These are the essentials to get your home bar up and running
This round's on the house.
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Over the past year, our homes have transformed into de facto offices, classrooms, fitness studios, and, for the drinkers among us, bars. With a long winter ahead of us, and Dry January almost behind us, it seems like a good time to take inventory of what DIY cocktail gear we’re working with (especially if your home is already equipped with a bar cart).
While I tend to the personal finance coverage here at Reviewed, in my past life I wrote a cocktail column, and regularly saddled up to bars during working hours to chat with experts. Hence, the bar-stocking tips. Here’s everything you’ll need to get started, from glassware to tools, and even bottles of booze with a bartender’s blessing.
No matter if you’re stirring or shaking, you’re definitely measuring, and that’s where a jigger comes in. From its citrus juicers to kitchen shears, the OXO brand is a favorite of Reviewed, and this angled jigger means you’re not crouching down to get an eye-level measurement. Bonus: It marks both ounces and tablespoons for on-the-fly conversions.
If you want to feel like a bartender, you can opt for a double-sided version.
- Get the OXO steel angled measuring jigger at Amazon for $6.99
- Get the OXO steel double jigger at Amazon for $9.99
Cocktail shaker and strainer
I’ve been known to shake a lidded, wide-mouth Mason jar when in a pinch, but when daiquiris, fizzes, and martinis à la James Bond are on the menu, you need a Boston shaker. A Hawthorne strainer, which sits on top of the stainless steel tin, will make pouring concoctions a breeze.
- Get the A Bar Above cocktail shaker set at Amazon for $24.95
- Get the Cocktail Kingdom Hawthorne strainer at Amazon for $15.99
Mixing glass and bar spoon
As for more delicate, slow slipping drinks, you’ll need a bar spoon and a mixing glass like this one from W&P. Its heavy bottom and thick walls can withstand clanking, and of course it has a spout for easy pouring. There’s beveled options that bring a touch of glamour, too.
- Get the Mixologists 18-inch bar spoon at Amazon for $8.97
- Get the W&P mixing glass at Amazon for $10.72
- Get the Mixologists mixing glass at Amazon for $16.95
A peeler or paring knife
Need a bit of zest? Reach for a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, which can make easy work of professional-looking garnishes. (We drink with our eyes, too.) After testing nearly a dozen, Wüsthof’s 3.5-inch paring knife came out on top, and this one from Victorinox is a fine choice at a more wallet-friendly price point.
- Get the Wüsthof 3.5-inch paring knife at Williams Sonoma for $49.95
- Get the Victorinox paring knife at Amazon for $9.06
A citrus juicer
The Chef'n FreshForce passed our lab tests with flying colors, thanks to its comfortable handles and relatively mess-free process. Its size, however, won’t accommodate oranges or grapefruits. Instead, turn to our budget pick, OXO Good Grips wooden reamer, which also produced the largest yield of juice.
- Get the Chef’n FreshForce citrus juice at Amazon for $12.88
- Get the OXO Good Grips wooden reamer at Amazon for $6.99
While you may be like me, dreaming of a nugget ice maker, an ice cube tray will get the job done in the meantime. After dealing with one too many cracked, drippy plastic trays, I upgraded to this stainless steel one from Onyx. And while I’ve discounted silicone options as too flimsy, I hadn’t yet come across this W&P tray with a steel base. These larger cubes won’t instantly melt in a shaker.
- Get the Onyx stainless steel ice cube tray at Amazon for $34.99
- Get the W&P Peak silicone ice tray at Amazon for $12
Where are the mojito drinkers? Likewise, if you plan on serving juleps, smashes, or even an Old-Fashioned, you’ll need a muddler to crush herbs, fruits, and sugar cubes at the bottom of your glass—which brings us to…
I’m a minimalist when it comes to kitchen gear—to earn a spot in my cabinets, it’s gotta be a workhorse. If you can relate, the one thing you want to make room for is a double rocks glass. At around 12 ounces, these can handle almost anything—even a straight pour.
Personally, I’m a fan of Bormioli Rocco bodega glasses: They’re made of tempered glass (perfect for slippery fingers), they’re stackable to save on space, and they’re not too precious for everyday use. Most importantly, at $36 for a set of 12, the price is right.
