For the true cocktail geek, however, the housewarming set just won't suffice. When you're ready to expand your personal bar cart to levels that will impress some people and disturb others, here are 10 new tools to consider.
Most department store cocktail sets feature a shaker that has a screw-off top, usually with a strainer piece built in. These are often too small to allow the liquid and ice to really get a work out when you set about shaking them together. For a truly professional shake, you'll need to upgrade to a Boston shaker.
The Boston shaker consists of two parts: a mixing glass (typically 16 oz) and a stainless steel cup. You put your ingredients into the glass half, fill it with ice, then place the stainless steel cup on top, and smack it to seal the two containers together. Then shake the daylights out of it. When you unseal (which you can do by giving another firm smack to the line where the two cups meet) make sure your liquid and ice are now in the stainless-steel cup. Get your serving glass, whatever it may be, and then break out your ...
2.) Hawthorn strainer
Since the Boston shaker doesn't have a built in strainer, you'll need to use a separate one. A Hawthorn strainer is lined with a coiled spring that fits down into the glass to catch and filter the ice, while the gloriously combined ingredients filter down into your (or your guest's) cocktail glass.
3.) Bar spoons
Basic cocktail tool sets sometimes offer stirrers, which are basically extra-long swizzle sticks, or nothing at all. Throw down a couple extra dollars on a real bar spoon - you'll need it for stirring drinks in the stainless steel half of your Boston shaker, and it comes in very handy for floating ingredients when you want to layer drinks.
Yes, you can muddle the limes or mint or whatever you'd like to muddle using the butt of a Tabasco bottle. But don't. There's a better way. There are several different types of muddlers, ranging from the classic wooden bar stick (it's got a passing resemblance to a billy club) to advanced fruit muddlers with teeth that will really crush the ingredients. Pick one and never go back to the shame of pathetically-muddled mojitos.
A brilliant way to up the aromatics on any cocktail, and an especially lovely way to add a mist of vermouth to a martini. Get one and see the difference between stirring in that hit of orange oil or rosewater versus spritzing the very top of the drink with it.
6.) Eye dropper
These are handy once you get in to making your own aromatic oils or infusions, and are equally useful for anyone looking to obsess over what it means to add a "dash" of something. Don't trust the built-in nozzle on that bizarre bottle of bitters you picked up? Your own eyedroppers put you back in control. Sweet, gloriously geeky control.
7.) Seltzer bottles / Soda siphons
First, the aesthetic concerns. There are few bar tools prettier or more fun to use than a terrific glass or steel seltzer bottle; even if you're stuck serving a round of vodka and sodas, there will be something in the process that's just downright satisfying. A home soda system (whether it's an old-fashioned bottle that uses CO2 cartridges, or one of the newer SkyMall-catalogue push-button machines) is also good for anyone who powers through a ton of carbonated water, whether as a mixer or just on its own.
8.) Absinthe spoons
If you've already added a good bottle of absinthe to your bar, it's time to go the distance and get some elaborate-looking spoons so that you can enact the full ritual: place 2 to 3 ounces of absinthe in a crystal glass, then place the slotted absinthe spoon over it, and top the spoon with a sugar cube. If you don't have an absinthe fountain (we're geeks, here, not maniacs), you can drip water over the sugar cube from your own vessel, slowly, until the cube has dissolved.
Haters will hate, but a good blender gets you a good frozen margarita, not to mention booze-laced milkshakes. Let none of us turn our nose up at that prospect.
10.) Cream whipper
Nothing tastes better than fresh whipped cream, and with your own little cream whipper, your Irish coffee and the above-mentioned booze shakes will be all the more earth-moving.