Building Your Tool Kit
As any craft person knows having the proper tools produces a superior product. Identifying the perfect tool involves evaluating its form, fit, and function; making the selection a very personal choice. As a gadget girl, I love experimenting with new and different tools to determine what works best for me. To follow is a list of my current tools; most I love and some I seek to replace. I have provided links to my favorite products. You will notice that I am a big fan of Cocktail Kingdom for professional quality Japanese tools and the OXO Barware line has some great functioning tools. If you have tools you love, please leave a comment. I am always on the hunt for the perfect tool!
My most used tools consist of the following:
- Two Step Corkscrew
- Mixing Glass
- Citrus Juicers
- Citrus Peeler
Two Step Corkscrew
My favorite tools are those that perform multiple functions well. This is often a large order, as it is hard to do many things well. I love a two-step corkscrew. It greatly simplifies the process of opening a bottle of wine and may be used to open bottles. It is comprised of a knife to easily cut the foil covering the cork, a long corkscrew, a two-step lever that allows for you to walk the cork with minimal effort, and a bottle opener. It is small, easily stored, and transported. Prices range from $5 to $25. This one was purchased for less than $10.
Jiggers and Measuring
Jiggers come in many shapes and sizes. There are two different styles of the double-sided, hourglass-shaped jigger: a) tall Japanese style and b) short angular style. I prefer the Japanese style because the limited surface area produces a more accurate pour. For example, a fat pour in a Japanese style jigger will give you less variance in liquid than a fat pour in a short angular jigger. I recommend all of the jiggers featured in the photo. From left to right, Cocktail Kingdom Japanese Style 2oz/1oz, Cocktail Kingdom Japanese Style 3/4oz/1/2oz, OXO’s Steel Double Jigger, and OXO’s Steel Angled Jigger. Each of these jiggers was purchased for less than $10.
Some recipes call for amounts smaller than a jigger. In these instances, you will want to use measuring spoons. Almost every kitchen has a stock of standard measuring spoons. If you are looking for a special gift for someone with a fully stocked bar kit you may consider Meehan’s Mixology Spoons. They are pricey at $25, but beautiful.
Some recipes call for amounts much larger than a jigger. In these situations, I use my standard kitchen glass measuring cups, coupled with an Etekcity Electronic Scale. I weigh the ingredients and take advantage of the spout to pour. I also prepare my syrups by weight. This scale is highly used in our household and at under $15 it is a bargain!
If you are making a batch cocktail, you may also want a funnel to assist in the transferring to a bottle or cask. For this task, I love my collapsible silicone funnels. Priced at less than $5.
Cocktail shakers are required for mixing any cocktail that contains fruit juice, dairy, syrup, or egg. They come in a wide variety of materials and styles. I prefer the stainless steel Koriko 18-28 Weighted Shaking Tins. This set-up creates an air-tight seal, yet the steel is flexible which makes it easier to release the vacuum after a good shake. It also conducts temperature well, so you can “feel” when the cocktail is properly chilled. Which every shaker style you choose, you may consider having more than one set if you plan on shaking two different cocktails at the same time. This set was purchased for less than $20.
If you are making a cocktail that is a combination of liquors, you will want to stir the cocktail. This eliminates air from being incorporated in the cocktail while you achieve the perfect water dilution. The science behind the mixology indicates that it is easier to chill the cocktail with the proper dilution in a glass vessel. You can use a pint glass, but I prefer a vessel with a spout as it is easier to pour. I have both a scientific borosilicate beaker and a simple mixing glass. The beaker was under $10 and the mixing glass was under $20. If you are looking to add a little flare to the experience or a gift for someone special, Cocktail Kingdom Mixing Glasses are beautiful ranging in price from $30 to $50.