The next level involves a Collins or highball glass, which are virtually interchangeable. For these glasses, we’re talking gin and tonics, bloody marys, Cape Codders, and Cuba Libres—basically, anything that calls for more mixer than booze.
I use Duralex’s mixing bowls practically every single day, and wouldn’t hesitate to grab its Manhattan tumblers, another durable option that can add a little texture while remaining affordable. For a more streamlined look, consider Schott Zwiesel’s Collins glasses, made with titanium for strength—and a bit of sparkle.
Taste, in the literal sense, is subjective. I’m a big proponent of encouraging people to drink whatever they like, even if it’s unconventional. But maybe you don’t even know what you like, or you want something that can suit your guests’ palettes, too.
Lucky for us, Jarek Mountain, co-owner and beverage director of Yellow Door Taqueria in Boston, Massachusetts, shared some crowd-pleasing options that cover all your home-bar bases.
Mountain’s number-one tip: “I recommend seeking out vodka—or any spirit—that is 100% organic. Bonus if the brand also offers flavors infused with real fruit.” His go-to, Triple Eight, does just that, with blueberries, cranberries, oranges, and more.
You can’t go wrong with St. George Spirits, Mountain says. “I love all their products, but the gin is a standout, especially the terroir and dry gin.” If you’re looking for another versatile option, he adds, “I always have a bottle of Plymouth Gin on hand as well.”
“My rum of choice is Flor de Cana—especially the 18 Year.” The distiller also ages bottles between four and 24 years to suit all your dark rum needs.
Go beyond typical rum offerings with a similar spiced liquor, Brazilian-made cachaça. “When I want to get into a summer state of mind, especially during the winter, I shake myself up a caipirinha using Avua Plata Cachaca.”
According to Mountain, “Ocho is a brand everyone should have on their radar. But if you are unable to find it then I highly recommend El Tesoro for its smooth flavor profile.” He says it can pull double duty, whether for sipping over ice or for mixing in cocktails like margaritas.
Now that we’ve got booze covered, you’re going to need to stock up on the other components that make a cocktail a cocktail.
With a million brands out there, pick your poison: Polar, Pellegrino, Topo Chico, what have you. But if you can, opt for smaller cans, like these 8-ounce ones from Perrier, to keep bubbles at their bubbliest.
Die-hard seltzer drinkers may even consider an at-home carbonator for on-demand bubbles. We’ve tested Sodastream and Aarke Carbonator III, and can vouch for both. I mean, it is hard to lug all those cans home from the grocery store when you’re a city dweller.
G&T drinkers, this one’s for you. You can’t go wrong with Fever-Tree, a staple for bartenders ’round the world, or Q Mixer, another popular pick with the pros. You can check both brands out for ginger ale, ginger beer, and other widely used mixers, too.
Angostura Aromatic Bitters is the centuries-old staple you’ll come across in most cocktail recipes that call for a dash or two. Translation: You definitely should pick this one up.
You could go wild here—think triple sec, Campari, elderflower liqueur—though Mountain pointed out two specific bottles to add to your rotation.
For vermouth, he turns to Dolin, a French import that shines in dry martinis, Negronis and Manhattans alike. “Remember to keep that in the fridge once it’s opened.”
If you’re going to add another bottle to your arsenal, he suggests Amaro Nonino, which isn’t as intense as Averna, Montenegro, or other amari you may have sampled. Sip it neat, on the rocks, with some soda water—it also stars in the modern classic cocktail Paper Plane.
Last but not least, a little bit of know-how
I’ve turned to Masterclass for tennis pointers from Serena Williams, an intro to space exploration by astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Judy Bloom’s writing genius. Next up on my queue: The online platform’s dive into cocktails—delivered by bartenders Lynnette Marrero and Ryan Chetiyawardana—which covers everything from how to discover your own taste to whipping up classics.
You may also want to consider clearing some room on your bookshelf. I’ve got well-worn copies of Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, David Wondrich’s Punch, and Kirsten Amann and Misty Kalkofen’s Drinking Like Ladies, among others—and we’ve got a few more ideas for you, too.
You'll be enjoying your favorite cocktails at home in no time—cheers!
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.