This guide helps you navigate the vast array of bartending utensils, so you can get the essentials. It’s an in depth look at the cocktail shakers, jiggers, strainers, bar spoons, muddlers, speed pourers, juicers, and other tools that you need to mix drinks.
The shaker is the most iconic piece of cocktail gear. There’s nothing like that rattle of ice cubes to get attention, and let guests know that refreshment is on the way.
The shaker comes in three popular configurations. There’s the two piece Boston shaker with stainless steel cap and glass bottom. The two piece French, or Parisian shaker with stainless steel top and bottom. Plus the three piece Cobbler shaker, consisting of a stainless steel top, bottom, cap and built in strainer.
It doesn’t matter which one you get – so long as you get one – because they all get the job done. They use your muscle power to put on a show, while the ingredients inside chill, mix and foam to perfection.
The Cobbler is the easiest to use, but it’s harder to clean and can be difficult to open after shaking. The Parisian looks elegant, it’s easy to clean and use, but you still need a mixing glass and strainer. The Boston shaker is the traditional one that’s used by most bartenders. It needs a strainer and it’s hard to open the first couple of tries, but it’s easy to clean and includes the mixing glass.
The Parisian and Cobbler are very straight forward to use. You put the ingredients in, shake for 10 seconds, then strain the contents into a serving glass. It sounds simple enough, but it takes practice to master the shaker and look confident while doing it.
The Cobbler may be frozen shut, after pouring the drink out of the built in strainer. Not to worry, just run it under warm water and it will loosen up. The downside is having to chill it back down with ice again before making the next drink.
In the case of the Parisian, a separate strainer is required to hold back the ice after shaking. This prevents it from splashing into the drink. If you get a well designed Parisian, it won’t be hard to open. If you get a poorly machined one, you’ll have to twist it open with a warm wash cloth and look silly in the process. So be sure to read the customer reviews, before you choose one brand over another.
The Boston gets a bad rap because amateurs say it’s hard to use and open. By watching a couple of videos and sneaking in a little practice, you’ll find it more productive than any other shaker, which is why most professionals choose it.
To use the Boston, just slide the steel cap over the mixing glass on a slight angle, give it a tap and now you can shake. The glass doesn’t get cold like the steel shakers, meaning that the ice is cooling the drink, not your hands. The only downside compared to the Cobbler, is that you still need a strainer to hold back the ice.
A shaker setup that’s not as common but gaining traction among professionals, is the tin on tin. It’s a Boston style shaker except there’s no mixing glass. Both the top and bottom are weighted stainless steel tins. The top tin is around 18 ounces and the bottom 28-30 ounces. It’s referred to in the trade as an 18/28 set or 530/830 in metric.
Ultimately the one you choose is up to you. In fact, you may want to get two, one standard 28 ounce Boston for entertaining and a mini Cobbler for experimenting on your own. Just practice a bit on your own before performing and your confidence will shine through to the guests.
Jiggers come in either glass, plastic or stainless steel. They are used to measure the ingredients that go into a cocktail. They can have graduated lines indicating the amount of liquid, or they can be unmarked similar to a shot glass.
A steel jigger lasts longer because its unbreakable, but you cannot see through it to measure accurately, which makes it difficult to use in dark environments. You must constantly look down at it, which isn’t very accurate, especially for measuring small amounts due to the meniscus, or surface tension of liquids.
A good alternative to the metal and glass jiggers are the plastic ones by OXO, which come in a stacking set. While not technically jiggers, the OXO set is accurate for measuring any liquid, even in tiny amounts. They are perfect for experimenting. They just don’t look that professional when entertaining guests.
Glass jiggers are breakable, but you’d have to try really hard, as they are usually made of tempered glass. The clear glass lets you measure more accurately, because you can see the fluid from the side at eye level.
The downside to any graduated measuring jigger is the lines. You are stuck with whatever measure is printed on it. For example, one of the best selling metal jiggers has markings for 1/4, 1/2 and 1 ounce, but what if you need 1/3, 2/3 or 3/4 ounce? You have to wing it, while looking down into a dark metal cup!
When experimenting at home by myself, I use a 4 ounce glass jigger with lines. It also shows teaspoons, tablespoons, and milliliters. But when guests come over I hide it and bring out the unmarked 30 mil jigger. To me, it just looks more professional. It’s what I trained on and it’s what I use when bartending in public.
I remember Hugh Schramm, my union bartending instructor, a gruff old barkeep saying, “Jiggers with measuring lines are like bicycles with training wheels. A paint by number kit instead of art on canvas.”
If you really want to impress, aspire to be the type of host that can wield a plain glass jigger with accuracy and precision. You’ll find out how to use an unmarked jigger in the Bartending section.
This is the bottom half of the Boston shaker. It’s more than just a pint glass, because it’s been tempered to be stronger than normal glass. It’s used any time that a recipe calls for the ingredients to be stirred with ice. It’s also used for shaking drinks when combined with a stainless steel shaker cap.
The Hawthorn strainer fits both the mixing glass and the shaker cap of the Boston shaker. It’s also used with the Parisian shaker. The spring loaded top allows the user to create an opening on top of the shaker that’s big enough to let the liquid flow out, but hold back the ice.
