Master mixologist or back bar buffoon who can't deliver cocktails when they're called? The key to deciding your fate is choosing the right tools.
Start with a shaker. Not just because 007 requests his Martinis shaken not stirred, but because it's an essential vessel for a number of classic cocktails, from Apple Martinis and Manhattans to Margaritas and White Russians. Stainless steel Euro shakers, which feature a built-in strainer, are common—Crate & Barrel (www.crateandbarrel.com, $19.95) and Guy Degrenne offer popular models—while vintage glass and crystal shakers can be found via the Internet. Boston shakers—a glass tumbler and a steel container that fit together—are a favorite with many professional barmen because they can see the cocktail and because the two components come apart quickly.
To appease those who believe that shaking a Martini bruises the gin or don't like the ice crystals a shaker creates, a cocktail strainer and a long spoon for stirring are a must. Mix some gin with vermouth and ice, stir, then—with the strainer fitting the top of the glass—drain into a Martini glass.
Gauging proportions is another crucial part of mixology and while seasoned bartenders can eyeball amounts, a combined jigger (1.5 oz.) and shot (1 oz.) tool is invaluable. Muddlers, like the one shown from Rösle USA, (www.rosleusa.com, $15.95), are needed for drinks like Caipirinhas, Mojitos and Mint Juleps. A hand-held juicer is perfect for drinks with fresh lemon or lime such as a Daiquiri or a Lemon Drop.
Since garnishes should not be overlooked, knives are also necessary tools. A standard bar knife cuts lemons, limes and other garnishes, while zester and channel knives are great when citrus peels are needed to heighten a drink's flavor and presentation. A bottle opener is another standard tool, and for elusive olives and maraschino cherries at the bottom of the jar, a short spoon is also handy.