Tips for beginners: Tools and equipment

September 12th, 2007

The cocktail shaker may be the most vital piece of bar equipment you should own, but it’s certainly not the only one. Shakers, strainers, muddlers… bar spoons, channel knives, jiggers. There is a seemingly endless array of tools aimed to help you make better cocktails.

The following is a collection of some of the equipment I have picked up over the past few years that I find helpful and useful whilst making cocktails. Some of them, like the jigger, are essential to making drinks, whereas others, like the pourers, just make life a bit easier. Start with the stuff you think you’ll need, and start building up your collection of tools from there.


A selection of jiggers

A jigger is used to measure out the ingredients for a cocktail. It typically consists of two conical shaped measures, one larger than the other. The exact measurement each end contains varies widely, but typically measures 1½ oz on the large side, and 1 oz on the smaller side. If you live in the UK like me, it’s more likely to be 40ml on one side and 20ml on the other. Traditionally, the larger side was called a jigger, and the smaller side a pony, but these days the whole item is usually just referred to as a jigger.

The varying sizes, and the lack of intermediate measurements make jiggers pretty poor tools for measuring out ingredients. When you get to recipes that call for 1/6 oz of this or 1¼ oz of that, it basically becomes guesswork and with strong ingredients where only a little extra can make a big difference, guessing wrong can ruin the drink.

I therefore highly recommend you pick up an Oxo Mini Angled Measuring Jug, pictured above, which allows you to accurately measure anything down to one teaspoon, and as it has both fluid ounce and milliliter markings you won’t have to do any confusing conversions between the two. It’s also cleverly designed so you can easily read the measurement from above, so you won’t be wasting time measuring and can get on with enjoying the drink.

Bar Spoon

A bar spoon

The bar spoon serves several purposes. It’s primary use is for stirring drinks like the Manhattan, and to help you with this the stem of the spoon in spiralled, which makes it easier to rotate around the glass in your hand. The bar spoon also helps you float ingredients in drinks – to see how this is done checkout Mr Martini’s demonstration video. Finally, it can be used to measure out small amounts of an ingredient, be it a liqueur or sugar.

Bar spoons are available in the US for just a few dollars, but these tend to be flimsy and poorly constructed. They also tend to have a sharp end, covered by a red plastic cap. The sharp end is practically useless, and the red cap is easily lost, making this another negative attribute of the cheap bar spoon. A better made spoon, while more expensive, is definitely worth the extra few dollars it will cost.


Hawthorn, julep and fine strainers

There are three types of strainers you will come across when making cocktails. The hawthorn strainer is used when shaking with a Boston or French shaker, and fits neatly over the metal tin, allowing you to pour the drink whilst keeping the ice out. For drinks that are stirred, a julep stainer sits in to the glass section of a Boston shaker, which is often too small for a hawthorn strainer to correctly fit.

If you’re using a cobbler shaker, you won’t need either of these, but no matter what shaker you use you will always want a fine strainer. This is used as an additional layer of filtering to remove ice shards and bits of fruit flesh that may not have been caught by the strainer you used with the shaker. Using a fine strainer ensures a smooth drink with no unsightly bits in it. A tea strainer, or similar, works perfectly for this use.

Citrus Press

Citrus Press

I’m a firm believer in always using fresh ingredients where possible in cocktails, so always use freshly squeezed lemons and limes. For years I used a traditional glass squeezer, where you simply cut the fruit in half, push it on to the squeezer, and the juice collects in to a lip at the bottom. However, this was time consuming, difficult to clean, and akward to pour (it would always spill when I tried to transfer the juice to my jigger).

I then came across this type of citrus squeezer, which make the job of getting juice from a fruit incredibly easy. You just insert half a fruit, squeeze the handles together, and the juice empties from small holes in the bottom. Much easier to clean, much quicker to squeeze. Just beware the cheaper brands, as the center pin can easily snap which can result in your fingers being crushed between the two metal handles. Not a pleasant experience let me assure you!


Speed pourers on bottles

Speed pourers are definitely not a “must have” item, but I personally find them very useful and keep them on most of my bottles. Pourers are often used by bars and bartenders so they can “free pour” ingredients in order to save time. I personally don’t free pour all that much (except when I’m making basic spirit and mixer drinks) but I find the regular flow that pourers ensure makes it much easier to accurately measure out ingredients, with much less chance of over-pouring.

To avoid any chance of the alcohol evaporating, and to discourage those pesky flies that love open liquids, I use pourer caps which slip neatly over the top of the pourer sealing it off to the open world.



The muddler is an essential tool for drinks like the the Caipirinha which require crushed fruit. Essentially a large stick, a muddler is used to crush down fruit or other fresh ingredients in order to release the juice, we well as the flavorings of the zest and skin. Muddlers come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll want something fairly large that you can grip well. If you go for a wooden one, you’ll want to avoid varnished or painted ones as the coating can chip and end up in the glass – an ingredient no one wants in their cocktail!

Channel Knife

Channel Knife and lemon

Good garnishes, as well as looking nice, can often have a surprisingly big impact on the taste of a drink. The zest that is released a lemon or orange can be an important ingredient in a drink so you will need a good channel knife to cut your fruit twists. You’ll want one with a decent sharp edge and a reasonably deep cut. Creating good twists takes practice, so don’t be disheartened if your first attempts aren’t very impressive. You can watch Robert Hess creating a lemon twist at The Cocktail Spirit.

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