Essential Bar Tools: How to Make Better Cocktails at Home

How to step up your cocktail game.

6 tips for how to up your bartender skills and make better craft cocktails right at home, plus the tools you'll need to succeed.

There’s nothing better than sipping a stellar craft cocktail right at home. I’m not a professional bartender, but here are a few bartender tips and tools I’ve picked up over the years from really paying attention to mixologists who have mastered their craft.

Follow the Proper Techniques and Recipes

A properly made cocktail starts with the right ingredients and techniques. Remember, don’t cut corners and stick with the basics. I have a handful of my favorite cocktails here, but one of my favorite blogs for classic craft cocktails is If you follow their recipes to a T, you’ll make some really fantastic craft cocktails that just may surprise you.

What Bar Tools Do I Really Need?

Here is a good entry-level bar set that I used when starting out. It’s the perfect starter kit to get you well on your way to having the right tools. I will dive into the details more below, but I can’t recommend enough the value of investing in a simple bar set.

Cocktail shaker sketch

Get a Boston Shaker and Hawthorn Strainer

What’s the secret to a smooth cocktail? It’s all in the shake (or stir). A Boston shaker consists of a pint glass and a metal canister. The advantage is more volume and more room to shake. Add a few generous handfuls of ice, and shake cocktails vigorously for at least 10 seconds. The biggest mistake I see is not using enough ice in the shaker. Three small ice cubes won’t chill a cocktail sufficiently.

Hawthorn strainer sketch

A Hawthorn strainer is designed to fit snug around the pint glass or mixing glass and will ensure ice and large chunks of muddled fruits or herbs won’t end up in your cocktail when serving. Some cocktail recipes take it a step further with “double straining.” Double straining is pouring a cocktail through two strainers as you fill your glass. Pour your cocktail out using your shaker’s strainer, and let it pass through another fine mesh strainer as you pour into a coupe glass. This prevents any small ice particles or fruit/herb sediment from passing into the drink.

Ice cubes sketch

Use Better Ice

Ever go to a nice cocktail bar and get a single large ice cube in your drink? It looks cool, but there is actually a science to it. If you’re drinking a cocktail on the rocks, a jumbo ice cube will melt slower, keeping your drink chilled without diluting or introducing too much water or off-flavors. Clearer ice tastes better and melts slower. Here’s how to make crystal clear ice at home.

Double jigger sketch

Measure, Measure, Measure Everything

Don’t eyeball or guess on your measurements. 1 part is typically 1 ounce. A double jigger (two-sided measuring device) or measuring glass will do the trick. They’re usually broken into a large and smaller side. 1 ounce and 2 ounces.

Mudder sketch

Use a Muddler

Making mojitos? A muddler is the key to flavoring cocktails with natural flavors such as mint or fruits. A wooden muddler is inexpensive and will last a lifetime. I’ve tried wooden spoons, knives (really bad idea), and other random kitchen utensils (whisk handle?!?). None seem to quite extract all of the necessary juices and flavors from any given garnish as well as a muddler.

Cocktail glass sketch

Freeze Your Glasses

Keep your drinks cooler for longer by keeping cocktail glasses in the freezer. At a minimum, I’ll throw a few coupe glasses in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before serving up a martini. This will keep your drinks colder for longer. Also, you’ll look like you really know what you’re doing.

Lastly, use the proper glassware for the drink. An inexpensive set of double old fashioned glasses and coupe martini glasses will serve nearly every cocktail you’ll need.