When you first step behind a bar and notice all of the glimmering bar tools & equipment, it can be not very clear. There are spiral-shaped spoons, shapely wooden sticks, shakers everywhere, measuring instruments with strange names, blenders, juicers, mallets, funnels, and little spouts on the top of every bottle. But which are the essential bar tools?
So where do you start when you want to:
- Learn about these bar tools and how they are used?
- 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 critical bar tools & equipment bartenders use to make fantastic drinks and what you need to get started in 2023.
We’ll start with the essential bartender bar tools. These are the items that every bartender should have on them whenever they’re at work. But, of course, they’re also helpful for anyone who likes to drink at home this year.
Then, we’ll move on to specific cocktail-making equipment. These are the essential bar tools you should invest in to practice at home, throw a cocktail party, or fix yourself a good drink after a hard day at work.
Table of Contents
- Where to Buy Bartending Tools
- Essential ‘Always Carry’ Tools
- Must Have Bartending Equipment
- Non Essential (Luxury) Tools
- Advice on Purchasing
Where to Buy Bartending Tools?
In 2022, there are some great places that you can buy essential bar tools both, in the real world and online. Firstly, consider buying from your local retailer (if you have one). In larger cities, there are some retailers that will specialize in bar and kitchen equipment. You should be able to purchase some quality tools there.
As for online, consider these retailers:
On-the-Job Essential Bar Tools
There are only a few bar tools that every bartender should carry whenever they’re at work. When I managed a bar, I expected every single one of my bartenders to have these tools on them at all times.
If you’re a bartender, do yourself a favor 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 this year, you absolutely must bring these items to your trial shift.
The essential on-the-job bar 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 two 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.
- Apron: From protecting clothing from stains and spills to giving bartenders the ability to quickly store and carry those much-needed bar tools throughout a shift — bartender aprons can make life behind the bar a whole lot easier. Bartending aprons are so important that we actually made our own – check it out here.
Cocktail Making Equipment
If you want to practice bartending at home, set up your home bar, or throw a cocktail party, the above bar tools will not get you very far.
Sure, you’ll be able to open up beer and wine, light some candles, and play noughts and 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 two 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 wide variety of delicious cocktails with these bar tools, even though it’s a minimalistic list.
The non-essential luxury items are bar tools that can be nice to have, or that may be useful but are replaceable by items on the essentials list. Simply put, they’re unnecessary when you’re starting out.
The Must-Have Bartending Equipment
Knife & Chopping Board
A good knife will be a part of any solid bartending kit. You’ll be using it constantly to cut garnishes, lemons & limes, and any fruit and 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 benchtop. It will also help keep your knife sharper for longer.
Ice Bucket and Scoop
Ice is the last thing on a new bartender’s mind. It’s usually taken for granted and never given a second thought. But ice is one of the essential ingredients used in making cocktails. It cools down your drink and dilutes the alcohol, a crucial aspects to a palatable cocktail.
So you’ll need some essential bar tools to harness the power of ice!
First, you’ll need an ice bucket, so you don’t have to run back and forth from the freezer.
Second, you’ll need an ice scoop. Try not to use your hands to handle ice as it’s unhygienic. And whatever you do, don’t use a glass! Shards of the glass can break off into the ice and end up in someone’s drink.
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 just starting, 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 measure liquid in a glass accurately.
Even though I’ve been bartending for years and 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 measure what you’re free pouring more accurately. All in all, speed-pourers 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.
A Boston Shaker is a two-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 be 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 two-piece tin set over the glass-tin set. If you’re using a Boston shaker often enough, the glass will eventually break, so you’ll get better value for your 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 ice from getting into the final glass, making the drink more enjoyable to consume.
When straining, unfortunately, the Hawthorne strainer won’t get everything. Therefore, double straining using a fine/tea strainer is often necessary to prevent the more refined pulp, seeds, ice shards, etc., from getting into the final glass.