The Julep Strainer is a slightly curved, perforated spoon with a short handle. It’s original purpose was to cover the Mint Julep cup, where it prevented mint and ice from getting into the mouth.
These days the Julep strainer is used to strain herbs, rinds and ice after muddling, if the recipe calls for it. Although it’s considered a classic tool, a far better one for removing everything, including seeds and most pulp, is a fine mesh tea strainer.
Mesh ‘Tea’ Strainers
Mesh tea strainers are made from stainless steel screens. They can be coarse, fine, and super fine, or double mesh.
The coarse strainer can be used in place of a Julep strainer. They will remove almost all fruit pulp, ice bits and anything bigger than a sesame seed.
The double mesh ones will filter out the smallest of particles, even raspberry and strawberry seeds. This comes in very handy when making your own syrups.
Professional bartenders pour a shaken cocktail through a fine mesh, in addition to using the Hawthorne strainer, to give the drink a silkier mouthfeel. Doing this is called a double strain, or using the double strain technique.
The bar spoon is also known as a drink spoon, or cocktail mixing spoon. It is a stainless steel teaspoon with a long 10-12 inch (25–30 cm) shaft, that’s usually a spiral or twisted, so its easier to hold and spin in the fingers.
Its primary use is to gently stir drinks with ice in the mixing glass. Other uses include fishing olives out of jars and building shooter style drinks with layers, where one liquor is floated on top of the other.
The bar spoon can also double as a liquid teaspoon measure when a recipe calls for it. Just be sure to verify that your bar spoon is actually a 1/6 ounce (5 ml) teaspoon, or it could throw off the flavor balance of the recipe.
A cocktail muddler is used to gently mash, or masticate citrus fruit and herbs like mint, in the bottom of the mixing glass, which releases their essential oils. They are generally 8-10 inches in length, coming in a variety of compositions from stainless steel to wood.
The stainless steel ones are the easiest to maintain, but care must be taken not to scratch the glassware. Nylon tips on the steel muddler prevent scratches but don’t look very professional. Wooden muddlers are harder to clean and keep sanitary, but they look nice. Just be sure to get unvarnished, or untreated wood because citrus oil and alcohol can dissolve the varnish.
Some muddlers have teeth on the bottom, to make the job easier and to extract more flavor from whatever’s being muddled. While that sounds good in theory, everything tends to stick to the teeth. They can also mangle instead of muddle, causing herbs to release bitterness.
A better option would be a basic wood muddler with a flat, smooth, mashing surface. Some bartenders use a wooden pestle. The one I prefer is simply a dowel type rolling pin that I purchased at a cooking store.
Speed Spouts & Slow Pourers
The speed spout is often sold as a liquor pourer, pour spout, or bottle pourer. It’s placed into the neck of the liquor bottle to allow pouring the contents with greater control and accuracy.
The speed spout allows for quick, smooth, pours, whereas the slow pourer allows for greater accuracy when pouring expensive liqueurs. The better ones have a hole near the spout that allows air to enter the bottle when pouring the liquid out. If you plug this hole with your finger while pouring, the liquor will come out very slowly, which is perfect for layering shooters.
The old school spouts were made with replaceable cork stoppers. Unfortunately the cork is expensive, wears out quickly and is subject to mold growth in some cases. The newer ones have a plastic ribbed stopper and either a plastic, chrome, or stainless steel spout.
Higher end models have rubber dust caps, or flip tops to keep dust and pests out. Although the flip top seems like a good idea, they tend to stick and interfere with accuracy. The rubber caps are easy to loose, but they will prevent evaporation and keep the fruit flies out.
The waiter’s knife is also sold as a waiter’s friend, waiters corkscrew, wine key or sommelier knife. It is a multitool featuring a bottle opener, small knife and cork screw with a lever.
The knife is used to cut the foil or plastic capsule away from the bottle of wine or liquor. The corkscrew removes the cork from the bottle. The bottle opener removes non twist caps from bottles of beer and soda.
A waiter’s knife must be lightweight and thin, because it’s carried in the pocket. On expensive models, the lever is in two stages, so corks can be removed more easily. The screw is always hollow in the center, because it grips the cork better, allowing it to travel up the center, as well as around the screw.
The reamers, juicers and presses come in many sizes and colors, but their sole purpose is to extract the juice from citrus fruit. They come in wood, plastic, aluminum and stainless steel.
The basic reamer can be nothing more than a piece of wood. It gets the job done but makes a mess and you have to ream over a cup and strain off the seeds. At the other end of the reamer scale is the basic stainless steel reamer. This two piece unit has a built in seed catcher attached to the reamer and a separate bowl to collect the juice. This – and a little elbow grease – is all you need if making cocktails for two.
A step up from reamers are manual citrus presses, which are also called lemon squeezers, or citrus juicers. The portable citrus squeezer uses your muscle power to squeeze together two levers and force the juice out of a half a lemon or lime. The counter top citrus presses are single hand operations that use a lever to manually extract the juice.
Both reamers and presses get the job done. The model you select depends on how much juice you need and how good you want the unit to look. When making cocktails for yourself, a little metal reamer will do. For entertaining, a countertop press is fast and looks great sitting on top of the bar.
The next step up would be an electric citrus juicer. Since they can range greatly in price, with professional ones costing a fair amount, you’ll find them covered in the Bartending Equipment section.