Basic tools & equipment
Humans have perfected a tool to make every task that bit easier but you don't need a bottle opener to open a bottle of beer. A thirsty drinker will manage with a table edge. That said, a bottle opener is preferable and cheap, as is a cocktail shaker versus using a large jam jar. So, keeping to the basics, to make cocktails at home we suggest the following.
Kitchen essentials you probably already have
You'll need to dump used ice in the sink after mixing each cocktail, then rinse your tools and leave them to drain ready for the next cocktail. Hence, it's best to mix your cocktail as close to your sink as possible.
You'll need to store your ice in a freezer and perhaps even a bottle or two. Ingredients such as sugar syrup and cream will need to be kept in the fridge and, to make them last longer, also your citrus fruits. Ingredients like vermouth will also taste better for longer if kept refrigerated. If you have space, it's also best to chill glasses in the fridge or preferably freezer prior to use.
Knife & cutting board
So long as it's sharp, pretty much any knife will do but if you want to start investing in new kitchen equipment then we have advice on the best bartending knives.
Kettle &/or coffee machine
Now that many cocktails are served hot but even ice-cold Espresso Martinis are made with hot espresso coffee.
Swivel (vegetable) peeler
Designed for peeling potatoes, carrots and such like, swivel peelers come in two shapes: Y-peelers and straight peelers. For cocktails they are mainly used for cutting orange and lemon zests for twists and for this I prefer a straight peeler and recommend the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler
There are numerous different types of citrus juicers available and what you have to hand and are comfortable using is fine. If you need to invest in a citrus juicer then glass dish-style juicers are cheap and practical for small limes through to large oranges. On the other end of the scale, a pillar-style citrus press will enable you to juice a large volume of citrus fruit.
Glass cloths/tea towels/dish towels
Cloths which in England we call tea towels but in North America are referred to as dish towels are useful for drying and polishing glasses. Bartenders often wear them on their sides by pulling a corner through a belt loop in their trousers so handy for wiping wet hands after rinsing bar tools. I favour the old-fashioned cotton glass towels although some go for the new-fangled micro fibre type. Whatever material your towels are made from, don't use conditioner when you wash them because 1/. they won't dry as well and 2./ they will leave smear marks on glasses.
Accurately measuring each ingredient to be mixed together to make your cocktail is so important that we have designed our own Easy Jigger.
Cocktail shakers come in all shapes and sizes but some seal and open much easier than others. Some simply don't properly seal whatever you do or are near impossible to open. We've notes on both 2-piece shakers and 3-piece shakers but we suggest you start with a 3-piece and recommend a Bonzer Mona Lisa Shaker.
You can stir a cocktail with chopstick but it's better to use a long-handled bar spoon, preferably with a flat end as this is handy for layering cocktails, the Cocktail Kingdom barspoon is a handy classic.
So, you have a bar spoon but what do you stir in? You can stir in the base of your 3-piece cocktail shaker and then replace the top strainer section to strain your stirred drink into your glass. However, it's nicer to use the right vessel for the job and we prefer to use an ice-cold Calabrese Footed stirring glass straight from the freezer.
You've used your bar spoon to stir your cocktail in your mixing glass so now you'll need a julep strainer to strain the cocktail into your glass leaving the mixing ice behind. We like to use a Bonzer Heritage Sprung Julep Strainer.
You can drink a cocktail from any glass or even a mug but having an appropriate glass to suit a particular cocktail adds to both the visual appeal and the 'liquid on lip' enjoyment of a drink. There are a myriad of different glass shapes and sizes but we suggest you start with Coupe glasses as they can also be used for cocktails usually served in Martini or Nick & Nora or Margarita glasses. Urban Bar Retro Coupe glasses are a good size and elegantly shaped.