japanese hard shake cocktail hidetsugu ueno

After quite a few years of painstakingly seeking out the best home bar equipment, I have arrived at a few conclusions. First, it can cost a lot of money to evaluate a lot of the products I have; and second, that many of the mixologist/bartender books out there will attempt to convince you to get a centrifuge, a dedicated ice making freezer, an ice mallet and bag, and all sorts of other obtuse non-necessities. I’m here to make sense of that for all of you who are newly getting into making cocktails at home. Let’s head into the list!

Basic Home Bar Equipment

  • Shaker
  • Jigger
  • Strainers
  • Barspoon
  • Muddler
  • Juicer
  • Cutting Board
  • Bar Towel
  • Knife
  • Peeler
  • Channel Knife
  • Rubber Ice Molds
  • Bottles for home made ingredients
  • Glassware

Where To Shop For This Stuff?

I have a select list of favorite sources for home bar stuff. If you have amazon prime, you can find quite a few good deals with free shipping on Amazon. However, my absolute favorite source for everything your home bar should have is Cocktail Kingdom. They’re a company filled with bar professionals who want to bring premium equipment to a wider group of people than just elite New York bartenders. All the stuff on their site is cheap and high quality, in my experience, when compared to anything I’ve seen elsewhere. They also have items for the more ritzy-minded consumer, like the Black Diamond Barspoon, if you are the kind of person who is looking to spend all of your money on something ridiculous. Let’s move on to my recommendations for each item.

Shakers

My advice is to go with the Koriko shaker tins as opposed to the other two. The main reasons are because they’re the easiest to keep clean, easy to pour, quick to shake, and high quality. The cobbler shakers may look fancy, but only the highest-grade ones are worth buying, as cheap ones are hard to take apart and often stain. The Usagi shaker is recommended here as it is a traditional part of the Japanese style of bartending, which is the primary reason I would ever suggest a cobbler shaker. More on that in another article at a later date. In a home bar you really want cheap, effective, and reliable tools.

Also, since this is an introduction to the topic of making drinks at home, I’m not going to recommend a mixing glass.

Jiggers

Now out of these three I personally prefer the Japanese style jiggers. They look classy, they are tall and thin-mouthed so doing volume pours of liquid in them is more accurate most of the time, and they are balanced and weighted in a way that allows you to get a little flashy when pouring with them.

The OXO steel angled jigger is great, but it lacks a 3/4 oz measurement (its only true weakness) and the wide mouth makes it harder to get a perfect pour every time.

The Danesco jigger is kind of the best of both worlds– a bit of class, accurate measuring somewhat as a medium width jigger, and it has all the relevant marks (including an unofficial but accurate 3/4 oz that isn’t marked above the 1/2 oz level).

I have no personal experience with the Kolder Mini Measure, but it could also be a good addition. Sometimes recipes call for a tablespoon or teaspoon of this or that. Some foreign recipes call for measures in millilitres, and this has you covered for most of that. I say go with what you like the best out of these four.

Strainers

I advise having 2 main strainers, a Hawthorne strainer and a Tea strainer. You will want to double strain many drinks because you don’t want ice chips or muddled fruit bits to be in the finished product. The two strainers linked here are high quality. At home I use a Winco strainer, but it leaves much to be desired, so I can’t recommend it in good conscience to others. I hear some good things about the OXO strainer, but it has rubber on it, and rubber gets nasty after a while. I prefer to have equipment that never gets old as long as it is cared for. Rubber degrades and begins to bind to oils from your hand and gets stained permanently.

Barspoons

I prefer to muddle with an actual devoted muddler. It keeps everything a bit cleaner. However, this could be a minor money-saving way of killing two birds with one stone. My actual recommendation is the teardrop barspoon. The weight is perfectly balanced throughout the spoon, and when spinning the teardrop adds stability.

