Episode 002 - Bar Cart Hardware

Hello, and WELCOME to the Modern Bar Cart podcast, a weekly radio show where we demystify the tools and techniques that make great drinks.

I’m your host, Eric Kozlik, and today I’ve got for you one of the FOUNDATIONS episodes in which we review the essential tools that every good bar cart or home bar should have.

I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find an episode of this podcast that DOESN’T contain at least some small tidbit of advice about how to optimize your home bar, but this episode is gonna be a central repository of the most crucial bits of advice so you can access it all in once place and review it anytime you like.

When it comes to building your home bar or bar cart, I like to use a computer analogy, in which the consumable cocktail ingredients are like computer software, and the various tools that you reuse again and again to make your cocktails are like computer hardware. The idea being that you purchase a piece of hardware once—the physical computer—and that hardware can then be used to run an almost infinite array of software.

For this episode, and other foundations episodes, the show notes are going to be really important if you’re looking to put any of our recommendations into practice. So if I spend any significant amount of time discussing a specific brand or product style, you can expect to find more information (in the form of links, pictures, or videos) in the show notes, which you can find at modernbarcart.com/podcast.

As I sat down to develop this episode, I thought to myself, “how do I make cocktail hardware recommendations that will be the most useful to the most people?” And after thinking on it for a while, I decided to play a little game. For each category of tools I discuss in this episode, I’m gonna pretend I’m giving advice to someone in the following three situations.

  1. A person who has guests coming to visit NOW who are expecting cocktails—but who doesn’t have any home bar equipment to speak of. The recommendations here aren’t going to be glamorous or expensive, but they will get the job done in terms of allowing this person to make the requested drinks. We’ll call this person Last Minute Larry.

  2. Person number two is someone who is casually looking to outfit a bar cart or home bar, but on a real budget that a real person would have—not one of those reality TV real estate shows where people have unlimited money for their dream home. This person wants their bar equipment to look nice and get the job done, but they’re not willing to spend their entire paycheck on cocktail tools. We’ll call this person Savvy Sally.

  3. Finally, the third person here is our high roller—a serious cocktail aficionado who wants (and is willing to pay for) the best, highest-quality, sexiest bar on the planet earth. We’ll call this person Mr. Big.

So those are my three touchpoints, and I think this exercise is going to help me list enough different options so that anybody listening to this will be able to outfit their bar cart or home bar in the way they’d prefer. Everybody’s got different tastes and a different budget, and that’s okay. That’s what makes home bartending fun—doing it in a way that YOU enjoy. And that’s what the Modern Bar Cart podcast is all about.

So let’s jump into the tools that every bar or bar cart should have for the sake of personal use and casual home entertainment.

The famous American folk musician Arlo Guthrie once said, “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” And you know what? You can’t have a cocktail without a glass to stick it in, so let’s start with glassware.

Cocktail Glassware

When it comes to cocktail glassware, there are basically three types of glasses—lowball glasses, highball glasses, and stemmed cocktail glasses, of which there are different shapes and styles.

Now, this is actually a bit of a non-starter category because THE VERY NEXT EPISODE of this podcast (Episode 3) is solely dedicated to glassware. So, I won’t get into too many details here and ruin your appetite for dinner, except to say that every bar cart should start out with a set of lowball (or “rocks”) glasses and a set of stemmed cocktail glasses, and you should have at least two of each (if not four) for the purpose of entertaining.

Recommendation time.

For Last Minute Larry, the glassware interview is pretty simple. Can you hold liquid? Great! You’ve got the job. Mason jars, solo cups, and generic tumblers and pint glasses all fit the bill here.

For Savvy Sally, my advice would be to go online and look for a deal on a basic set of rocks glasses and a basic set of either Martini or Coupe glasses (check out Episode 3 for a great discussion on what each of those styles might look like). What about offline options? Well, consignment shops, estate sales, and antique stores are also great places to snag a bargain on more eclectic or vintage glassware, but those avenues take a lot more effort. So, if Sally is into that sort of thing, I’d say go for it.

For Mr. Big, to whom money is no object, the glassware will definitely need to be special—whatever that means to him. Maybe it’s made out of crystal, maybe it’s vintage, or maybe it’s just particularly sexy. As such, Mr. Big will probably purchase his glassware from a specialty retail store dedicated to the cocktail niche.

The rest, we’ll save for the glassware episode, and so we’ll move on now to mixing pints.

Mixing Pints

Mixing pints are those things you see bartenders using that look like the graduated cylinders you used in Chemistry class back in high school. They’re round, with a wide opening at the top, and they have a little pour spout like a measuring cup. Mixing pints are used when making any cocktail that is stirred, rather than shaken, and I’d say that roughly half of the classic cocktails out there fall into that camp.

I THINK the mixing pint on my bar cost somewhere between $20 and $30 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, which is also a place you can pick up a few popular but limited styles of glassware. I was actually stunned when I went on Amazon.com and tried to price out these glass mixing pints, only to find that the selection was almost nonexistent. So, for a proper mixing pint, you might have to check out your local kitchen goods store, or purchase online from a specialty retailer like Cocktail Kingdom, which is a retailer we’ll return to in this episode.

But lets get real for a minute, a mixing pint can be pretty much ANY vessel that has a large enough capacity for ice and a few ounces of liquid ingredients. When I first started making cocktails, my mixing pint was LITERALLY a pint glass. It was a gag gift from a friend, and it had a picture of Larry the Cable Guy on it—I kid you not, I still have it, pictures in the show notes.

So, for Last Minute Larry, I hope he has slightly classier taste in pint glasses than my vindictive friends do. But if not, clearly, no big deal!

For Savvy Sally, I’d say the Bed, Bath, and Beyond approach might work, but I might recommend calling the store ahead of time so you don’t waste a trip. Mixing pints aren’t the most on-demand item, so it’s easy for larger stores to let them fall out of inventory.

And finally, for Mr. Big, I imagine he’d prefer going to Cocktail Kingdom and ordering one of their really fancy mixing pints. In fact, they even have little neoprene sleeves that keep it from getting damaged when you travel—perfect for the mixologist on the go.

Those are my recommendations for mixing pints, and in the cocktail universe, the opposite of stirring is shaking, so let’s talk about cocktail shakers.

Cocktail Shakers

At cocktail bars, you’ll see one of two types of shakers – shaking tins (AKA a Boston Shaker set) and cobbler shakers.

A Boston shaker is a set of two metal cups, with one slightly larger and wider than the other. The ice and liquid goes in the larger tin, and the smaller tin fits snugly into the opening, creating a seal as long as the bartender applies pressure.

A cobbler shaker, on the other hand, is a metal cup with a metal lid and cap (three pieces in total). The lid has a strainer opening so that you can take off the cap and strain your cocktail right into the glass quickly and easily.

Unlike the mixing pint, there are a TON of cocktail shakers available on Amazon in the $10-$20 range. In fact, you can purchase basic cocktail sets in that same price range that include other hardware as well. But, as soon as you start adding flair to the equation in the form of special copper plating, visual designs, or large capacity, shakers can get pricey, with the more expensive or vintage shakers ending up in the $50-$100 range.

When I was just starting out, my cocktail shaker was the aforementioned notorious redneck comedian pint glass, over which I fit a large plastic cup in the style of a Boston shaker. I have since upgraded to a real cobbler shaker.

I think at this point we’re all starting to realize that Last Minute Larry is just me five years ago, so I’ll let you take a wild guess as to what my cocktail shaker recommendation for him might be.

Savvy Sally is in luck here with all the affordable options on Amazon.

And for Mr. Big, I’d recommend he check out a nifty little special edition cocktail shaker by the makers of Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch, who made a limited run of something called the Konga Shaker. This is a large-capacity shaker, and it operates using a motion that I can only describe as the same one you use when you’re on one of those combination arm conditioning and cardio machines at the gym where you’re essentially pedaling with your arms. It’s a cool, slightly silly shaker, and a great conversation piece that I’ll link to in the show notes. Now, as a word to the wise, I recently spoke to a brand rep from Monkey Shoulder who mentioned that these are generally not available to the public, so you’ll definitely need to pull some strings if you want to get your hands on one.

And before we move on, I’d like to take a quick moment to review a cocktail shaker recommendation courtesy of Jordan Wicker from the Speaking Easy Podcast. We sat down to chat with him and his co-host Alex Luboff last episode, and I thought his suggestion was worth quickly re-visiting. Let’s take a listen.

(Oxo Double-Walled Cocktail Shaker)

That was Jordan’ Wicker’s cocktail shaker recommendation, which I think is solid advice.

Now, whether you’re shaking or stirring a cocktail, you’ll need to strain it into a cocktail glass in most instances. So let’s talk cocktail strainers.

 Cocktail Strainers

The most common type is called a Hawthorne strainer, and it’s a cool-looking metal contraption with a spring that runs around the outer edge. And the function of that spring is to help the strainer to fit on glasses with openings of different sizes, making the tool more adaptable.

The other type of strainer you’ll see often (mostly in cocktail bars) is the julep strainer, which is a leaf-shaped, slightly cupped piece of metal perforated with holes. This type of strainer relies solely on the pressure applied by the bartender to keep it in place, so this is an example of a tool I WOULDN’T recommend for someone just starting out.

To be honest, even I have a hard time working a julep strainer. And I want very badly to learn how because they look cool and make you seem like kind of a bad-ass, but for me, utility and ease of use almost always win out in the end, which is why I stick to my trusty Hawthorne strainer.

Strainer Recommendations.

Since the purpose of a strainer is simply to keep the ice in the mixing pint, my advice to Last Minute Larry is to get creative. Pour the drink slowly and use a utensil to keep the ice in place. Maybe use the flat side of a knife blade, or perhaps a large spoon. Basically, if you’ve got a kitchen with tools and you’re willing to get creative, you can manage to strain your cocktail.

For Savvy Sally, Amazon has these on sale for between $6 and $20. So you can get eclectic, or opt for a set that includes a strainer.

For Mr. Big, I’d recommend purchasing a Hawthorne Strainer, a Julep Strainer, AND a small metal sieve so that you can double-strain certain cocktails that call for it in the recipe. I didn’t start bumping into these particular cocktails until my bar was already fairly built out, but Mr. Big would probably want all his bases covered. Cocktail Kingdom—once again—is a good option for the matchy-matchy approach, especially if you’re prepared to drop a whole bunch of cash all at once.

Exit strainers, enter BAR SPOONS.

Bar Spoons

Now, bar spoons are—to me—one of the essential components of a well-stocked cocktail bar. They’re pretty affordable, and when you’re practicing making stirred drinks, a good bar spoon is pretty important.

Most bar spoons have a swizzled or spiraled shaft that facilitates the spinning motion you use when stirring the drink. And just as a little technique tip, I’ll mention here that when you’re stirring a cocktail, the goal is generally for the back of the bar spoon to stay in contact with the inside wall of the mixing pint, basically guiding the ice in the pint from the outside edge. This way, you’re not agitating the ice too much, which has a number of implications on the clarity and dilution of the cocktail. But we’ll save all that for another episode.

Your standard bar spoon is between ten and twelve inches long, and in my home bar I use the ones that have a little red plastic nub on the non-business end. There are, however, a couple different styles to choose from, including spoons with a little spear-like trident on the non-spoon end, which is used for spearing martini olives and maraschino cherries and the like. By and large, expect to spend anywhere between five and fifteen dollars on your spoons, which, I think we can all agree, is a pretty painless investment. Basic spoons will often come in multiples for that price.

For Last Minute Larry, I’d recommend either the handle of an iced tea spoon, or a reusable metal barbecue skewer, both of which I’ve used to stir my fair share of cocktails. See, the spoon end of a bar spoon is great for getting in under the ice and getting a nice consistent stir going, but if your goal is simply to move the ice in a circle and chill the drink, any long slender implement is gonna be just fine in a pinch.

Savvy Sally is once again in luck with a lot of stylish options under fifteen dollars, so she can feel free to bling it up a little bit or simply purchase a cocktail set that comes with a matching bar spoon.

 If I know anything about Mr. Big, he’s going to want one of those big trident spears at the end of his spoon, even if he doesn’t have anything to spear with it. And you know what? I kind of agree. Cocktail sets are a bit showy and unnecessary by nature, so why not opt for a nice conversation piece when it’s not going to break the bank?

