At-Home Bar Essentials

May 17, 2020 | Drinks

My favourite alcoholic beverage is hands down, a beautifully crafted cocktail. I love a restaurant or bar known for a creative house cocktail list, yet despite this, I could never figure out (or quite frankly, never invested the time into learning) how to make a great cocktail at home. 

Over the last year, I’ve set out to curate a better at-home-bar and learn a few staple cocktails. 

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Step One: Curating the Bar

To make a decent cocktail, you do not need to shell out a ton of money on fancy tools. The right tools help take your skill up a notch, but are by no means necessary. I do suggest that if you end up purchasing tools in piecemeal over time, try to keep them within the same style so that your collection looks cohesive.

Here is a list of my favourite bar tools and other accessories, as well as their respective household substitutions.

Hanging Bar Tools

I love a hanging bar tool set – it looks great perched on top of your bar and keeps your tools organized. I was most excited to use my Hawthorne strainer, so that I could finally avoid having ice come crashing out as I poured a drink. 

Hanging Bar Tools

There are a dizzying number of bar tool sets, with various tools included. I’d recommend looking for a set that has the following:

  • A Hawthorn Strainer for straining your cocktails – especially helpful for keeping the post-shake shards of ice out of your beverage. Note: a Hawthorn Strainer is not needed if you are using a Cobbler Shaker, since it has a built-in strainer.
  • A jigger for measuring ounces

Favourites: I am partial to a hanging set, rather than purchasing individual tools. Granted, you can buy each element separately if preferred. Mine is from London, but you can find similar sets below.

Shop at:

Tip: Cocktail Emporium is a great local Toronto cocktail goods shop!

At Home Substitute

As long as you have a shot glass, you can measure ounces.

As for straining, get creative and use the back of a wide spoon or a pasta strainer.

Bar Tools


Ice is arguably one of the most important elements of a cocktail, as it helps to both cool and dilute your beverage (dilution, by the way, is not a bad thing!). The size and shape of your ice impacts how quickly it melts and transforms your cocktail.

Ice Sphere
Ice Molds

Here’s a quick run-down of what type of ice to use when:

  • Big Cubes or Spheres for spirit-forward drinks (keeps the temperature and dilution consistent for a longer period of time)
  • Collins Spears for highball cocktails (similar to above, but for cocktails in a highball – tall – glass)
  • Crushed or Small Pebbled Ice for your typical hot-climate drinks that are heavy on juice & syrups (the smaller format ice will help dilute the spirit-forward cocktail, balance the sugary elements and keep the drink cold)

Pro Tip: Be sure to store your ice in a sealed bag or container, or change your ice out frequently. Ice picks up surrounding flavours, and it would be a shame to have your expensive alcohol start to taste like frozen lasagna!

Favourites: Generally, I find silicone molds make it easier to dislodge the ice out once frozen.

I love the Peak Collection by W&P. Their products are easy to use – just make sure you seal the halves before filling – and they have an ice mold for every purpose.

Shop the Peak Collection at:

At Home Substitute

Literally any ice will do as a starting point!


A general rule of thumb is spirit-only cocktails are meant to be stirred. Everything else, including cocktails with juice (eg. lemon or lime), simple syrup, cream, egg whites or other dairy products, are typically meant to be shaken – hard! Essentially shake a cocktail if you want the ingredients to be thoroughly integrated together. Shaking breaks down more ice and adds more dilution to a drink –  it helps to chill your cocktail and properly balance the flavours.

There are two common types of shakers:

  • Cobbler: a three-piece shaker comprised of a metal tin, cap and built in strainer. Typically these are easier to use, but can have a tendency to get stuck or leak and are harder to clean. Be sure to read reviews before buying.
    • Pro Tip: The cap typically measures 1oz, which saves you from needing a jigger.
  • Boston: has a metal shaking tin and a mixing tin, and no strainer (you’ll likely want a Hawthorn strainer – read above!). Boston shakers are generally used by bartenders, and are loved for the speed of use and ease of cleaning.

Favourites: Many people find Boston shakers tricky to master, so I’d recommend a Cobbler shaker if you are new to the at-home cocktail game. 

Shop at:



At Home Substitute

I used a cup and lid that came with my NutriBullet for longer than I should probably admit. That or large Tupperware will do.

You just need to have enough room for the ice to be able to shake around, and a lid secure enough that you won’t end up with a cocktail backsplash.