Muddlers

Some people are paranoid that a plastic muddler will impart bad plastic flavors into a drink. These people are mistaken. Unless you use the muddler as part of an ingredient in infusing a drink in the freezer for a few days, I don’t see how you could expect a food-grade plastic muddler to spread its nasty plastic flavor into a drink. That being said, there is a good argument for having a classic-looking muddler, and I find wood a little more comfortable and warm in the hand (no pun intended) than plastic. Any of these are fine. Or you could make your own muddler like Jeffrey Morgenthaler does.

Juicers

I prefer to squeeze an entire half of whatever I’m juicing at a time. This saves time, makes less of a mess, and keeps me from getting worn out if I’m doing a lot of juice. That’s why I have the New Foodstar juicer. It’s HUGE. I put halves of large oranges and medium-sized grapefruit halves in there as well. I use this in combination with a smaller juicer that can handle large lemons at best. My advice is to get a juicer that is huge and sturdy. Others may have different preferences.

Cutting Board

I prefer a bamboo cutting board. Others may prefer a plastic cutting board. This really is up to you. I have a very small bamboo cutting board I was given as a gift that kind of matches the bar when I’m making Tiki drinks. Really, this one is all up to you and your personal style.

Towels

Use a combination of both. You’d be surprised how much a decent black towel can improve cleanup. These Terry towels will be hyper absorbent and they won’t even show stains from all the juices and liquor you will spill. The microfiber towels are perfect for glass polishing. Nothing impresses a guest more than perfectly clear/clean glassware.

Knife

I advise a cheap but not “too” cheap knife, and sharpen and wipe it before every single use. A sharp blade is a safe blade, as Gordon Ramsay would say. He has a good video on how to sharpen a knife that you should all check out.

Peeler

Basically, these two do the same job. I like my OXO peeler, but I kind of wish I had gotten the Kuhn Rikon since it seems sharper and a little easier to get a thick pith-filled garnish out of. It is up to you which you prefer.

Channel Knife

I always advise only one. The knife works great, it’s cheap, and has a classic look and feel. What more is there to say?

Rubber Ice Molds

Just to keep it simple, these two are the only two you will honestly need for quite some time. Pour boiling purified water into them, allow to rest at room temperature, freeze, and voila! You have near-clear ice. To truly get clear ice you will have to use a cooler and get your hands wet carving large blocks of ice. Not fun. These are the next best thing, at very little inconvenience. I bag my ice into large freezer Ziploc bags so I can make multiple batches and stock up.

I can’t advise the 2.5 inch mold because the 2.5 inch blocks don’t even fit in a large Boston shaker. The only use I have found for the 2.5 inch blocks is to melt them to a suitable size or smash them with a mallet and use them as crushed ice. Not the point of the mold, really. I’m still not sure what the point of these huge molds is. Use 2 inch blocks for rocks glass drinks and shaking, and 1.25 inch blocks for Collins glass drinks and stirring drinks.

Bottles for Home Made Ingredients

I can do everything in my home bar that a bottle would need to do with these three tools. Plastic squeeze bottles for prepped large batches of juices, Kölsch style bottles for syrups (because we usually pour them into the container hot after preparing), and bitters bottles for house bitters and custom infusions. Keep it simple, don’t overthink things.

Glassware

I recommend “small” glasses because most recipes fit perfectly into a smaller glass. Also, if you have a small glass, you’ll be less tempted to overdose yourself on lovely cocktails that you come up with, and more likely to make appropriately-sized drinks.

If there are any other recommendations that my fellow cocktail-maniacs have in mind, please leave some feedback in the comments section!

Featured Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kentwang/

Written by Kevin Coleman
Kevin Coleman is an IT professional with a background in high volume restaurant management. A jack of all trades and a master of none, Kevin was born in Texas, raised in Southern California, and now lives in the Boulder area in Colorado, where he enjoys riding his motorcycle, competitive gaming, and tasting the greatest craft beers the area has to offer.