Must-Have Items For Your Home Bar
If you’re new to the home cocktail-making game, knowing exactly what you need to mix up your favorite drinks from the comfort of home can be a bit of a question mark. Once you hit the search engine and type in barware, an endless stream of suggestions pop up.
Like most things, barware comes in both the “need to have” and “nice to have” categories. As a spirits company with our own Tasting Room—where we mix up all kinds of tasty adult beverages on the regular—it was important to us to select and sell barware that we know from experience is both useful and high quality.
Here, we share the top “must have” items to set your home bar up for success.
As the saying goes, “a good bartender always measures,” so this is perhaps the most essential item to have when making your own cocktails. A jigger is a helpful bar tool used to measure the liquid before you add it to a cocktail. These allow bartenders to portion the correct amount of liquid, so the drinks taste consistent each time. At Mad River, there are two main styles that we carry—a traditional Japanese style, and a Leopold Style.
No doubt that while ordering a cocktail you’ve seen (and heard) the cold shake of your drink before watching it pour in your glass. Shakers provide a quick way to completely blend all of the ingredients of your cocktail together, and it’s a common step in cocktail recipes. For shakers, we prefer a Classic Boston Shaker style, which are locking metal shakers (to prevent leaking) that are traditionally sold in a set. We carry three different finishes at our Tasting Room to suit your personal aesthetic.
If your cocktail is shaken, not stirred, you’re going to want a strainer to keep out all the bits of ice, fruit, pulp or other ingredients that you don’t want to drink (or get stuck in your teeth). It’s not a bad idea to do a secondary strain through a mesh strainer, too. We carry the Hawthorne Strainer in three different finishes at our Tasting Room, to match with the finish of each shaker set.
Stir Vessel & Stirring Spoon
Though sold separately, these go together like hand-in-glove. A stir vessel is ideal for certain drinks—such as the Old Fashioned, Martini, Manhattan, and Negroni—where you want a smoother, more even texture in your cocktail. The stirring spoon is a long handled spoon, which makes the mixing of liquids easier. Made from stainless steel, stirring spoons won’t affect the flavor of your drink, and it’s easy to keep clean. We carry multiple sizes of both the stir vessel and spoon at our Tasting Room.
You’ll find few cocktail recipes that don’t include a drop or two (or more!) of bitters. Bartenders rely on bitters the way that chefs rely on seasonings. They can reduce sweetness, slice thru richness, meld disparate ingredients, and even add an aromatic spiciness. They come in a variety of compelling flavors, giving a boost to whatever you fancy. Our Tasting Room has an impressive wall of bitters from which to choose, but we highly recommend stocking your bar with at least Angostura and Orange bitters.
Large Cube Ice Tray
Sure, you can add any size and shape ice that you want… but if you really want to up your cocktail game, get yourself a large cube ice tray. Large ice allows better control over temperature and dilution, which is (in our humble opinion) crucial for whiskey drinkers and Old Fashioned lovers.
This is a simple tool, but a necessary one. The citrus peeler is needed to express zest onto the surface of your cocktail, and yes, it REALLY makes a difference.
High quality, raw ingredients, is critical for making good cocktails. Juice your own lemons and limes, and you'll never go back to store bought bottles! This step is totally worth the extra effort. Just strain your fresh pressed citrus through the strainer to remove any pulp or seeds.
Small Paring Knife
So many cocktails feature a garnish. Rather than struggle with something like a steak knife, a small paring knife will easily peel just the citrus garnish your cocktail needs, whether it’s a wedge of lemon or a peel of orange zest. This is a go-to tool for all bartenders.
Used in cocktails such as the ever popular Manhattan and Old Fashioned, we always keep cherries in stock at our Tasting Room. But not just any cherries. We prefer Luxardo Cherries, which have a much richer flavor (and color) than simple maraschino cherries. Once you try them, they’re bound to be your cherries of choice.
While there is no shortage of options when it comes to stocking your home bar, this list of must-haves should cover the basic “need to have” items, so you can mix up any cocktail from home with confidence. Our parting advice? Start a cocktail notebook! You can write down your flavor preferences and go-to recipes, and even take notes on your own experiments and results.
Have fun, and happy mixing!
Written by Brianne Lucas and Jesse Luberoff, and published by Brianne Lucas on October 11, 2021.