When you first step behind a bar and you notice all of the glimmering bar tools & equipment, it can be confusing. There are spiral shaped spoons, shapely wooden sticks, shakers everywhere, measuring tools with strange names, blenders, juicers, mallets, funnels, and little spouts on the top of every bottle.
So where do you start when you want to,
- Learn about these tools & what they’re used for?
- Invest in your own equipment so you can practice making delicious cocktails at home?
That’s what we’re going to look at throughout this article. We’re going to look at the most important tools & equipment bartenders use to make fantastic drinks and what you need to get started.
We’ll start with the essential bartender tools. These are the items that every bartender should have on them whenever they’re at work. They’re also useful for anyone who likes to drink at home.
Then, we’ll move onto specific cocktail making equipment. These are the tools you should invest in to practice at home, throw a cocktail party, or just fix yourself a damned good drink after a hard day at work.
Essential On-the Job Bartender Tools
There are only a few bar tools that EVERY bartender should carry on them whenever they’re at work. In almost every establishment I’ve worked for, it’s been expected that bartenders own and carry these items on them at all times.
If you don’t, it looks unprofessional & lazy. So if you’re a bartender, do yourself a favour and invest in these items ASAP. You can’t (and shouldn’t) expect a bar to provide them for you.
Also, if you’re looking for a bartending job, you absolutely must bring these items to your trial shift.
The essential on-the-job bartender tools are:
- Bar Blade - For opening up beer bottles fast & various other improvised uses. You never know when or how a bar blade will come in handy.
- Wine Knife/Waiters Friend/Wine Key - Used for opening corked bottles of wine, beer bottles, and various other improvised uses.
- 2 pens - At the very least, carry 2 pens. One to use and one in case you lose the first, it stops working, or you have to give it away.
- Lighter - Even if you’re not a smoker, lighters are useful. For cocktails, they’re used to flame orange zests or light up shooters. For the bar, you’ll use them to light candles or to help a smoker out in need.
Cocktail Making Equipment
If you want to practice bartending at home, set up your own home bar, or throw a cocktail party, the above bartender tools aren’t going to get you very far.
Sure, you’ll be able to open up beer and wine, light some candles, and play noughts & crosses, but it’s going to be a pretty lame cocktail party if you leave at that.
So if you’re serious about making cocktails, you’ll need to invest in some cocktail making equipment.
I’ve separated this equipment into 2 classes. The essentials and the non-essential ‘luxury’ items.
The essentials are the bar tools & equipment you should invest in as soon as possible. You’ll be able to make a huge variety of delicious cocktails with these tools even though it’s a minimalistic list.
The non-essential ‘luxury’ items are tools that can be ‘nice to have,’ or that may be useful but are replaceable by items on the essentials list. They’re unnecessary when you’re starting out.
Knife & Chopping Board
A good knife will be a part of any solid bartending kit. You’ll be using it all the time to cut garnishes, lemons & limes, and any kind of fruit & veggies that end up in your cocktail. There’s nothing worse than attempting to wield a blunt, flimsy knife so invest in a good one.
When you’re cutting things, a chopping board is a no-brainer. You’ll need something to cut on and a chopping board is more hygienic than a bench top. It will also help keep your knife sharper for longer.
For people new to bartending, ice is the last thing on their mind. It’s usually taken for granted and never given a second thought. But ice is one of the most important ingredients used in making cocktails. It cools down you drink and dilutes the alcohol - essential aspects to a palatable cocktail.
So you’ll need some tools to harness the power of ice!
First, you’ll need an ice-bucket so you don’t have to run back & forth from the freezer.
Second, you’ll need an ice scoop. Try not to use your hands to handle ice. It’s unhygienic. And whatever you do, don’t use a glass! Shards of that glass can break off into the ice and end up in someone’s drink. That’s dangerous…
So invest in an ice-scoop :-).
If you don’t have an ice scoop, you can always use the tin of your Boston shaker as an improvised ice scoop instead. See Boston Shaker below.
A jigger is that little measuring device you see bartenders use behind the bar. They’re used to accurately measure what goes into a cocktail so you can keep it balanced.
When you’re starting out, using a jigger is highly recommended. Free pouring ‘can’ (emphasis on can) be accurate and it’s definitely faster, but there’s a reason why most cocktail bars prefer to use jiggers. It’s the most reliable way to accurately measure liquid in a glass.
Even though I’ve been bartending for so long & I’ve worked in free pour bars, my default mode is to use a jigger whenever I make a cocktail.
