Home mixologists require all the necessary components for a good bar, whether it be the perfect recipe or jigger to get the measurements just right. We asked Southern bartenders for help in building out our at-home bar, and thankfully, they have a long list of essentials that will have us making flawless cocktails in no time. Start by stocking your bar with your spirits of choice, then add items from the list below. Each bartender lends advice on what to start with, and why. By the end of the list you will have all the ingredients for the perfect at-home bar.
Shaker + Stirring Glass
Rob Guimaraes, Union Common, Nashville
“Perhaps the core of a home bar (apart from the actual alcohol!) is going to be the ‘vehicle’ by which it is made/chilled: either a shaker or a stirring glass. Shakers have a few different styles. Boston shakers are the typical steel tins you’ll see at bars. They’ll either be accompanied by a toby/cheater tin (the baby version of the bigger one) or pint glass, either of which creates the seal needed to shake a cocktail. The toby/cheater tins are preferable, I’d say, due to the fact that you won’t have a glass that could break to contend with. Cobbler shakers (three-piece steel shakers) can be rather fun as well, particularly for a home bar. They’re usually avoided in bars (although they do find stylistic use in Japanese bars) due to being more cumbersome to use and clean, reducing their high-volume efficiency. At home, however, you’re not likely to run into a situation where you’re making mass amounts of drinks in a short period of time. The cobbler shakers do tend to have a prettier aesthetic to them as well, which can make for a nice eye-catcher on your home bar.
“Next is the stirring glass. You’ve likely seen these at craft cocktail bars as well: etched-design, spout-pour glasses that have an elegant look and a shape conducive to stirring. They will be accompanied by the long, spiral-handled bar spoons.
“With either of these devices, you’re going to need a strainer of some sort. The more recognizable, spring-loaded ones are called Hawthorne strainers and tend to fit comfortably (thanks to the spring) across numerous tops of shakers and glassware. Julep strainers (which look like enlarged spoons with holes in them) are more typically used with stirring glasses.
“The last tool that’s going to be of some importance is a jigger. Essentially, these are just attractive measuring tools that ensure you’re building drink recipes correctly and/or consistently (like measuring spoons for cooking). They also can range from the more simplistic to more elegant in style. This means you can tailor your toolsets to all be visually the same, and you’ll often find such sets available as a package.
“There are many other nuanced tools you can add to your collection once you’ve got the bug, but those will be the basics you’ll need to begin making cocktails at home!”
Shaker Set + Kentucky Bourbon
Jennifer Vance, Director for Louisville Bartending School, Louisville
“My two picks for home entertaining is a complete, good-quality shaker set (with glass and tin, plastic-tip bar spoon, strainer, measures with multiple portions, wine opener and muddler) and a selection of Kentucky bourbons and fresh fruit. Most cocktails require a shake-and-strain or stir-and-strain mixing method. A plastic-tip bar spoon is essential for martinis and Manhattans. A trend today is cocktails made with fresh fruits and juices, making the muddler once again an important piece of equipment — to extract juices from fresh fruits, primarily for Old Fashioneds.
“Bourbon has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last few years not only as a stand-alone cocktail but also in mixed cocktails, as has the use of fresh-squeezed fruit juices. A cocktail that would be a good example of both selections would be a bourbon Old Fashioned.”
Jigger + Shaker Set
Randy Hayden, 9 Mile Station, Atlanta
“The two essentials, for me, are a 1 oz/2 oz jigger and a proper Boston shaker set. The jigger is a must because not even the most accurate bartender can execute a perfect pour without one. Even being 1/16 of an ounce off of a spirit or mixer can throw off the balance of the cocktail. The jigger ensures precision accuracy. The proper Boston shaker set is vital because there are many terrible shaker sets out there. Koriko makes the perfect set, in my opinion, with great movement, easy separation and a perfect seal.”
Josh Hammond, Co-Owner of Busters Liquors & Wines, Memphis
“The Coravin Wine Opener is the ultimate accessory for wine enthusiasts. Wanting to drink your favorite wine tonight but contemplating over the fact you only want one glass versus the bottle? Or, maybe you’re debating with your significant other, ‘Shall we open a red or white tonight?’ Well, put those questions to rest because the Coravin technology allows you to do both and enjoy a glass of your favorite wine without opening the bottle. In its simplest form, the Coravin is literally a thief using a precision needle that goes through the cork (and foil too) to push argon gas inside as a preserve while pushing wine out for you to drink. This means you may put the bottle back on the shelf and come back to later when you ready. We’ve been using the system at the store to sample higher-end wines with our customers, and we’re happy to provide demonstrations as well on how to use it. With the Coravin, wine will never go to waste again!”