 Jiggers

Moving on now to the final piece of hardware that I’d truly deem ESSENTIAL for a bar cart or home bar, let’s talk about jiggers, which are the little measuring devices that bartenders use to portion out liquid ingredients in a cocktail.

Your basic jigger is going to be a little aluminum thingy shaped like an hourglass, with one side larger than the other. Usually this side holds 2oz of liquid, and the smaller cup holds 1 oz. There are, of course, jiggers of different sizes as well, but 1 and 2 oz is what you’re going to run across most often.

Jiggers will run you anywhere between five and twenty dollars, if you’re going for either a very basic single unit on one end of the spectrum to a fancy set of jiggers on the other end. And rarely do I take sides when it comes to brands of cocktail hardware, but this is one instance where I’m gonna make a notable exception.

The kitchenware company Oxo, makes something called a “Steel Angled Measuring Jigger,” (currently available for about 7 bucks on Amazon), and I swear by this little tool. You’re not gonna see cocktail bartenders using one of these very often, because it might look slightly frumpy next to some of the flashy and shapely copper-plated jiggers available for only a couple dollars more.

BUT, there are several features of the Steel Angled Measuring Jigger that stand out.

One: it’s a mini version of those measuring cups that have an angled measuring tool running up the side so that you don’t have to squat down and peer intently at the water level to see if you have the right amount of liquid. You can look right down into it from above and know exactly how much liquid you’ve poured.

Two: It’s got hashmarks indicating ¼ oz, ½ oz, 1 oz, 1 ½ oz, and 2 oz, which are probably the most commonly used units of measure in the cocktail universe.

And Three: It has a nice little spout like a measuring cup, which makes pouring just that much easier and cleaner. So you spill less booze.

I actually have two of these on my bar, in case I’m making drinks with both dark and light spirits at the same time. Or in case I’m being lazy with the dishes.

For Last Minute Larry, our cocktail MacGyver, I’d see if he has any commemorative shot glasses in the back of his cabinet from that one time he was bored in a gift shop in Florida. Most standard shot glasses hold between an ounce and a half and two ounces, so it’s not hard to eyeball it from there. If you’re curious to see how much a given shot glass holds, measure some water into a measuring cup with fairly small units of measure, and see how much you lose when filling that shot glass.

For Savvy Sally, I’d recommend either the Oxo Steel Angled Measuring Jigger for utility, or perhaps some of the shapelier jiggers that are also hanging out on Amazon for a pretty reasonable price.

For Mr. Big, this is not one of the more important purchases, and so I’d recommend it be made along side his bar spoon purchase and perhaps his shaker set purchase. There’s something really pleasing about a set of metal cocktail implements that all sport the same material and/or finish—be that stainless, or copper, or even gold-plating—and so that’s probably an outcome that would please our dear Mr. Big.

Before I round this episode out, I wanna talk about two more hardware-related topics: ice (which will get its own episode here on the Bar Cart Nation podcast) and other kitchen tools, which you’ve likely got lying around your kitchen, but that you might want to make available for bar cart use as well.

 Ice

Starting with ice, I’ll just say that it’s incredibly important. In my humble apartment in Washington, D.C., I don’t have a fridge with an ice maker, so we use the ol’ tray method, which is fine, but requires monitoring. I’ve got a two-quart plastic container that sits in the back of the freezer, and which I try to maintain at a relatively full level. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting all ready to make a cocktail and realizing you have no ice, so MAKE AN ICE PLAN, especially if you plan to entertain guests.

As for ice-related hardware, the only item that’s made a distinct impact on my cocktail game is the purchase of a couple large silicone ice cube molds that make the giant cubes. You’d generally place a single one of these cubes in a rocks glass, and the idea is that it’s going to melt at a slower rate and dilute your drink more slowly.

Other things to look at might be an ice bucket with tongs, if you really can’t be bothered to get fresh ice every time you make a drink. And if you really want to go off the deep end and get fancy with your ice, you can get what’s called a Lewis ice bag and mallet set. Essentially what you do here is place a large chunk of crystal clear ice that you took great care to freeze INTO this bag, and then smash it with a mallet. Fun, right?

Honestly, the only person who’ll be interested in this is perhaps Mr. Big.

Sally, grab a couple of those large silicone ice cube trays for ten or twelve bucks.