Speed pourers are the spouts you find at the end of bottles in a bar. They help you control the flow of a bottle’s pour and more accurately measure what you’re free pouring. All in all, they help speed up the drink making process.
I wouldn’t necessarily call speed pourers home-bar “essentials,” as you can measure accurately simply using a jigger. But they are essential behind the bar. Making drinks would be far too slow without them so if your goal is to become a bartender, you might as well get used to using them now.
A Boston Shaker is a 2 piece shaking kit. One piece is smaller than the other so you can bash them together and create a tight seal without liquid splashing everywhere when you shake it.
Almost every bartender on the planet uses a Boston shaker as their preferred shaking tool. They’re fast, easy to use, easy to strain, they can used as a substitute ice scooper, and they double up as a mixing vessel for stirred cocktails.
When you’re looking to purchase a Boston Shaker set, go for the 2 piece tin set over the glass-tin set. If you’re using a Boston shaker often enough, the glass will break eventually so you’ll get better value for money with the tin-tin set.
The Hawthorne strainer will be your most used strainer and it works perfectly with your Boston Shaker. They prevent pulp, mashed up fruit, and/or ice from getting into the final glass making the drink more enjoyable to consume.
The hawthorne strainer won’t get everything. Double straining using a fine/tea strainer is often necessary to prevent the finer pulp, seeds, ice shards, etc from getting into the final glass.
The hawthorne strainer & fine strainer are the perfect combination for adequately filtering your cocktails and making them look great.
Bar spoons are used for stirring cocktails (like a Martini), layering drinks, spooning in ingredients (like sugar), and occasionally for measuring small amounts of liquid (5ml). Needless to say, a bar spoon is an essential tool for both commercial and home bars.
When choosing a bar spoon, I always advise getting one with spirals and a flat circular back-end. It makes layering drinks so much easier, especially when you’re using a deep glass.
A muddler is used for CRUSHING things! When you’ve had a bad day, there’s nothing like fixing yourself a muddled drink. It’s even more satisfying when you get to crush up ice with it as well!
A muddler is primarily used to crush fruit & sugar in cocktails that call for muddling, like a mojito or old fashioned (crushing sugar). They also work well as an improvised ice crusher. Simply put cubed ice into the tin of your Boston shaker and CRUSH!
Yes, I like muddling…
When choosing a muddler, you’ve got a few options. Firstly, you can either choose a cerated or flat bottom. A cerated bottom is better for crushing fruit as it will extract the skin’s oils as well as the juice. A flat bottom is better for muddling sugar.
Between the 2, I think the cerated bottom is more useful. But you can always get one of each.
In terms of material, wood is often a good choice. Metal with a rubber end or a plastic muddler works well too. Whatever you do, don’t go for a metal end. When you’re muddling in a glass, the glass will break.
I can’t begin to explain how useful a solid fruit press is. It makes getting fresh juice out of citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, etc) and other fruits extremely easy. They’re also easy to clean and relatively cheap.
Even the good ones.
It’s my view that every commercial bar & home bar should have at least one of these. Even if you’ve got a juicing machine, these will come in handy when you only need to make one or two cocktails and you can’t be bothered setting up the juicer…
When choosing a fruit press, get one big enough that can fit a small orange.
Non-Essential ‘Luxury’ Items
As I mentioned above, you can get away with making a huge variety of cocktails with the essential bar tools & equipment above. You might have to improvise a little, but it’s good to get creative!
However, if you want to take your cocktail game to the next level, there are some other ‘luxury’ items you can consider.
Some of these bar tools will help you make cocktails faster and/or better. Whilst others just look cool or are ‘good to have’ ;-).
Japanese (Yarai) Mixing Glass
Not only do these look & sound awesome, they’re actually useful. A Japanese mixing glass makes stirring & straining stirred cocktails an absolute pleasure.
I’ve listed this item as optional because you can get away with using your Boston shaker for stirring instead, but this would be the first ‘luxury’ item I would add to my bar equipment kit.
Julep strainers are specifically used for straining stirred drinks. They’re quite old school but they’re still useful.
Similarly to the Japanese Mixing Glass, I’ve included this as optional item because you can get away with using your hawthorn strainer for everything. But personally, I’d be adding this to my equipment list sooner rather than later.
They’re good to have, it will make your cocktail game look more professional, and they are better for straining stirred drinks (that only have liquid in them, of course).
Bar tongs aren’t really optional in a commercial bar. Depending on where you’re from, they might even be legally required.