The Hawthorne strainer and 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). A bar spoon is an essential tool for both commercial and home bars.
I always advise getting a bar spoon with spirals and a flat circular back-end. It makes layering drinks so much easier, especially when using a deep glass.
Bartenders use muddlers 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 for crushing fruit and sugar in cocktails that call for muddling, like a mojito or old-fashioned. However, they also work well as an improvised ice crusher as you can put cubed ice into the tin of your Boston shaker and CRUSH!
When choosing a muddler, you’ve got a few options. Firstly, you can either choose a cerated or flat base. A cerated base is better for crushing fruit as it will extract the skin’s oils and the juice. A flat base is better for muddling sugar.
I suggest getting one of each, but I recommend the cerated bottom if you need to choose between the two.
In terms of material, wood is often a good choice. Metal with a rubber end or a plastic muddler works well too. But, 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 valuable 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 and home bar should have at least one fruit press. 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 to fit a small orange.
Non-Essential Luxury Items
As I mentioned above, you can get away with making a wide variety of cocktails with the essential bar tools and equipment above. Of course, 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, you can consider some other luxury items.
Some of these bar tools will help you make cocktails faster and better. Others on this list are just there to look cool or are good to have.
Not only do Yarai Glasses look impressive, but they’re also actually useful. For example, 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 an old-school item, but they’re still helpful.
Similar to the Japanese Mixing Glass, I’ve included this as an optional item because you can get away with using your hawthorn strainer for everything. But 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).
In some states, bar tongs are legally required and not optional. 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.
Unless you’re getting into more advanced mixology, you probably won’t need a zester. A zester is excellent 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, then 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 while 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 three-piece shaking set) is entirely unnecessary. These are the old-school shaking tins that you see in James Bond movies.
Cobbler Shakers are those bar tools that are good to have because they look cool, but you’ll likely never use them. A Boston Shaker is superior in every way, with the arguable exception that the cobbler shaker looks better.
Due to price, a blender is an optional item for the home bar. But for the serious cocktail program, a blender is handy.
It allows you to puree your 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 standard practice, as cocktails look far more appetizing when garnished beautifully.
Metal cocktail picks work great for your home bar because you’ll be able to re-use them, and they are relatively cheap. But for commercial bars, I’d stick with wooden cocktail picks, so you don’t have to worry about losing or cleaning them.
Likely, your kitchen will already have a can opener, 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 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!
Here’s the thing, you can never go wrong with having 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. Fill a clean bin bag with ice, put that bin bag in the fabric bag, close it and let all the air out, then grab your mallet and SMASH.
Some Advice On Investing in Bar Tools & Equipment
The on-the-job bar tools are essential for any drinker, bartender, or otherwise, so make sure you get items first. Of course, 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 decent cocktail kit will consist of most essential items and 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, and knife.
You should be able to find everything online (amazon is excellent), but if you prefer shopping in-person, try and find a specialty barware store as they’ll stock better quality equipment.
And that brings me to my final piece of advice: When you’re investing in these bar tools and equipment, go for quality items. Trust me on this. Try to avoid purchasing that $12 cocktail kit and invest more around the $100 mark.
Investing in high-quality bar tools will give you equipment that can last your entire life. Plus, quality bartending equipment looks more professional and feels nicer to use.
With that being said, if you’re strapped for cash and need to practice your bartending skills, get a $12 kit! You can always invest in quality equipment once you’re raking in cash as a bartender later on.
Bartending Tools & Equipment Recap
Essential Bar Tools:
Essential Cocktail Making Equipment:
- Knife & chopping board
- Ice accessories
- Speed pourers
- Boston shaker set
- Hawthorne strainer
- Fine/tea strainer
- Bar Spoon
- Fruit/juice press
Non-Essential Luxury Items:
- Japanese (Yarai) mixing glass
- Julep strainer
- Bar tongs
- Citrus zester with channel (called a cannelle knife)
- Cobbler shaker
- Cocktail picks
- Can opener
- More ice accessories!