The Essential Bar Tools Every Bourbon Enthusiast Needs

The Essential Bar Tools Every Bourbon Enthusiast Needs

I was a bartender in New Orleans in college. It is a bar that no longer exists named Waldos. It was on Freret at the corner of Broadway just off Tulane's campus. Its claim to fame was a writeup in Maxim magazine on "Penny Pitchers" which was a $5 cover charge special, which offered 1 cent pitchers of beer and $3 pitchers of mixed drinks special from 8-midnight on Wednesdays.

I say this only to mention that I was never a "mixologist." I was a bartender. But I still make a mean cocktail. And I have opinions on bar tools. So, I'm excited to write this post and go through the good versus crap that you will need to watch out for when buying one of these sets.

1. Japanese Jigger

Japanese Jigger

Japanese Jigger

I can't emphasize enough to get a proper jigger, and the japanese jigger is the king of them all. It is long, which allows for a much easier time "hitting the mark" and getting a proper measure.

That is the entire reason it is number one. If you were to only have one bar tool, the japanese jigger should be it. full stop.

Only get the ones that are one ounce, two ounce combos. You will be thankful you did. They also almost always have partials line to indicate 1 1/2 ounce, 3/4 ounce, etc. If you want your cocktails to truly sing, stick with the measurements. Typically recipes have been created with a lot of experimentation, and the ratios matter.

2. The Cocktail Shaker

This is your workhorse and it gets involved in most of your drinks, especially shots. It is not just to chill your drink, believe it or not. How much you shake the drink can really change the flavor due to the aeration and froth you put into it. The exact same drink shaken in different ways will indeed change the taste. 

Boston Shaker

Boston Shaker

Avoid the admittedly more attractive all-in-one shakers that have a cap and strainer built in. Yes, they look cool. Yes, they kinda work. However, you want a "Boston Shaker" which is the one that is two cups upside down that fit into each other. Why? The second cup gives more volume when shaking, for better aeration. It also allows you to use smaller cup for mixing, and the bigger cup for aeration when shaking. Its what real bartenders use for a reason. Oh, and because it is just two cups, it is easier to clean. Get a basic stainless one and you can just throw it in the diswasher and don't have to worry about peeling finishes coming off.

3. Hawthorn Strainer

You really can't use a Boston Shaker without a hawthorn strainer.

hawthorn strainer

Hawthorn Strainer

The hawthorn strainer goes over the smaller cup after you are done shaking. Then you line up one of the 4 nubs over the drink, and that is where it will pour. It does a great job straining out the large chunks of ice and large pieces of fruit, but it is only a first step.

4. Fine Mesh Strainer

fine mesh strainer

Fine Mesh Strainer

A lot of people, rightfully so, wonder why you need a fine-mesh strainer if you've already used a hawthorn strainer. Its a great question. Honestly, and don't tell the mixologists I said this, but it is kind of optional if you are just bumming around at home.  The fine mesh strainer is used to filter out the little bits - citrus fruit pulp, tiny pieces of ice, berry bits in the foam, etc. It really makes the end product better if you use it. But, if you are the kind of person who drinks full-pulp OJ unapologetically, you may not care.

5. Muddler



Muddlers are necessary for certain cocktails. I use mine mostly when making caipirinhas - a Brazillian cocktail made with sugar-muddled limes and cachaça which is a brazilian cane-sugar rum. 

Typically, they are used in cocktails made with berries, citrus fruits, herbs like mint, or other solid ingredients.

A muddler is just a rudimentary masher. I've gotten along fine before using the back end of a wooden spoon. But, a purpose-built tool is definitely better.

6. Long Spoon

Bar Spoon

Bar Spoon

You may already have one, and you really can get along fine with a butter knife, wooden spoon, or whatever. This is just a cool looking, glorified stirrer. So get one that looks cool and makes you feel like a mixologist.

Long spoons are used when a cocktail should be stirred, not shaken. In this category is the famous and versatile Old Fashioned made with any brown spirit including bourbon. (Incidentally, if you want your bourbon to be better, get some Bourbon Baggers on this site or down below).

7. Tongs

Ice Tongs

Ice Tongs

While this is a show-stopper necessity in an actual bar, at home it is kind of optional. If you just want to use your hands to move ice, I won't tell on you. You be you. There's really nothing special to point out on these.

8. Peeler


Vegetable Peeler

You probably have one of these already. We call them a potato peeler in my house. Anyway, these are necessary for some drinks as a garnish and to get at rind oils. For an old fashioned, you use this to get a piece of rind that you express into the drink, rim the glass if you prefer, and place in the cocktail for the visual effect.

9. Bar Knife

Bar/Cocktail knife

Bar/Cocktail Knife

This is an item that doesn't get much play and isn't included in many kits that I've ever seen, but I love having my mid-century one that I got in a vintage shop. The defining characteristics are the forked tip which is great for getting olives or cherries from a jar. A nice sharp blade for cutting fruit. A bottle opener which is always there. You will find yourself using this in your home bar all the time after you get one. It is truly one of those items you never knew you needed until you got one.

10. Waiter's Corkscrew

waiters corscrew

Waiter's Corkscrew

You've probably got a corkscrew as well, but I really recommend a waiter's corkscrew. The wing one work, the rabbit works, the air needle ones work, the powered ones work. But this one never lets you down and lasts forever. Think about it this way. Restaurants could afford any type of corkscrew, but waiters carry around these. There is a reason for that.

Not on list: Pourers



This is probably a controversial take, but i don't put pourers on the list of bar tools you need. Here's why. Because they are good to have, but if you use your Japanese Jigger, they aren't necessary. They also encourage home bartenders to try and do "counts" for measuring. Counts are number of seconds you pour to measure volume. Home bartenders doing this almost never have consistent pours. And their drinks usually suck because of it. 

So get pourers, if you promise to still use them with your jigger so you make good drinks.

One additional note. Try to avoid bar tool sets that load up the kit with jiggers. Its filler. Especially avoid the ones that have slots in the holder for them. They will be on your bottles, not on the holder. You will also need about three more than you have, no matter how many you buy.

I use pourers and I measure using my jigger. What I did was buy a bulk set of 20 and put them in a ziplock for when I need them.

11. A Holder of Some Kind

No picture supplied - this is personal preferenance land. However, when you look at holders, notice how much real estate is taken up by pourers and show genuine chagrin. For me, it is better to just toss the tools into an ice bucket and display it how you want to, or just hidey it away. 

So, if keeping the tools out and displayed is your bag, you are probably most considering the visual appeal anyway, not the practical aspects. In that case, all I implore you is to get a boston shaker and Japanese jigger set. Get those two right and everything else is gravy and can be worked with.

Bonus: A note of quality of ingredients

Never make the mistake of thinking the cheap booze or bottom shelf stuff is for cocktails. Always go mid-shelf or higher. It makes WAY more of a difference than you think. 

For Bourbons, Ryes, and Whiskeys there is a great hack to help you level up your base spirit and make it more cocktail worthy. Bourbon Baggers, sold on this site (just look in the menu) are teabags filled with toasted or charred oak that take a glass of bourbon and in 15 minutes level it up to the quality of a top-shelf. They make your sippers great, but that also makes your cocktails great. So, if your thought is to get a handle of whatever to save money, that's great. Just toss a Bourbon Bagger in it and make it cocktail-worthy.

Back to blog

Turn Weeknight Bourbon Into Weekend Bourbon