Want To Dive Into Home Bartending? Start Here

By Matt Sorrell
In Culture
Illustration by Noah MacMillan

Illustration by Noah MacMillan

Like any other avocation, a big part of the fun of home bartending is acquiring all of the gadgets and gewgaws that promise to elevate your skills and make your drinks even more spectacular. I confess to having drawers full of bright and shiny bartending ac- coutrements that I just couldn’t resist. But the array of drink-making equipment on the market can also be daunting to the aspiring barkeep who’s looking to ensure he or she has the basics covered. To make setting up your bar a bit easier, here’s a primer on the must-have essentials.


There are two basic types of shakers. The two-part Boston shaker consists of either two metal containers or one metal container and a pint glass that fit together. The three-part cobbler shaker consists of a metal container with a lid that has a built-in strainer and a cap. Most pros tend toward the Boston shaker for its simplicity. Plus, there’s always a pint glass around to use if the smaller tin goes missing or, if you’re using a glass, the original breaks. If you lose track of the cap to the cobbler shaker, you’re out of luck. I also find it more difficult to crack the seal on the cobbler’s top. They do look way cool sitting on the bar, though.

Mixing Glasses

The drinks that require stirring as opposed to shaking require a vessel all their own. A plain old pint glass works just fine. There are also vessels made specifically for mixing drinks that have a wide, weighted base to facilitate one-handed stirring. Of course, a couple of mixing spoons are required as well.


Traditionally, there are two basic types of strainers: the Hawthorne strainer (the one with the spring around the perimeter) and the julep strainer, which looks like a big perforated spoon. Usually, the Hawthorne is used with shakers and the julep with mixing glasses. However, I frequently use Haw- thornes to strain my stirred cocktails as I find julep strainers don’t always fit tightly enough.


To make a quality cocktail, it’s imperative to measure your ingredients. Jiggers come in a variety of sizes and usually consist of two cones joined together. Make sure the ones you buy have legible markings so you can easily tell the capacity. Or, for another option, use Oxo brand measuring cups: It’s easy to eyeball in- gredients though the transparent plastic and because the cups hold up to four ounces, you only need one.


Basically just a blunt rod used to break up fruits, veggies, herbs and other solid ingredients prior to shaking or stirring, muddlers can be made of all sorts of materials, from wood to metal. If you get a wooden version, make sure it’s not covered in stain, varnish or some other coating, which can dissolve in solutions like alcohol or citrus juice and do a real number on your cocktail.


You don’t need to have a lot of blades to begin with, but a decent paring knife and a chef’s knife are essential pieces for slicing and peeling.

Where to Go 

Of course, there are plenty of online resources nowadays. For the budget-conscious, check out barproducts.com. For some higher-end swag (solid copper shakers or gold-plated bar spoons, anyone?), head to cocktailkingdom.com, umamimart. com or parchedpenguin.com. Looking for bar bags or aprons? Twelve24’s online shop has what you’re after.

While there are plenty of spots on the internet to find barware, don’t overlook some of the brick-and-mor- tar options around town. Antique malls, thrift stores and second-hand shops can be great for sourcing vintage bar tools and glassware.See below for a list of solid spots to check out. 

What I’m Drinking Now: White Rum

Rocheport Distilling Co. (Rocheport, Missouri) has recently introduced a really nice white rum to the market. Heavy and funky like the best Jamaican-style rums, it works well in all sorts of cocktails, especially Tiki favorites.

Sorrell’s Sources Around Town

The Green Shag Market
5733 Manchester Ave., 314.646.8687

The Future Antiques
6514 Chippewa St., 314.865.1552

Society of St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store
multiple locations, svdpstlouis.org

multiple locations, mersgoodwill.org

Big Ben Antique Gallery
2337 South Big Bend Blvd., 314.645.3130

Treasure Aisles Antique Mall
2317 South Big Bend Blvd., 314.647.6875

For items like the Oxo measuring cups, as well as bar spoons and other items, try:

Bed, Bath & Beyond
multiple locations, bedbathandbeyond.com

Kitchen Conservatory
8021 Clayton Road, 314.862.2665

Matt Sorrell has been a Dining and Spirits Contributing Editor for ALIVE for the past four years (and an ALIVE writer for seven).

He has worked at several bars around town and was most recently found behind the bar at Planter’s House in Lafayette Square.

A graduate of the BarSmarts Advanced course, he recently attended the BAR five-day course in NYC, where he achieved a BAR certified rating.

He and his wife, Beth, also own Cocktails Are Go!, which provides libation education and bartender services. 

This article is featured in the December 2015 issue. 

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