Essential Bar Accessories
Any artisan or craftsperson will tell you that you can’t create great things without the proper tools. When it comes to making great cocktails, it’s as important as ever to be equipped with the items that will best help you achieve your cocktail vision.
The most essential bar accessories are relatively simple to find and are all very low-tech. Having them handy when you’re crafting and creating cocktails makes life much easier whenever you’re behind the bar. Here is a list of the 12 most-useful bar tools and equipment every cocktail enthusiast should have in his or her quiver:
Shakers come in a variety of styles and sizes, but no cocktail bar can do without them. Because so many drinks require shaking (often over ice), this is perhaps the most important single piece of equipment you need to own.
There are two basic shaker styles to consider: the classic two-piece (the Boston) and the three-piece with a single cup, top with a built-in strainer, and a cap that doubles as a 1oz. jigger (the Cobbler). At a bar, you’ll see the pros using the two-piece style most often. It affords the most flexibility in assembling cocktails and ensures that the cocktail “build” can happen in the preferred order (you can separate certain ingredients, like egg whites, for example, as they go in). The single cup with strainer is somewhat easier to use (the two-piece requires a little practice, especially when it comes to releasing the cups after shaking) but it does require a little more shaking time, can freeze up more easily, and often doesn’t strain as finely. The heading of this section is “Shaker(s)” plural because we advise you to have more than one shaker on hand. One of each style is good, and two of the style you prefer is also good. Three is great. You’ll use them so much, you’ll be glad to have more than one.
This is probably the second-most essential bar accessory in the cocktail creation arsenal. Strainers allow you to pour your liquid into a glass without the shaken ice, but they also remove larger pieces of ingredients so your final product is smooth and pleasing in the mouth. As mentioned, one form of strainer is built into the Cobbler shaker style. The other form—the ones the pros use with the Boston shakers—is called a Hawthorne strainer (the one that looks like it has a little slinky on its front). The Hawthorne strains more finely than the built-in Cobbler style, it’s a bit easier to clean, but it takes a little more practice to use quickly and effectively. The third option to consider is a small handheld fine-mesh strainer, which can be held over the glass while pouring directly from a shaker. We recommend that you have one of these on hand, even if you use the other kinds of shakers. It will come in handy; we guarantee it.
Jiggers and Shot Glasses:
Cocktails are recipes, just like any other culinary creation, and recipes require a certain amount of precision. Measuring your ingredients accurately is essential to creating (and re-creating) excellent cocktails. Even during cocktail development—when you’re experimenting with a new recipe—you’ll want to measure your ingredients carefully and record them so you can replicate the recipe that makes your vision come to life. Many jiggers have two ends, one with a 1 oz. measure and the other with a .5 oz. measure. You’ll likely use these two quite often while following recipes, but we also suggest having a few 2 oz. shot glasses on hand. They will cut down on lots of extra measuring and pouring while you’re at your bar.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Our only advice here is to get one that has both openers on the same tool, so you’ll always be ready to open any ingredient.
A good, sharp peeler is critical if you want to garnish your cocktails with any kind of citrus. If possible, get a peeler with a wide blade, so you can take larger pieces at once. If desired, you can then cut those pieces into narrower garnishes. Word to the wise: Peeling takes a little practice. We heard from one expert that peelers actually cause more bartender injuries than any other tool, so use a sharp, well-designed tool, and don’t peel in a rush!
Again, this one is pretty straightforward. You’ll want a good, sharp, nicely weighted knife to cut wheels, wedges, peels, twists, and tons of other things.
With its super-long handle, a bar spoon is the best way to stir a cocktail in a glass, especially if the glass is a highball or Collins or contains a large ice cube. Lots of cocktail recipes require stirring (as opposed to shaking), so a good bar spoon is the essential bar accessory for that function.
Large Ice Molds:
Having the ability to utilize large, single cubes is important if you want to offer your guests a variety of cocktails. Many recipes will require shaking on smaller cubes, and then straining, but there are many cocktails that benefit most from being stirred or shaken on one large cube. The large cubes also melt much more slowly and don’t dilute your cocktail as fast as smaller cubes or pebble ice.
Alcohols, juices, ice cubes, mixers—making cocktails can often be a wet, sticky, and messy endeavor. Use both ends of your jigger once in a recipe and you’ll appreciate the beauty of a bar mat, which can collect excess mess and be easily rinsed as needed.
You can pair a set of tongs with an ice bucket if you like, but no matter what you have your ice in, your tongs will enable you to handle cubes without touching every piece and will also keep your cocktails more sanitary. Your guests will always appreciate that.
Muddling fresh ingredients—mint, herbs, fruits, for example—brings an exciting freshness and vibrancy of flavor to a cocktail. You can muddle with almost anything (it’s really just an object used to press an ingredient) but a cocktail muddler is perfectly designed to work inside a glass and provide the best leverage.
This final item is not a “bar tool” so much as it’s a nice thing to have at any bar. You can mix a larger amount of a cocktail in almost anything that holds liquid, but a nicely weighted mixing glass is the most satisfying way to go. Used in tandem with your bar spoon, you’ll be able to gently mix your ingredients before pouring them, which can chill them and blend them to the perfect degree every time.
Of course, there are plenty of other gadgets, large and small, that you can purchase for your bar. Ice crushers, glass rimmers, cocktail smokers, and other bar toys are fun to have, but they won’t suffice if you don’t have yourself set up with the essentials. Luckily, the most useful core bar accessories are simple, straightforward, and should last for decades. Just add creativity!
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