Jigger: If you're going to spring for a single tool, make it a stainless steel jigger. Proportions are essential to the quality of a cocktail, and a jigger will help you measure and pour with pinpoint precision.
Shaker: Sure, you'll look like a bad-ass, but that's beside the point. A shaker will ensure that flavors are properly mixed, and that the liquor is appropriately cooled and diluted (a good thing for cocktails, if not for whiskey) .
Hawthorne Strainer: After shaking a cocktail, you'll want to strain it well to remove any ice, leaves, or pulp not intended for the glass. There are several varieties to choose from, but the easiest to use, in our opinion, is a Hawthorne strainer.
Mixing Glass: This tool should be used for cocktails that are stirred, not shaken, like a classic Manhattan. The bottom of a shaker will serve in a pinch, but a Yarai mixing glass is easier to handle, easier to pour, and pretty damn handsome to boot.
Cocktail Stirrer: Like the mixing glass above, this tool might seem easy to substitute, but don't be fooled by its humble appearance. A standard spoon will cause disruption that leads to a cloudy drinkwhereas most stirred cocktails are intended to be clear. A stirrer, on the other hand, has a sleeker silhouette, allowing for a faster, smoother motion (without all the clinking either).
Muddler: If you're partial to any cocktails made with fruit, mint, or sugar cubes, make this tool a priority. A muddler has the perfect shape for crushing and blending ingredients, especially in a deeper vessel like a mixing glass or shaker.
Zester: Cutting a citrus rind is an exercise in precision: You want a hearty chunk that doesn't catch any pith (the white fluffy substance that will impart a bitter flavor). While a peeler should suffice if you're cutting a larger piece (like the one you'd use in a Sazerac), a zester will make it easy to cut more complex shapes, like a spiraling citrus twist.
Reamer/Juicer: When a cocktail calls for fruit juiceand this goes double for citrusavoid the store-bought kind like the plague. A reamer or juicer will help you score fresh juice without getting your hands (too) sticky.
Ice Tongs: If you don't do it for hygiene, then do it for stylebecause it's hard to look classy when you're scooping out ice with your paws.
Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.