At-home mixology was already on the rise before the pandemic. But when the Covid-19 crisis brought on lockdowns, bar and restaurant closures and restrictions, more people embraced their inner bartender.
This past year has been “a great time to experiment” with home bartending, says Jason Shelly, resident mixologist for Firestone & Robertson Distillery, the company behind TX Whiskey. “Making cocktails at home has come a long way in the last five to six years,” he notes. “At-home cocktail bars are super in-vogue right now.”
It’s easier to make drinks at home when you have the right tools. What exactly do you need? Presumably you have a wine/bottle opener and a decent knife; if not, you might start there. Here are the basics that most experts suggest.
A shaker. Most pros use Boston-style shakers, essentially two cups that fit into each other and form a tight seal to keep liquid from splashing out. These can be two metal cups, or one glass cup (so that you can see the ingredients as you add them) that fits into a metal shaker tin.
Many home bartenders prefer a cobbler shaker, which is smaller than a Boston-style shaker and has a strainer built into the lid. That eliminates the need for a separate strainer; the top can also serve a jigger to measure ingredients.
Jigger. If you want to emulate the pros, you need to measure your drinks. A metal jigger typically has a 2-oz. measure on one end and 1-oz. on the other and should also have marks for -oz. and -oz. pours.
There are different types of jiggers—for instance, the Japanese style is taller and thinner, while the Leopold jigger, inspired by vintage jiggers of the 1930s, is bell-shaped. An oversize shot glass with measurements in ounces, milliliters and tablespoons is super handy for making drinks, though it doesn’t look quite as elegant as a metal jigger.
Muddler. If you plan to make drinks that require crushing sugar cubes, herbs, fruit or vegetables, you might want a proper muddler. These can be metal or wood, and sometimes have a textured bottom for mashing.
Strainer. If you don’t use a cobbler shaker, you’ll need a strainer. The Hawthorne strainer has a spring coil along the bottom that keeps it in the shaker to prevent ice from pouring out. A julep strainer looks sort of like a wide mini colander spoon, and works well with cocktails made in a mixing glass vs. a shaker.
Mixing glass. You don’t really need a professional mixing glass for stirred cocktails such as a Martini or Negroni. Any pitcher or glass beaker that’s large enough to hold the drinks will do, though a cut-glass mixing beaker does add to the presentation and looks great on a bar or bar cart.
Bar spoon. Mixing or bar spoons are used with stirred drinks; many recipes will call for a “bar spoon” measurement of some ingredients. While these typically have a long, twisted metal handle, there are different styles. The European-style bar spoon has a flat top that you can use to muddle or crush ingredients, which will save you the trouble of buying a muddler.
Juicer. Fresh juice is a must for craft cocktails, so you’ll want a juicer. An old-school juicer with a reamer is fine for most, but many professional bartenders like the convenience and performance of handheld citrus presses.
If you’re looking for more of an all-in-one system, Elevated Craft (shown atop) just came out with a 750-ml. shaker designed for making craft cocktails at home. The stainless-steel, dishwasher-safe shaker boasts double-wall vacuum insulation; a high-capacity jigger top with measurements from -oz. to 6-oz.; a no-leak, easy-twist lock lid and top; a built-in strainer; and an ergonomically designed, shape for one-handed shaking. Priced at $69, the Elevated Craft shaker includes a 50-page cocktail journal.
Not looking to spend on any new bar gear at the moment? Jason Shelly of Firestone & Robertson Distillery suggests rummaging around your kitchen for substitutes.
For instance, if you don’t have a jigger, keep in mind that 2 tablespoons equals 1 fluid ounce. No shaker? No problem: “A mason jar can become a shaker,” he says.