Pouring the perfect cocktail is as important as the stir or shake! Strainers in the photo are presented from left to right. I like my Koriko Hawthorne Strainer which may be used to strain both shaken or stirred cocktails. If you only want to purchase one strainer a Hawthorne strainer is a must! I recommend always purchasing quality stainless steel tools. The second strainer is an OXO Fine Mesh Cone Strainer. I use the cone strainer to strain freshly squeezed juices, as well as, the second strain on shaken cocktails. This eliminates any ice chips or fine particles developed as a result of the shake. The last strainer is a Crafthouse Julep Strainer, recently purchased for straining stirred cocktails as it fits better in a mixing glass with a spout. I am not a fan of this particular design, as the placement of the groove is too far back. This prevents me from being able to pour from the mixing glass with one hand. It is not designed for small lady hands. It also does not fit into a pint glass if this is the mixing vessel of choice. The Cocktail King Julep Strainer has been added to my wish list for future evaluation. The fine mesh strainer was $10 and the others are $16.
Stir, Muddle, Crush and Scoop
A long-handled bar spoon is perfect for stirring cocktails in your mixing glass. I like a simple bar spoon, mine is a Hiware Barspoon purchased on Amazon for $13. If I was in the market for a new one, I recommend spending an extra $5 to purchase the Teardrop Barspoon for $18.
Muddle and Crush
Muddlers are a specialty tool used to extract juices from fruit or express essential oils from herbs, such as, mint in mojitos. I started out with a wooden muddler, which is hard to clean. I received the Fourth Cliff Tools Muddler as a gift. It retails for $30. This is a heavyweight stainless multi-purpose tool which also crushes ice. It works great for crushing ice, cleans up easily, and muddles well in a tin. It is very heavy, so I use the wooden muddler when muddling directly in a glass. I plan on replacing my wooden muddler with a Bad Ass Muddler. It is made of food-grade plastic for easy cleaning and retails for $13.
It is much easier and cleaner to scoop ice into your glasses and shaker. When I went searching for an ice scoop, the stores were out of the small metal scoops. So I purchased the OXO Scoop. It has flexible sides which makes it easy to control when putting ice into smaller glasses. It is serviceable. I am still on the lookout for a small metal scoop, as I believe it will be better for losing up ice that may be stuck together in the ice bucket. I may purchase the Crafthouse Bar Scoop, but after my experience with their julep strainer, I would like to see it in person. Small scoops range from $7 to $20 depending on material and quality.
Citrus and Garnishing
A large percentage of the cocktails call for freshly squeezed citrus. This can be an arduous task if you are making a large number of cocktails. I have tested several styles of citrus juicers and have yet to find the perfect tool. I will say that I have not invested in an electronic or commercial grade press, as limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits vary so greatly in size, they require separate devices. I haven’t wanted to make that kind of investment and am concerned about storage space.
So for now, I prefer an old school reamer with a catch basin over a hand press. I feel that a hand press expresses too much of the bitterness from the pith and peel. I have three reamers, the large orange one is good for both oranges and grapefruits, and two Trudeau Citrus Juicer . I use one to store lemon juice and the other to store lime juice. I like the Trudeau Citrus Juicer because you may store the juice in the airtight 4 oz base. It would be perfect the base was glass. Old school reamers range from $8 to $12.
Citrus Peeler and Garnish
For the longest time, I would use my standard vegetable peeler to peel lemons and limes, then I discovered the excellent OXO Citrus Peeler which removes far less pith from the rinds. As a bonus, this tool also doubles as a zester. Priced at under $10.
Microplane and Garnish Cutter
When I purchased the Microplane Ultimate Citrus Tool, I thought I had found the perfect citrus multi-tool. Alas, I was mistaken. While the Microplane works well for grating, the channel knife produces substandard results. In hindsight, I would have been better off with two tools. If I were to do it over again, I would purchase the OXO Etched Zester and the Cocktail Kingdom Channel Knife. The OXO Zester is $12 and the Channel Knife is $7.
Serrated Knife and Cutting Board
An inexpensive 6″ serrated knife is the way to go when cutting citrus. Never use your good kitchen knives to cut citrus as the acid will eventually pit and dull the blade. I also recommend a small cutting board to keep in the bar area for garnish preparation.