Essential home bar tools for less than $25
Before I share with you the list of the most essential home bar tools, I think it would be nice to give you an idea about my journey and all the expensive mistakes I made. If you want to get to the real deal, just scroll down to the next section, no hard feelings 😉
I remember the first time I saw somebody making a cocktail in a nightclub. It wasn't anything fancy and now I definitely would not call it a decent drink. But being young and new to the industry it did look damn impressive and got me triggered and inspired to learn the tricks of bartending and master the art of mixology.
My journey began around 15 years ago when I just did the basic research online on what I should buy for my home bar. A quick trip to the local liquor store got me stocked up with around 20 bottles I had never heard of before and a bunch of tools I didn't know how to use. And my wallet felt like 500 EUR lighter.
Later I picked up a couple of cocktail books and started following the recipes blindly. My drinks looked messy and tasted horrible. But none of my booze addicted friends complained and they all kept on coming back to try my wicked experiments.
A few months later I decided that I needed some guidance and I went to Bols Bartending School in Amsterdam. Within one week, 8 hours a day, we were taught all the basics of bartending, how to use bar tools, how to pour, basics of mixology, a lot of attention to efficiency, and the most important part - how to clean up.
After finishing that intense crash course into bartending I got a job at a cocktail bar as a barback, then work my way up to a bartender. For me, it wasn't the primary source of income and I always treated that work, more like a cool hobby and an amazing experience. Once I felt that I learned enough, I switched to hosting tons of in-house parties at my own place and also bartending at my friends' houses for different occasions. Every now and then together with a couple of friends, we hosted cocktail boat trips. And these kinds of events went on and on for years.
For the majority of the parties, I would have to bring all the equipment, ice, booze, fruits, and juices myself. In most cases, you don't have the luxury of a decent working space you would get in a proper cocktail bar. So you have to improvise and use available space wisely. Event after event I was shrinking my toolbox to its' bare minimum, tools you cannot really live without behind the bar.
So here we are, I will share with you a list of the most essential home bar tools (for less than $25) that would make your life tons easier if you want to learn bartending and surprise your friends and family next time you host a party at home. As in any industry, you can spend as much as you want on tools, but I would recommend going with the bare minimum first before you acquire your taste and preference that comes with experience. Once you learned the basics, you know how to shake, stir, strain, muddle, then go ahead and buy yourself a golden shaker to look even more impressive 😉
A cocktail shaker is probably the most used tool among all. You'll be definitely using it a lot and it'll be the centerpiece in your home bar tools collection.
There are different options to choose from. A Boston Shaker - two pice shaker, is the most commonly used and I found the handiest, comparing to a three-piece shaker.
You still have two options, choose a metal tin and a glass (a pint glass with very thick walls), or go tin on tin. The advantage of using a pint glass is that you can see the drink you are building. When you choose to use tins, then you don't need to worry about breaking them. Pint glasses tend to crack every now and then. But both options are just fine.
If you choose to use tins, then get 18oz ($2.40) and 28oz weighted ($2.10) ones. If you would prefer to go with the mixing glass (a pint glass), then swap 18oz tin for the glass ($0.88). In most cases, they are very cheap but usually go in sets of 10 or 12.
Jiggers come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. You may think that if you master free pouring then you don't need a jigger, but in reality, you are still going to deal with juices and syrups and free pouring skills would be pretty useless with those. If you have to choose only one jigger, I would say go for 0.5oz x 1oz. ($1.1).
There is one advantage of having a single jigger - you will never use the wrong one and accidentally pour 3/4oz of your spirit instead of expected 1oz for instance. Parties can be long and people do tend to get tired and lose their concentration sometimes.
If you can then buy both. If you have to choose just one, then go for the Hawthorne strainer - you can use it for stirred drinks as well and it would fit in nicely into any tin or pint/mixing glass.
Fine mesh cocktail strainer
Wait, what? We just talked about cocktail strainers, why do you need another one? It is called "double straining". What you do - you use your cocktail strainer and pour the drink through the fine mesh strainer ($1.40) as well. The second one would catch all the small ice chips and fruits pulp, so your drink would look cleaner and smoother.
Should you use a fine mesh strainer for your stirred drinks? It depends on the recipe. If you don't use any fruits and juices then there is no need to double strain. But if you want to - please go ahead, it looks pretty cool as well 😉
A bar spoon ($2.95) is very important for all your stirred drinks. It needs to be long, so when you are making a drink you don't let your hand accidentally touch the ice or the liquid.
Can you get away without a bar spoon? For your martini-like drinks, you can probably stir with a chopstick, but when it comes to stirred drinks with crushed ice (like mojito or caipirinha), then you definitely would appreciate a good bar spoon.
There are lots of different muddlers, wooden, plastic, metal ones. I personally prefer metal muddle with a plastic end ($2.50). Even though the wooden one looks and feels nice, but over time, after being in contact with different fruits and berries and can change its' color. When with metal and plastic it is so easy to wash it all of and they just last forever.
Are muddlers really essential? The simple answer is "yes". When you start making fruity drinks, use berries or mint - it becomes very difficult to get away without a muddler. So definitely get one, you would not regret it.
Squeezers and Juicers
Citrus squeezers ($6.95) and citrus juicers ($4.50) technically can replace each other. You can get the juice out of your limes, lemons, and oranges with both tools. Squeezers, however, are tons faster, when with juicers you def can get more juice out.
Another advantage of juicers - you can use a single juicer for all your citruses (limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruits etc.). With squeezers it is tricky. You typically get one squeezer for each size of the fruit. So one for limes, one for lemons, one for oranges. I typically use lime squeezer (mostly because I use limes more often) and for all the rest I use a citrus juicer.
Mixing Glass (extra)
Well, this is definitely not a necessity, but if your budget allows, then go get yourself a nice mixing glass ($7.95) as well. If you are a big fan of stirred drinks then spoil yourself, get a nice mixing glass, and enjoy your experience.
Essential home bar tools - summary
To summarize all of the above. You don't need to spend a lot on your home bar tools. I provided the links to tools from barproducts.com, this is where I bought the initial load of stuff for my own home bar. So here is your quick summary:
- Cocktail Shaker (tin on tin) - $4.50
- Jigger - $1.11
- Cocktail Strainer - $1.06
- Fine Mesh Strainer - $1.40
- Bar Spoon - $2.95
- Muddler - $2.50
- Lime Squeezer - $6.95
- Citrus Juicer - $4.50
All together: $23.86. As promised, your list of essential home bar tools for less than $25. Let me know guys what you think, is there anything you think is excessive or missing? Leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram.