Setting up a bar at home can be intimidating for any blossoming home bartender, particularly those looking to replicate a favorite local cocktail den. The trick is to be prepared: Once you’ve stocked up on the essential spirits and mixers, adding one or two professional bar tools can take your at-home creations to a new and more refined level.
To help transform your bar cart into a full-fledged craft cocktail experience, VinePair asked drinks experts from around the country for their recommendations on the bar gadgets worthy of an investment. Read on to find out what they suggest.
As bars and restaurants continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and reopening phases, VinePair asked the bartenders and drinks professionals below to provide a virtual tip jar or fund of their choice. More resources for helping hospitality professionals are available here.
“An overlooked gadget that any aspiring home bartender should splurge on is a microplane [grater]. The first time you grate fresh nutmeg over a Hotel Nacional or fresh cinnamon over a Piña Colada makes you realize how important freshly grated spices are to elevating a drink from good to great.” — Laura Newman, Owner, Queen’s Park, Birmingham, Ala.
Donate: Laura Newman Venmo
“I believe the one gadget the aspiring home bartender needs is a liquid measuring device, also known as a jigger or spirit measure. Many tools we use behind a professional bar can be substituted for other handy, everyday pieces. … But, for accuracy and consistency, a quality jigger is key to make delicious drinks at home for you, your family, and friends. There are many styles of jiggers and Cocktail Kingdom is a great resource for bar tools. A Japanese style jigger (1 ounce/2 ounce) is perfect for home use. … After that, I recommend a really good cocktail recipe book such as ‘Craft of the Cocktail’ by Dale Degroff (a revised edition is coming out in September), ‘A Spot at the Bar’ by Michael Medrusan, and ‘IMBIBE’ by David Wondrich.” — David A. Roth, Head Bartender, Covina, NYC
“I can’t speak highly enough about my large ice cube mold! You can mix, stir, and measure with many different tools but nothing makes my Negroni feel ‘restaurant-level’ like adding a large rock to my cocktail while I sip at home! It is the finishing touch that elevates many classic cocktails at home and makes that sipping experience feel extra-level!” — Devan Knobloch, General Manager, Likewise Bar & Lounge, Atlanta
“If I were to splurge on one gadget for the house, I would splurge on a Vitamix Blender. Vitamix makes, hands down, the best blenders, whichever series or model. Whether you are exploring different frozen drinks recipes or are experimenting with different syrups and infusions, a Vitamix is the best gadget for the job. #wouldlovetobesponsored” — Westin Galleymore, Spirits Director, Underbelly Hospitality, Houston
“My most splurge-worthy item is the Ashley Nutmeg Grater. They say the devil is in the details, and I wholeheartedly agree! This petite silver-plated grater makes all the difference if you want to impress yourself or a guest when dashing a cocktail or a punch with some nutmeg. It’s worth every penny just as a conversation piece.” — Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer, The Rum House, NYC
“[A] hand-held metal juicer, the fold-over kind, gets all the things you want — juice and oils, and the occasional sideways squirt in the eye to really wake you up. Good for jobs up to, say, 10 to 12 drinks. Vitamix, a fancy blender that’s awesome for juices, smoothies, simple syrup, popsicles, and more, can handle everything from ginger to ice chips for frozen drinks. Champion Juicer for anything that’s not citrus: veggies, apples, plums, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber. Ra Chand Juicer, the big tabletop model for citrus … is more useful than the smaller one, and can handle small stuff, too. The knockoff brands will last three to six months, the Ra Chand will last forever. Trust me, I have broken many knockoffs through heavy use, while I have a few Ra Chands that have outlasted the restaurants we bought them for.” — Jeremy Allen, General Manager/Head Bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles
“I’d recommend investing in a jigger with markers for 2 ounces, 1.5 ounces, 1 ounce, .75 ounce, .5 ounce, .25 ounce. Many ‘at home’ bar kits don’t come with a jigger that has all these markings, but modern cocktails often call for more precise measurements. Getting measurements precise is crucial to making really tasty and well- balanced cocktails at home, or at the bar. It’s also really important to know to always hold your jigger level, so the pour is accurate, and that you always need to ‘pour to the meniscus.’ This is something us bar managers have preached to our bartenders and trainees for years. If you are pouring a 2-ounce pour, you need to pour until the spirit bubbles around the top of the jigger. Pouring less than that is not a true 2-ounce measurement, as this is a specific property of liquids and how they are measured by volume.” — Stephen Kurpinsky, U.S. Brand Ambassador, Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
“My first splurge would be on nice cocktail tins. I like the brand Koriko because their tins have a tight seal, as opposed to the old school Martini shakers you normally see with the strainer attached on the top, which don’t always seal properly. A glass beaker would be my second splurge because it’s the perfect tool for stirring up one or more drinks at a time.” — Michell Boyd, Beverage Manager, Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta
“I think anything involving ice is the most important part of any home bar. Ice goes into every single drink you make — outside of neat pours, obviously — so even if it’s just using a quality distilled/filtered water and ice molds, it’s definitely something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ice controls how cold your cocktails are and how diluted they get during preparation. You might want some cocktails less diluted than others, so whether you are shaking or stirring, having larger solid cubes makes this much easier to control while still keeping the drink very cold. Simply put, larger cubes equal less surface area to melt so, in turn, you can get the liquid colder with less dilution. For example, in an Old Fashioned, larger cubes help you introduce just a small amount of water while still getting the cocktail very cold. In a Whiskey Sour, you don’t want to introduce much water at all when shaking, but you do want to get the drink very chilled, so larger solid cubes help mix and chill the ingredients efficiently. Quality ice machines can be expensive but can be worth the investment when considering how much use you will get out of them.” — Robert Longhurst, Creative Director, Standard Proof Whiskey Co.
“Hamilton Beach Commercial Juice Press. Why do I love this so much? Because it makes juicing easy and effortless. If you’re anything like me, you don’t drink one Daiquiri or Tom Collins at a time; and if you’re someone who is a home bartender you also probably like entertaining friends and family — and I’m sure your friends and family love it when you entertain, especially if you’re the person that’s always making cocktails for them! Fast-forward to making a delicious and simple Gimlet for you and your six friends for dinner: If you’re using one of those hand juicers, you’ll have to cut six to eight limes in half and hand squeeze each one, flexing those forearm muscles and squirting lemon/lime juice in your eye on accident. This press allows you to trim a little off the top/bottom of the citrus and press a whole lemon/lime at a time. It then funnels all your fresh juice into whatever vessel you put under it. The other thing I love about this is the spring-loaded catch for when you pull that juice vessel out — it will automatically move the catch so your juicer isn’t dripping all over your kitchen countertops! This juicer is easy to clean and perfect for anyone who likes making any citrus cocktails at home. … I’ve been using this exact juicer model for almost 11 years and have implemented them into many cocktail programs across the country over the years. This is my ride or die juicer. Plus, it makes squeezing orange juice in the morning so much easier!” — Alex Negranza, Bar Manager, March, Houston
Donate: Alex Negranza Venmo
“The most important tools for a home bartender are a set of jiggers — or small measuring cups — and a set of good shaking tins from a manufacturer like Koriko or Leopold. The basics of bartending are incredibly easy, but the X factor that turns a so-so drink into a great one is a mix of precision and technique, which you can learn from videos online, but which require the right tools. These can be had for a reasonable price from an online store like Cocktail Kingdom, leaving more room in your budget to build out your bar with great liquor. The one advantage home bars have over bar businesses is that they don’t have to worry about cost — if you want to shake that $100 Cognac into a Sidecar, go for it. If you do want to splurge on something that will bring the home bar experience closer to that of a cocktail bar, companies like NewAir now sell miniature ice machines for making crystal-clear ice at home. Note that with a little time and effort, you can make your own clear ice with little more than a baking sheet and a stovetop — again leaving more money in your budget for top-shelf booze.” — Rafa García Febles, Beverage Manager, Le Crocodile, Brooklyn
“If there’s one piece of kit an aspiring home bartender should splurge on, I recommend a high-quality juice extractor such as the Breville JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus (or the 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite). A juice extractor is designed to extract juice from fruits and vegetables such as pineapples, ginger, chili peppers, watermelon, celery, etc. An immersion circulator such as the Breville Joule [is used] for more advanced applications, such as tincturing and infusion work. An immersion circulator produces faster and more even results with precision temperature control when infusing into spirits. It also comes with the added benefit of [technical] support with the ChefSteps app, and has a multitude of uses in the kitchen.” — Chad Soloman, Director of Trade Advocacy and Innovation, Cooper Spirits