And Larry, just make sure you’ve got some sort of ice on hand.

 Kitchen Tools

Now finally, I want to quickly mention a few kitchen tools that you end up using when making many classic cocktails. And those are a cutting board, a paring knife, a vegetable peeler, and a citrus reamer or press.

I use these things ALL THE TIME, so if you plan on making any cocktails with citrus garnishes or fresh squeezed citrus juice, these things are all essential. Aside from the citrus press (which I’d recommend over the reamer for messiness reasons), these are all things most people have on-hand. So if you’re like me, and your bar and your kitchen kind of bleed into one another, then no sweat. You’ve got the tools. However, if you’ve got a bar or bar cart that resides in a different room than your kitchen, then it might be worth your time to pick up another set of these tools for ease of access.

Now, you’ve probably purchased all these things before, so far be it from me to tell you where to buy your kitchen tools. The only thing I’ll weigh in on here is the citrus press.

 Citrus Press

This is one place where I suggest not cheaping out.

I mean, if you’re Last Minute Larry, you’re going to find a way to get the juice out of your lemons and limes somehow, even if that’s by sheer force of hand. But let me just remind you that room-temperature citrus is easier to juice than cold citrus, and that rolling it on the counter with a little pressure also helps to get the juices flowing.

Savvy Sally, go for something stainless steel, or at least enameled aluminum. But the important thing is heft. You need something that’s not going to bend or warp, even after hundreds of lemons and limes have gone through the wringer. The operative question here is: what’s cheaper, one expensive citrus press that lasts a lifetime, or several cheap ones that break after nominal use? I’ll leave you to do that math for yourself.

And finally, we have Mr. Big. There are bar-mounted juicers meant mostly for those individuals who really crave that fresh-squeezed orange juice in the morning. These can be useful, but they take up a good amount of space. So, if you’re building out an actual dry or wet bar and you have the room, it would provide nice counter presence. And there are also electric juicers that take some of the hand effort out of the juicing process, but those obviously also come with a sizeable price tag and are prone to all the problems of similar electrical appliances.

For my last act as your royal cocktail hardware advisor, I’m going to rattle off a short list of other cocktail-making tools I’ve used at some point, but that definitely aren’t worth pursuing unless you have an explicit use for them. In which case, get to it.

This list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Mason jars (for homemade bitters and syrups)

  • Metal pour spouts for quick and consistent dispensation

  • Plastic funnels for transferring liquid between containers

  • Cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, for straining things

  • A matching set of mugs, for hot cocktails

  • Metal or plastic cocktail picks, for spearing garnishes

  • Tiny umbrellas and other Tiki-related hardware.

  • An atomizer, for spritzing small quantities of potent things into your drinks

  • A bar mat, for when you spill things.

  • Towels, for wiping up the spills your bar mat doesn’t catch.

  • A hand-held lighter, for flaming cocktail garnishes

  • A hand-held torch, for smoked cocktails and burnt garnishes

  • And last but not least, Coasters!

And that just about does it for me, folks. Those are my condensed thoughts on the most important cocktail tools and your ideal means of procurement, depending on your personal goals and budget.

Coming up soon, we’ll have an entire episode dedicated to the “software” you’ll need, that is, the raw ingredients you’ll need on-hand to make your cocktails.

Before I leave here, just a few more things:

  1. Be sure to check out our show notes for links to various things I’ve mentioned today by visiting modernbarcart.com/podcast and searching for this episode.

  2. Tag us on social media when you make your hardware purchases so that you can show off your sexy new cocktail-related acquisitions. We always love to hear from you, so you can either tag or mention @modernbarcart on Instagram, or if you’d like to stalk me personally, you can to follow and tag @quixologist. We’re also, of course, on Facebook as well, so search for us there and maybe throw a “Like” our way.

  3. Three, if you like what you’ve heard so far, please let us know! Go to wherever you listen to podcasts and send us your thoughts. A nice five-star rating never hurts, but that’s for you to decide.

  4. Finally, if you have any questions about this topic, or any other cocktail-related topic, please send them my way be emailing podcast@modernbarcart.com. In some cases, I may even follow up with you and ask your permission to use your question on the show.

That’s all I have for you today. So, until next time, experiment boldly, and drink responsibly.