
TIP: Do not feel pressured to purchase various sized juicers at first. Feel confident in picking up just a lemon squeezer to start, as it works well for lemons, limes and even the average-sized orange.
PEELER: Nothing beats a freshly cut lemon twist on top of a martini or a well-shaken cocktail, and the best way to achieve the desire effect is from using a basic vegetable peeler that you can pick up from your local grocery store.
TIP: Remember that you typically only want the essential oils and zest to provide flavor to the twist, so try to avoid pith by not peeling the twist too deep into the fruit.
MUDDLER: The muddler is a great tool to use for extracting flavors out of everything from mint and basil to heartier fruits such as melon and cucumber. Luckily for us, with the popularity of the Mojito, you can pick up a pretty decent muddler at just about any spirits store or produce market.
TIP: For muddling fruit such as strawberries, I recommend cutting them into little chunks in advance to help make it both easier and cleaner for home muddling.
FINE-STRAINER: While not necessarily as essential as the other tools, given that a fine-strainer is so inexpensive and easy to purchase, I heartily recommend them to all folks who want to go that extra-step when straining shaken drinks at home.
TIP: This tool is practically indispensable when making any drinks shaken with herbs, such as mint or basil.
That should be enough to keep most of you folks going for a while in terms of tools, but if you still wish to delve deeper and seek out more information and recipes, I recommend picking up Art of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff or Home-Bar Basics by Dave Stolte.
If you would like to see any cocktail tutorials on the web, please check out Follow The Liter, a cocktail series of which I co-host at KindaFunny.com