Home-Bar Handbook

Making drinks at home can be fun – and, let’s be honest, it’s a whole lot cheaper than going out. But with so many different spirits, bar tools and techniques, it can feel like you need formal training just to understand how to work a shaker. Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We tapped mixologists Jill Cockson, owner of Swordfish Tom’s in Kansas City, and Naomi Roquet, bar manager at Reeds American Table in Maplewood, Missouri, to help us master cocktails at home, from using the proper glassware and ice to crafting the perfect Old Fashioned.

1. Get the right tools

With the right tools and a little bit of confidence, you’re sure to shake up a drink that will impress friends and maybe even yourself. Here, Cockson shares her essential bar tools; she suggests shopping for quality professional barware online through Cocktail Kingdom, though these items are available for purchase in local retail stores as well.

2. Muddling in three steps

3. Raising a Glass

Your cocktails deserve to be served in the proper glassware. Cockson gives us a rundown on what to add to your home-bar arsenal.

4. Breaking the Ice

The drink you’re making determines the ice you should use – whether crushed, regular cubes or a large sphere. For the latter, look for ice molds online or in liquor stores. “It comes down to what amount of [melting] is appropriate for that drink to taste the way it's supposed to,” Cockson says. “The smaller the ice particles, the higher the total surface area ratio of ice to liquid.”

Crushed: “If I put crushed ice in a glass of water, it’ll melt much more quickly than regular ice. Crushed ice is for drinks with a higher alcohol content, which need more dilution, or to purposely decrease the ABV of a cocktail. Think Juleps, Cobblers and Tiki drinks.”

Cubed: “You can use regular ice cubes – from the freezer or from a bag of ice – for just about anything. They’re great for shaken and stirred drinks that don’t require ice in the finished product.”

Large-format ice: “Large-format ice keeps the drink cold, but doesn’t water it down. Use that when you’re serving just the spirit – a really nice whiskey, or an Old Fashioned – and you want to control the [melting] and not dilute the spirit profile.”

5. Shaken Vs. Stirred

Not sure of the difference between shaken and stirred cocktails and when to use each approach? Pull up a seat at Naomi Roquet's bar.

“Shaking causes the ice to break, causing more surface liquid, which adds more dilution,” Roquet says. “You need this when there’s juice in a cocktail because of its intense acidity, especially when it’s freshly juiced. Taste the cocktail before shaking, then taste it after and notice how the other ingredients shine through more.”

When cocktails contain no juice, Roquet says to stir them. “At this point, your ingredients just need to be chilled to help tone down the boozy-ness and bring out the flavors of the spirits,” Roquet says. “This helps their underlying flavors really shine through.”

Reeds American Table Cocktails

Shaken and stirred cocktails at Reeds American Table.

Shaken: You Mock My Pain

Serves | 1 |

  • kosher salt (for rim)
  • 1½ oz vodka
  • ¾ oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
  • ¼ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice

| Preparation | Rim a double rocks glass with salt. In a cocktail shaker, combine remaining ingredients, add large-format ice and shake vigorously. Strain mixture into prepared double rocks glass and top with fresh ice. Serve.

Stirred: Classic Old Fashioned

Serves | 1 |

  • 2½ oz rye whiskey
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange peel (for garnish)

| Preparation | In a mixing glass or pint glass, add all ingredients except garnish. Add large-format ice and stir with a barspoon. Strain into a double rocks glass, garnish with orange peel and serve.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Natalie Gallagher is a writer. She’s never met a carb she didn’t like.

More Crash Course articles.