Tequila + Fresh Limes
“We’re partial to margaritas, so we believe that a few kinds of tequila — 100% agave — are a must for any home entertainer. We also recommend that you always have fresh limes on hand. Freshly squeezed juice makes a huge difference when complementing any type of tequila. Lastly, a reliable cocktail recipe book. While most people have their standard go-to drink, it’s fun to be inventive and consult a trusty source once in a while.”
Bar Tools + Glassware + Cocktail Books
Cat Platz, Brown-Forman Whiskey Brand Ambassador, Louisville
“Once you’ve stocked your bar with quality spirits (like Coopers’ Craft!), there are some other essential components you’ll need for perfect cocktails:
- Bar tools, specifically a jigger and cocktail shaker. The jigger will help ensure you’re pouring the correct proportions for perfect consistent cocktails every time and the shaker is used in a variety of cocktails and can double as a mixing glass if you’re in a pinch.
- Glassware, a variety of glasses like coupes, high balls and rocks will showcase the flavors, aromas and colors of your cocktail while adding some personal style to your bar whether you’re going for a vintage feel or more modern look.
- Cocktail books not only look great on your bar, but they can be a source of inspiration and a great conversation piece.”
Something With a Story
Feizal Valli, co-owner (with the lovely Rachael Roberts) of the James Beard-nominated Atomic Lounge, Birmingham
“My first bar job was on Bourbon Street and I lied my way into it. The bartender I worked with spotted my inexperience right away but didn’t give me up. Instead, he covered for me until I could figure out how to bartend — at least to the level I pretended I was already at. Six months later, he died in a French Quarter gutter of a fatal heroin overdose and at the funeral, his girlfriend gave me his two dollar beer opener and said that he would have wanted me to have it. That beer opener was with me for 10 years, I never let it out of my sight, until I left it on my nightstand and left for what I thought was a day to avoid Hurricane Katrina.
“So, my bar cart advice is find something with a story, either an heirloom or something you found on a special trip or something that was gifted to you — something unusual or sentimental. It’ll make every trip to that bar cart more memorable. Of course, besides that, keep a bottle of Angostura bitters and a jigger (a good cocktail is always precise).”
Bar Spoon + Ice Mold
Robert Robinson, Bartender, Acme Feed & Seed, Nashville
“My top pick is a bar spoon. I find it to be deceptively simple — you can pretty much make any drink with it. A shaker is only for drinks that are juice-based, but a bar spoon will give you that creamy, velvety feel you want when you make a Manhattan or martini, or any classic old-school cocktail. It’s a little smaller than a kitchen spoon, and there’s a twist throughout the whole stem, which makes it easier to place on the side of a glass and spin around. One thing that people forget is that booze is strong, and dilution is important. So when you stir, stir about 32 times to create enough dilution from the ice and to make the cocktail not too strong, not too weak.
“For my second pick, I would go with a nice spherical ice mold. When you have the perfect cocktail, you want that perfect moment to last. A Vieux Carre — a whiskey drink from New Orleans — is one of my all-time favorite drinks. You start drinking it, and it’s very booze-forward. But then, there’s this perfect moment of dilution, and that’s the moment you want to savor. When you use smaller ice cubes, that moment fades quickly.”
Accurate Jigger + Tins
Sonny Wallace, Beverage Director at The Collector‘s Bar, The Well, St. Augustine
“My picks are an accurate jigger (this must be confirmed by weight as they vary a lot) and the right tins. Pina produces too heavy a tin because repetitive motion and damage is a thing. Koriko’s seal is hard to break, causing injury to the hand. Twelve24 tins seem to be the way to go!”
Are you ready to stock your at-home bar? Let us know when you are ready to entertain, as we could use a cold drink!
Discover everything the South has to offer, from cocktails to food to culture. Our travel guide will help direct you on where to go and how to spend your time!