Build a Better Bar Part 3: Tools and Tomes


1 1/2 oz gin
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
Few dashes orange bitters <Regan’s>

Stir with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass.

This classic is considered to be the father of the Martini, or at least a heavy influence on what would later become the more popular “Gin and Vermouth” drink.  Ever since discovering it a few years ago I have always enjoyed the sweet/dry interplay between the gin and vermouth.  A wonderful lesser known classic indeed.

We’re wrapping up this month’s Build a Better Bar series by talking about essential tools as well as some of my suggestions for worthwhile resources to keep around the house. First, let’s tackle the tools.  While you can get away without most of these, your life will be much easier with them.


Shaker – Gotta build the drink somewhere.  There are two directions you can go here.  One option is the all in one shaker tin, which is usually a large stainless steal vessel with a lid that fits on top.  The lid tapers to a spout that has some mesh pattern at the mouth for straining.  Build the drink, throw on that top and pour. Pretty easy.

The second option, which I prefer, is the classic Boston shaker.  This consists of two pieces: a thick glass (about the size of a standard pint glass) and a stainless steel tumbler. I like this setup because it’s fun to see your drink as you build it in the glass.  If it’s a stirred drink you can see the spoon do it’s magic as you move the ice around.  If it’s shaken, you slap on the steel tumbler, turn everything upside down and shake.  Getting a good seal here is key, you should be able to hold the whole thing by just the glass at the top.  Breaking that seal can be tricky, but a good firm wrap with the heel of your palm right at the seam where glass and steel meet should do the trick.  If you go the Boston shaker route, you’ll need a Hawthorne strainer as well.  These have a spring along the underside to fit into either the steel or glass part, and do a solid job of straining.

Measurement Tool  A quarter of an ounce difference can greatly impact the character of a drink, which is why measuring is so important.  Most bar sets you see in stores will come with the classic jigger.  It consists of two conical cups, usually in capacities of 1.5oz/.75oz (sometimes you’ll see a 1oz/.5oz version).  I find these a little difficult to work with if you fill them to the brim.  Plus, they often don’t have graduated markings on the inside, so it can be tough to hit the .25 or .5oz pours.  Instead, I employ a 2oz measuring cup.  Think of the 2 cup or quart size measuring cups you cook with, but shrunken down to 2oz.  The angled graduated markings (from .25oz up to 2oz) are easy to read, and it’s not unwieldy when filled to 2oz.

Bar spoon – Those drinks ain’t gonna stir themselves.  Bar spoons are longer than normal spoons with a shallower bowl at the end and a spiraled shaft.  While the spirals certainly look cool, they actually serve a purpose to help you stir more efficiently.  As you move the spoon around the glass, the spirals will help the spoon itself slowly rotate, making for a smoother motion.  Another trick I read in Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail  is to slightly bend your spoon in the middle.  This allows you to keep the spoon mostly centered as you stir, with the bend helping it to reach the edges of the glass and push the ice through the drink.

Muddler – Want an Old Fashioned or Mojito?  Then you’ll need one of these to lightly mash fruit, herbs or whatever.  Wooden or stainless steel works fine here, it’s really a personal preference.  One important note, muddling ≠ pulverizing.  You don’t want to crush whatever is in the glass beyond recognition.  Simply break it up enough to release some of the essential oils into the drink.  Once the aroma strengthens you’ve probably done enough.

Juicer – Put down those bottled juices immediately.  When I can, I like to use fresh squeezed juice.  This is especially easy to do with most citrus, and makes a big difference in the final drink.  Having said that, squeezing lemons and limes can be a pain, so grab a simple manual juicer to expedite things.  Pro Tip:  If you’re having a bunch of people over for drinks, juice a bunch of lemons and limes ahead of time.  You’ll thank yourself later.

Peeler/Channel knife – Much like the spirals on a barspoon, garnishes aren’t just for show.  They can add a nice final element to the drink and bring out some subtle flavors.  To execute that twist on your martini, you’ll need something to get the zest off those lemons.  A standard veggie peeler will work admirably here.  Again, go with whichever type you use for your carrots.  If you want to get a bit fancier with your twists and make it…ya know…twist, then you’ll need a channel knife.  For that classic spiral shape, start at one pole, go down a bit, then sprial your way longitudinally down to the other pole.  You should have a nice spiral with about 3 tiers.  The fresher the fruit the better for this sort of thing, as the peel is still firm and springy.


You don’t get into cooking without buying a few cookbooks.  Same goes with cocktails –books are your friend.  Here are a two of my favorites.

  • The aforementioned The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff was my first proper cocktail book.  In addition to the bent barspoon trick, there are plenty of other tips in there from building to garnishing drinks.  The recipes are a good mix of classic and modern, with some beautiful photos to go along with them.  Any book by the man known as “King Cocktail” is probably worth owning.
  • Mr. Boston’s Official Bartending Guide (75th anniversary edition) – You may have seen older editions of this book sitting next to the dusty old bottle of Grand Marnier at your Nanna’s house, and there’s a reason it’s been around for a while.  It’s chock full of recipes organized alphabetically by spirit, which is really nice when you’re in the mood for a particular base spirit.  Maybe you’re in the mood for a long drink?  No problem; next to each recipe is the picture of the type of glass it’s served in, so you can easily scan the pages to find what you’re looking for.  It’s my go-to gift for friends getting into making cocktails at home.  While it leans on the classic side of things for recipes, there are enough modern ones to keep things interesting.

Equip your home bar with these tools and resources and you’ll be well on your way to creating a more spirited home. And don’t forget to share your bar on instagram and/or facebook and tag it with @mrmuddle and #buildyourbar.  Happy mixing!

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