Some wonderful things can be made entirely with your hands. Others — including fantastic cocktails — require tools. This week, we’re continuing our prior edition of Kitchen Tech on bar tools, focusing on items that will help you serve restaurant-caliber drinks at home. Last week’s column looked at “fundamental” tools and “good ideas.” Now we’re looking at “the fancy stuff,” special little items used by leading restaurants across the world.
Most of the tools in this week’s column aren’t expensive, even though many of them are being used by top bartenders inside and outside the United States. Below, you’ll find a collection of optional but seriously cool tools I’ve personally tested and found worthy of recommending, as well as details on why some are more optional than others.
The Best Bar Tools: The Fancy Stuff
Cocktail Picks. Many cocktails call for a garnish, and when they do, a roughly 4-inch cocktail pick may or may not be involved. Most bars these days wouldn’t think of using little plastic sabers, so the ones I’ve seen recently include Royal Bamboo’s disposable, tiki-like bamboo picks and various types of reusable metal picks.
I asked the team at Barmini, a D.C.-based cocktail shrine, where they got the beautiful gold picks they use on their drinks. They said Cocktail Kingdom, of course; this $19 set of 12, to be exact. The gold picks are elegant, easily washed, and long enough to fit atop any glass except particularly wide coupe glasses. If you have a preference for another style or color, go for it – just bear in mind that length is important. My suggestion is to target a four-inch or longer pick; the gold ones here are exactly four inches long.
Spoons and Straws. If you want to get into some of the most arcane points of bartending, look online for discussions of how twisted cocktail spoons preserve more carbonation when pouring water into a glass, or make for easier mixing due to their shape. Do you need one? No. But their length can be very useful for stirring, and some include a small muddler, fork, or thermometer on the side opposing the spoon. They’re flashy presentation tools if you’ll be making drinks while people watch; a long regular spoon will suffice if you don’t want to buy a cocktail spoon.
Metal straws, like the one shown here, are similarly optional and flashy. I bought six because I thought they’d be super cool in drinks. Turns out that they get icy cold, make you worry about chipping your teeth, and are challenging to wash. Disposables work just fine… but the metal ones do look nice.
Cups: Moscow Mule + Mixing. The Moscow Mule is one of history’s great cocktails — a delicious, easy-to-make concoction that serves as a cool introduction to classic drinks, showing how people with excess vodka, ginger beer, and mugs turned their business lemons into lemonade. You can celebrate and make the drink with these $10 copper-plated aluminum mugs, again sold by Cocktail Kingdom, which are the best we’ve seen, but tarnishable if you use them as often as you probably will. If you really like cups for one-off drinks, there’s also a special silver cup used for drinks such as the Mint Julep and Blue Blazer (shown with the blue napkin several photos above), should you want one.
A mixing glass such as this $45 Yarai Glass provides a super-elegant vessel for stirring drinks, particularly for two or more people at once, with ice. It lets you pour the drink out, often with the aid of a Hawthorne strainer, and without spilling everything all over the counter. But it’s also one of the most optional tools around, particularly if you’re not stirring in front of people.
The Porthole. If you asked me to name the single coolest item in this entire collection, it would be Crucial Detail’s $99 The Porthole, developed for use at Chicago’s The Aviary and subsequently offered online through a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s an infusion vessel, designed to be laid on its side, unscrewed, and stuffed with a mix of fruit, herbs, and liquor — possibly hot like tea, possibly cold. There are a ton of recipes for making beautiful drinks in a Porthole. You let the concoction sit for a while, then pull off the rubber cap and serve your drink through the built-in filter, quite possibly in dainty little Nip glasses. Everyone will think you’re amazing. But you have to be willing to spend almost $100 for it. (I did.)
Sake Set. At one point, my drinking repertoire revolved mostly upon bottles of sake (including atypically spicy onikoroshis). I picked up a number of sake sets — one bottle bundled with matching cups (browse a sake set selection here) — when I visited Japan, and noted that good bars tended to serve individual portions in a specific way: a small glass inside of a box that was nearly overflowing with sake.
This is to show the generosity of your pour by having it stretch beyond the typical vessel. After trying typical (and eventually disposable) $8 wooden sake boxes, I much prefer the longevity of $10 plastic sake boxes, though reasonable people may disagree for aesthetic reasons. Pick the one that meets your personal needs, and any shot glass you like.
Flask. There are times when you’re not going to be able to drink at home, but want to make something to take out — to a place where drinking is legal, of course. Some people prefer thin, curved flasks that can be hidden on the body and snuck into sporting events, concerts, or other public places where BYOB isn’t necessarily allowed. I’m not a secret drinker, so I prefer something like SIGG’s discontinued Vintage 0.4L Water Bottle, which had a pressurized, resealable lid and enough room for three or four cocktails. It was discontinued because the lining had some serious issues. There are plenty of other options; just make sure you get one you can easily wash out.
Iceball Maker. Our first Kitchen Tech article focused on making beautiful spheres of ice for cocktails, noting that the best option was a nigh-unaffordable ($1,000+) Japanese model from Taisin (shown above in gold). Good news: Cocktail Kingdom’s $170 version, the Professional 55mm Ice Ball Maker, produces identically-sized, beautiful ice balls for a far more reasonable price.
We’ve tested it (shown here in black), and it does a fantastic job, coming with an ice cube tray to produce up to four balls at once.
Brookstone’s Perfect Drink Scale. If you want to practice precise drink measurements without using a measuring cup, Perfect Drink provides a novel (though optional) solution. Brookstone’s set includes a cocktail shaker, a digital scale, a basic iPad stand, and two pouring spouts. You connect the AAA battery-powered scale to your iPad’s headphone port, load the Perfect Drink app, and then just pour the ingredients for each cocktail directly into the shaker. The scale and app work together to determine whether you’ve poured enough or too much, dynamically adjusting the recipe to make sure your drink comes out right. Hundreds of recipes are included, and you can search for drinks that use what you already have at home. Normally sold for $70, Perfect Drink is on sale for only $50 through Amazon.
Red Hot Pokers, Liquid Nitrogen + More. There’s an entire world of even fancier cocktail preparation and presentation tools out there, but they’re generally not items you’d actually purchase for home use. The red hot poker at the top of this article is shown at Booker & Dax, a fantastic Manhattan bar run by beverage scientist Dave Arnold; his new book Liquid Intelligence is a must-read for avant garde cocktail fanatics. Liquid nitrogen, shown above at the SLS Las Vegas hotel’s new restaurant Bazaar Meat, is rapidly becoming a go-to item for making fancy frozen cocktails like the one below.
There’s still a lot more to share about the latest advances in kitchen technology. We can’t wait to show you what we have coming up next…
Earlier Kitchen Tech Columns
Catch up on our prior columns, each filled with great tips on improving the food or beverages you enjoy at home.