Stock Your Bar

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We've already identified five essential cocktails that every guy should know how to make, but are you suitably prepared to handle those drink orders and whatever others you're faced with at your next party? It doesn't matter where the bar is; mixologists are only as good as their tools and ingredients. The following is a list of the basics.

Cocktail shaker and/or strainer

Martinis, Manhattans and numerous other cocktails should be served "up," i.e., without ice, but well chilled by contact with ice stimulated by intense stirring or shaking, and then strained into a glass. Other recipes call for straining that drink over ice. In either case, shakers with strainers are an absolute must.

Many serious home bartenders prefer the old fashioned two-part "Boston shaker," which requires you to also have a cocktail strainer at the ready. Still, for less ambitious non-pros, a traditional three part shaker, which includes a strainer, should be sufficient. Cheap plastic shakers can do the trick, but they don't last as long. There is also at least one martini recipe we know of which requires a metal shaker because it necessitates that the shaker actually be cold.

Measuring shot glass or jigger, cups and spoons

Stock Your BarVery small quantities can make a big difference in your drinks, and the right proportions really are the difference between a really delicious cocktail and one that's merely alcoholic. Especially when you're starting out, you want to follow directions rather precisely and so measuring tools are a must. Ordinary shot glasses are usually a little bit over 1.5 ounces, but there's too much variation for any reliability. Jiggers used by professional bartenders have set sizes, so they're better, but you'll still have to eyeball your quantities a lot of the time. For most of us, you simply can't beat the ease and precision of a measuring shot glass. Using measuring spoons can also make a big difference.

Zester -- or a decent, small knife

Lemon twists are one of the most common cocktail garnishes and sometimes a key ingredient. It's usually a curled length of the rind, but not just any part of the rind. Appearance aside, most experts will tell you that the crucial matter, taste-wise, for a proper twist has nothing to do with the fancy curl. It's all about getting a decent sized length of the "zest," the essential oil-rich top layer of the citrus skin with none of the white mushy portion of the peel. It's easier to get attractive twists with a zester, but you can also accomplish the same basic feat with the careful use of a knife.

Bar spoons and swizzle sticks

If you're only making drinks for yourself and maybe one or two other people, you can get away with a swizzle stick for stirring. However, if you need to fill up your cocktail shaker by more than a few inches, a bar spoon is an absolute requirement for stirring drinks with proper vigor. Even if you always use the bar spoon, you'll still want to have swizzle sticks around for stirring drinks that are poured directly into the glass.


Remember that mortar and pestle from science class? Well, muddlers perform the same function as the pestle in glasses or cocktail shakers. Muddling is essential for such popular drinks as the mojito and its North American cousin, the mint julep; it's a nice touch on an Old Fashioned as well. You want one.

Ice Bucket

If there's one thing that most cocktails have in common, it’s that they require ice, and usually a lot of it. Unless you have an ice maker very close by, you're going to want a bucket or cooler that will keep your ice good and cold for as long as possible. For obvious reasons, insulated ice buckets are better.

Stock Your Bar

A water pitcher

Speaking of key cocktail ingredients, water is definitely one of them. Wet bars (bars with sinks and running water) are convenient, but if you don't have one and your bar isn't located in the kitchen, you don't have to resort to a massive DIY plumbing project. Pitchers to hold tap water are the more ecologically friendly alternative to keep fresh water on hand. If the taste of the water in your area isn't great, a filter may be called for.

Booze and mixers

This goes without saying -- but which booze to buy? Well, what cocktails are your favorites? Usually, you'll want to start with a good whiskey or two (or three), rum perhaps, at least one brand each of gin and vodka, and quality sweet and dry vermouths. You'll also want such frequently called-for mixers as club soda, tonic water, ginger ale, and Rose's lime juice. Campari, triple sec and Kahlua are just a few of the more popular liqueurs often included in cocktails.

One note about liquor brands: Premium brands are often terrific, but don't automatically rule out the cheaper big names like Jim Beam, Canadian Club, Gordon's, Seagram's and Smirnoff. These brands used to be "the good stuff." Their formulations have changed over the years but a surprising number of them make just as good cocktails as their premium cousins and they can be vastly less expensive. Also, there's little point in buying an expensive brand if you're just going to mix it with Coke. Even so, stay away from the sketchy store brands.

Stock Your BarBitters

These arcane herbal concoctions were once thought to have medicinal properties and they remain the cure for lousy whiskey-based drinks. For decades, only Angostura bitters were widely available but today some high-end bars stock as many species of bitters as brands of bourbon and Scotch. Still, we'd suggest starting with the holy trinity: the venerable Angostura, the even older Peychaud's, and Regan's orange bitters, a brand developed in the 1990s which has quickly become the standard for citrus-based bitters.

Superfine sugar or simple syrup

Countless drink recipes call for sugar, often in the form of "simple syrup," which is simply sugar water. Some gourmet boozehounds make their own simple syrup (it's not that hard) but buying it ready-made will set you back $5-$10 -- for sugar water! Ordinary table sugar is okay, but it takes a bit of work to dissolve properly in cool water and can leave granules. The lazy cheapskate's solution is to buy superfine sugar, which dissolves in water as easily as sugar substitute -- consider it "instant" simple syrup. Large beverage specialists like Bev-Mo carry this otherwise strangely hard to find product.

Selection of glasses

Believe it or not, the glass makes an enormous difference to the proper enjoyment of your cocktail. Try a martini in a long, slender Tom Collins glass sometime; it will get warm too fast, the bouquet will be limited, and it will generally kind of suck. Jelly glasses might be fine for enormous blended drinks and the occasional Bloody Mary, but for most cocktails, stick to the classics: martini or small wide-brimmed champagne glasses (the truly old-school martini glass), Tom Collins, and Old Fashioned/"Rocks" glasses.


Yes, we're snobs and we're putting this last. Though we prefer the non-blended versions of margaritas and daiquiris, people love the super-icy/super-sweet versions of those cocktail crowdpleasers. Besides, there are a few fun dessert drinks we heartily approve of that require a blender. Also, we're not opposed to using them for cooking and shakes/smoothies, so having one is not a bad thing.

Check out our Get Real Guide for Men regularly for more tips for the everyman!