A good set of bar tools will make your cocktail life easier, cleaner and more efficient. Though deciding which tools are worth your money can be overwhelming. These pages will help parse out the differences between the various options, complete with reviews, recommendations based on different bartender needs/budgets and purchasing links to everything, so you can find tools that are right for you.
For most people, a basic hand juicer is all you'll need. But there are plenty of higher capacity juicer options as well.
There are two-sided cone-shaped jiggers, and single jiggers with a series of fill lines. Of course, you can measure with anything, like measuring cups and teaspoons.
I prefer muddlers on the longer side, 10 inches or so, but any of them will get the job done.
There are 2-piece shakers, which are two vessels wedged together and the choice of most bartenders, and 3-piece shakers, which have a built-in strainer and removable cap. They are what most people have at home.
Of course, you could stir in anything, but these have their benefits, like a heavier base, pour spout and the fact that the modern versions are absolutely gorgeous.
Their length is for reaching to the bottom of a mixing glass and the twisted handle is for getting a better grip so you can stir faster and more fluidly.
Selecting Bar Tools
How Much to Spend?
The purpose of bar tools is to make the job of bartending easier, not necessarily to make the cocktail better. That's your job, the bartender. It's like golf. You should worry your stroke, not how fancy your clubs are.
So you don't need to drop a couple hundred bucks on a set of tools - which you easily could. The best bar tools are a marriage of utility, durability, and beauty - in that order of importance. Aesthetics are certainly nice, but they are the primary driver of a bar tool's price. Functionality is the key.
It comes down to what’s important to you. If spending $50 on a stunning mixing glass feels like a worthwhile investment, then absolutely go for it. It’ll be the cornerstone of your home bar. But if you’re fine with a no frills pint glass for $5, your martinis will still come out great. Like I said, you're the bartender.
Tools for Home Bartenders vs. Professional Bartenders
When recommending tools I sometimes make a distinction between home and professional bartenders. Not that one is better or worse; they just work in different environments and have different needs. Some tools are specifically better suited for one environment or the other, though there is considerable overlap so it's really up to your discretion. Here are some things to keep in mind, regarding where you make you your cocktails:
On the whole, home bartenders have a wider range of options. You just need something that gets the job done, and how much you spend will depend on your priorities. You can make due the with cheapest option available, as well as the most frivolously cumbersome. Or you don't have to use a bar tool at all and can use a something else as a creative workaround, some suggestions are on each tool's page. Professional bartenders have more specific requirements. They will want to consider tool’s durability and functionality in a high paced environment. Appearance will probably matter too, though it depends on the bar.
Where to Shop for Bar Tools
Many of the tools you find at retail stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Willams Sonoma and Pottery Barn are designed more with aesthetics in mind, hoping to lure the desperate Christmas shopper. Cocktail sets like these sure are attractive, but they’re not very practical, or cheap. Plus, they're often missing essential tools - like a muddler or shaker - and include extraneous ones, like ice tongs or a bottle opener. They also look like they'd be more at home next to a fireplace rather than a bar.
However, my sarcastic musings aside, I admit that I've seen some better tools cropping up at some of these stores recently, which are more in the style of professional tools. They’re still quite pricey though.
Another good resource for bar tools is a restaurant supply store if there’s one in your area. They’ll usually have all the basics for very cheap. That's where I got my first set of tools.
Some Common Bar Tool Brands
There is a plethora of bar tool manufacturers out there and many of them are more or less the same. Here are the four brands that I often recommend and link to throughout the tool pages.
Winco - The Economy Option -Winco is a company that specializes in affordable tools and supplies for restaurants. They aren’t the sleekest, but they are perfectly serviceable and exceptionally priced. You can get a fully stocked bar kit for under $50. The bulk of my first set of bar tools was from Winco. You can find their products all over Amazon.com.
Oxo - The Home Friendly Option - Unlike the other manufacturers listed here, Oxo makes tools designed specifically for the home, and they are indeed better suited for home bartenders. I have many of their kitchen tools and think they are fantastic - the can opener, vegetable peeler, POP containers…I could go on. Their bar tools however, I find to be hit or miss, but in extremes. Some of them are the absolute best options, like their single jigger and Hawthorne strainer. Others I don’t use at all, like their shaker and muddler. Then there are some notable omissions; they don’t even make a barspoon or mixing glass. Go figure. Oxo tools are widely circulated. You can find them at many retails stores and online.
Cocktail Kingdom - The Professional Option - Cocktail Kingdom redefined bar tools for many bartenders in the United States and abroad, and they are extremely pervasive throughout the cocktail industry. Their products are generally fashioned in the style of Japanese bar tools because Japan's approach to bartending, like so many of their crafts and trades, is known for its meticulousness and precision, which is reflected in the tools they use.
Many of the styles introduced by Cocktail Kingdom have become the new standard design for some tools, particularly the teardrop barspoon and modern mixing glass. Their tools are certainly more expensive, though in many cases not by that much, and you certainly get what you pay for. As you may have guessed, I've gotten many of my favorite tools from here. You can order through their website, where they also sell books, bitters, and glassware. They also have a small retail location in NYC.
Bar Products.com - The Everything Option (except Cocktail Kingdom) - This is a website. They don’t make bar tools but are a great resource for buying them. They have a huge and well-priced selection, which caters to all walks of bartender, not just ones making cocktails. So it can be a lot to parse through, but if you know what you're looking for you'll be just fine. One caveat, they don’t carry Cocktail Kingdom's products, though they have many fine, and more affordable, alternatives.
Others - There are Plenty More Options! - Two other manufacturers of great bar tools for professionals, and whomever are Uber Bar Tools based in Australia, and Bonzer, based in England. I don't run across these as much because they're not as widely circulated in the U.S., but they all look wonderful and what I've used from both corroborate that. Another company you may run across is True Fabrications, which also makes solid tools, particularly for home bartenders.