If you're outfitting your home bar for the first time or looking to upgrade your equipment, here are the essential tools you need to make most drinks. Here's everything you need from shakers to strainers to bar spoons to essential cocktail books. (And p.s., you don't need whiskey stones).
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A Boston Shaker or a two-piece set of shaking tins are essential. If you've ever tried to pry the frozen lid off of a cheap 3-piece cobbler shaker (probably the one you got as a gift in college), you know that they don't work very well. (There are good Japanese 3-piece shakers out there, but they cost more).
This set of mixing tins is my personal favorite. They're inexpensive and virtually indestructible. They click together with the top slightly tilted and allow for plenty of room for aerating shaken drinks. They don't have built-in strainer, so you'll have to get one (don't worry, they're also inexpensive).
A Hawthorne Strainer is essential for use with a Boston Shaker or the shaking tin set listed above. The metal coil helps to strain out ice as well as any herbs or muddled citrus that may also be in the shaker. I find this OXO version the most comfortable to use because of its short handle.
A sturdy bar spoon is essential for stirring drinks. This is one place where it's worth splurging because the cheap ones feel too flimsy and poorly balanced to get around the ice in a mixing glass. A nicely weighted bar spoon makes stirring a pleasure.
A mixing glass isn't strictly necessary. You can stir a drink in a pint glass or in your metal cocktail shaker. But a heavy-bottomed mixing glass does make the experience more fun, and they're so pretty to look at. If you like stirred drinks, it's totally worth the investment.
A Julep Strainer is the tool you turn to for straining a stirred drink. They're the prettiest of the common cocktail strainers, and they're just there to hold the ice back while you strain the drink from the mixing glass into your serving glass. If you just get one strainer, go for the Hawthorne, but a Julep Strainer is nice to have around.
Big cubes are essential for rocks drinks like the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan. The ice melts more slowly so it helps you control the dilution of your drink. This tray makes 2-inch cubes that fit well in most rocks glasses.
A simple hand-held lemon squeezer is the best tool for juicing lemons and limes. It makes your life so much easier and yields so much more juice than if you use a reamer or try to juice them by hand. You don't need the smaller dedicated lime squeezer—this version works well for both lemons and limes.
A Y-peeler is essential for peeling off a thin layer of citrus zest to express over a cocktail. Any vegetable peeler will work, but Y-peelers are a nice shape for working with round citrus like oranges and lemons. This set is inexpensive and works well.
A rubber bar mat is a great way to protect your countertops or table from spills and drips. It makes for a great place to put your barspoon or strainer when not in use and it also protects glassware from scratches. It's inexpensive and easy to wash (it's dishwasher safe). Helps keep things tidy.