Cobbler Cocktail Shaker
Boston Cocktail Shaker

Hand-Held Juicer

My hand-held lemon juicer is one of my favourite kitchen tools – I use it multiple times a week for cooking or cocktails. It makes juicing much easier and I wish I purchased one years earlier.

Lemon Juicer
Hand-Held Juicer

There are a few variations, but any will do. I chose one that could easily fit lemon and lime halves. I also use it for orange wedges – I just have to cut them into slightly smaller pieces. It’s super easy to just throw into the dishwasher when I’m done.

Shop at:

At Home Substitute

The simple fork trick will do you wonders – cut the lemon (or other citrus fruit) in half lengthwise and stick a fork into the centre. Twist the fork and lemon against each other as you squeeze.

Just watch for seeds! 

Bar Spoon

For cocktails that are meant to be stirred, a spoon with a long handle is incredibly useful.

Bar Spoon

There are several types of bar spoons – Japanese, European and American – and all are meant to hold 5mL (or a teaspoon) of liquid.

Favourites: I am partial to the European style, as the tip doubles as a muddler (see photo).

Shop at:

At Home Substitute

For mixing, use the handle of any lengthy cooking utensil.

European Bar Spoon

The not-necessary, but nice-to-have Tools

Mixing Glass

Mixing Glass

Mixing glasses are beautiful and will certainly make you look more sophisticated. But really, any large glass or vessel will do if you are not ready to make the leap. Either way, a Hawthorn strainer will help you pour.

Mesh Strainer

Fine Mesh Cocktail Strainer

Great for double straining cocktails with fruit, herbs or fine ice chips.



Use a muddler to mash – or muddle – herbs, fruits, spices etc. to release flavour. The back of a European bar spoon will be sufficient in many cases.

Project Gigglewater Cocktails

Bar Glasses

Sure, you can use your regular glassware, but having cocktail glasses will surely elevate your presentation. There could be an entire post dedicated to which glasses to use with each cocktail, but for now – here are some of my favourite stores for glassware:

  • Crate & Barrel – classic options in every style. They are generally affordable, so you won’t be upset when someone inevitably breaks a wine glass
  • Cocktail Emporium – one of my local Toronto go-tos for everything related to cocktails
  • VdeV – one of my favourite local Toronto shops for vintage-inspired glassware
  • The Crafty Bartender – Canadian online cocktail supply store with a huge selection
  • CB2 – good selection of funky options


Historically, spirit decanters were often used for advertising, showing off the colour and clarity of the liquor. Today, they are still popular for their aesthetics and have become a staple in many homes.

When purchasing a decanter look for ones that: are the right size for your alcohol, have a good seal, and are lead crystal free.

A quick note on wine: decanting wine has much more purpose. Decanting ‘opens up’ the wine by exposing it to oxygen. This helps to enhance the aromatic characteristics by softening tannins and bringing fruit-flavours forward – especially helpful for younger wines. It also helps remove sediment (which is often bitter) – especially helpful for older wines. If you pour the wine slowly and at a 45 degree angle into the decanter, the sediment separates from the wine and will remain in the bottle. Most red wines should be decanted for at least 30 minutes before drinking. White wines don’t typically have sediment, which is why you rarely see them being decanted. 



wine Saver

While we are on the topic of wine, it’s worth noting that wine savers are fantastic for helping preserve partially consumed bottles of wine. You’ll no longer feel forced to finish the whole bottle, but by all means, please don’t let this stop you.


  • Vacu Wine Saver – for non-sparkling wine. It helps remove air from the bottle and slow down the oxidation process.
  • Champagne – to keep the bubbles fresh
  • Heart-shaped budget version – I purchased these as prize favours for a friend’s engagement party and I now use one frequently. It does the job, for when you can no longer fit the cork back into the bottle, and looks cute. Just don’t leave the wine for longer than a couple of days, as there is still oxygen in the bottle.
Article Bar Cabinet


Bar Cabinet

I spent quite some time searching for the perfect booze home. I wanted a piece of furniture that could stand the test of time and needed it to have closed shelving – the thought of open shelving clutter gives me anxiety.

So, I landed on this beautiful walnut piece from Article and couldn’t be happier (link below photo). There are 16 dedicated slots for bottles at the bottom, plus we currently have 35+ additional bottles on the middle shelves (with room for a few more), and the top shelves house our bitters, stir sticks, cocktail napkins, shot glasses, and more!

Here are some more bar cabinets / carts that caught my eye:


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