The reason being is that bar tongs are more hygienic than using your fingers to drop in a garnish, an ice cube, or squeeze a lime wedge into a drink.
With that being said, most bartenders still use their hands. If they’re washing their hands regularly enough and they’re not doing anything disgusting with them (like licking them), that’s ok in my books.
Besides, I doubt you’ll want to use bar tongs at home which is why I’ve listed this as an optional item.
Citrus Zester with Channel (Called a Cannelle Knife)
Unless you’re getting into more advanced mixology, you probably won’t need a zester. A zester is great for grating items like nutmeg, chocolate, or fine lemon zests on top of a cocktail, but you can get away without applying these finishing touches.
That’s why it’s an optional ‘luxury’ bar tool.
If you choose to invest in one, the chances are you’ll use the channel more often than the zester. The channel is great for creating beautiful spiral citrus peels that you can see in the photo above.
So if you get a zester, make sure you get one with the channel.
When you really start getting serious about your cocktail game, you’ll be pre-mixing infusions, making your own syrups, and pre-batching cocktail mixes.
A funnel is very useful for pouring liquid to and from bottles fast. And whilst it’s fun attempting to free pour EVERYTHING, you’ll waste a lot less by using a funnel.
If you’ve got a Boston shaker, a cobbler shaker (also called a 3 piece shaking set) is completely unnecessary. They’re the old school shaking tin that you see in James Bond movies.
This is one of those bar tools that’s ‘good to have’ because they look cool but you’ll likely never use it. A Boston Shaker is superior in every way with the arguable exception that the cobbler shaker looks better.
Simply due to price, this an optional item for the home bar. But for the serious cocktail program, a blender is extremely useful.
It allows you to puree your own fruits, better mix certain drinks, and easily make frozen cocktails.
They might not be suitable for every bar because of the noise, but all in all, they’ll bring your cocktail program up to that next level.
Garnishing cocktails with cocktail picks is common practice. A cocktail will look far more appetising when garnished beautifully and don’t forget about those Instagram shots!
So investing in some metal cocktail picks could be a good idea. They work great for your home bar because you’ll be able to re-use them. But for commercial bars, I’d stick with wooden cocktail picks so you don’t have to worry about losing or cleaning them.
It’s highly likely that your kitchen will already have one of these and if it doesn’t, you need to re-evaluate your kitchen equipment!
Why should you have a can opener among your bar tools?
Because every now and then you’ll want to get access to some ingredients in a can. Like coconut cream (for a Pina Colada) or pineapple juice (canned pineapple juice is usually better than bottled pineapple juice).
A can opener will give you a little more freedom with the kind of cocktails you can make.
More Ice Accessories!
Because you can never go wrong with more ice accessories.
In particular, look into getting a fabric bag and a mallet. I know that sounds weird, but this is a great way to crush a lot of ice in one go. Simply fill a clean bin bag with ice, put that bin bag in the fabric bag, close it & let all the air out, then grab your mallet and SMASH.
If you’re at work, an empty keg works well too!
But be warned, people will start calling you Donkey Kong after they see you doing it.
Some Advice On Investing in Bar Tools & Equipment
For any kind of drinker, bartender or otherwise, the on-the-job bartender tools are essential. So make sure you get items first. The home drinker can get away without having a bar blade, but they’re cheap so get one anyway!
Once you’ve got those, start going through the cocktail making essentials list and get every single item on that list before you even look at the luxury items.
If you’ve got no equipment at all, it might be worth considering getting a cocktail kit. A solid decent cocktail kit, like this one, will consist of most of the essential items & maybe some of the luxury items.
Then it’s as simple as picking up the other items individually, like the fruit press, ice accessories, chopping board, & knife.
You should be able to find everything online (amazon is great), but if you prefer shopping in-person, try and find a specialty barware store as they’ll stock better quality equipment.
And that brings to my final piece of advice. When you’re investing in these bar tools & equipment, go for quality items. Trust me on this. Try and avoid purchvasing that $12 cocktail kit look at investing more around the $100 mark.
These tools will last you your entire life if you look after them. And quality bartending equipment looks nicer & feels nicer to use.
With that being said, if you’re strapped for cash & need to practice your bartending skills, get $12 kit! You can always invest in some quality equipment once you’re raking in the cash as bartender.
Once you have your bar tools & equipment, it's time to learn how to use them. Check out the cocktail making techniques & the 15 essentials cocktails article below for more details.