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Spirits and Shakers: Cocktail Essentials to Pick Up on Small Business Saturday

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Dipping into the home bartending game is a great, low-stakes adventure. Not only do you get to learn and be creative, but there’s a cocktail awaiting you at the end.

Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity to support local businesses while you stock up on tools for your home bar. As we compiled these picks, we used the U.S. Small Business Administration’s definition of small businesses, so these products feature companies that employ up to 1,500 people and list revenue below a certain threshold based on the business category.  

If you’re hoping to build out your bar while supporting small businesses, here are some tips from beverage professionals and some of their beloved tools.

Tips for Finding the Right Glassware

“There’s something about using the right glassware that really makes the party,” says Jeff Russell, founder of Bespoke Social Club. At the same time, there’s no one right answer for every single person—the right glassware for you will be based on your style and favorite cocktails.

If you want something truly unique, Eric Farrell, bar manager at Honey Road in Burlington, Vermont, likes to shop for glassware at Goodwill, thrift shops and antique shops. “Our grandparents had more style than us,” he says.

Small Business Bartender Tools to Look For

1. Koriko Weighted Shaking Tins

These inexpensive tins are “a must-have for the home bar,” according to Russell. “Most people don’t think in depth about their tins, but these will make them question what they’ve been using all this time.”

Why the Koriko tins in particular? “They have a great weight and perfect seal. The easy seal and separation is important, as with some others you may end up with cocktails all over you,” says Russell. Or you might have to “force your shaker apart.”

$33.98 Cocktail Kingdom

2. C&D Tools Boston Shaker

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$114.98 Huckleberry

3. Cocktail Kingdom Bitters Bottles

Once you graduate to mixing drinks for parties and gatherings, consider these bitter bottles from Cocktail Kingdom.

“When you are throwing a party, you want the ability to put out drinks with the same speed as a professional,” says Russell. “To do that, you need the same mise en place. I recommend having all your homemade syrups and such in easy-to-access bottles.”

Along with these bottles from Cocktail Kingdom, Russell also recommends visiting your local antique shop for bottles that suit your style.

$ Varies Cocktail Kingdom

4. Softolle Bar Mop Towels

After the fun of playing bartender for the evening, it’s important to close out the night with a clean space, just as a professional bartender would. Not only will you feel more satisfied by your work, but it will also make it easier to get started next time.

“The one thing everyone at home forgets is a good black bar rag,” says Russell. “Keeping your bar space clean is the most important thing you can do, and paper towels don’t really cut it.”

 

$ Varies Softolle

Now that you have all the tools, it’s time to start mixing up some cocktails.

Below are some recommendations for top-scoring spirits. Similarly, if you’re looking to build a non-alcoholic bar, check out some of our favorite picks here.

5. Ocho Single Estate Reposado Tequila; $55, 96 points.

This lively, bright tequila will please purists. A light hand with the oak means a straw hue and brisk aromas of jalapeño and citrus. The palate melds flavors of bell pepper, fresh rosemary and roasted jalapeño that lead into mild coconut and graphite notes on the midpalate, finishing with a fresh herb exhale. —Kara Newman

Ocho Tequila

6. Holmes Cay Belize 2005 Single Cask Rum; $99, 94 points.

Red fruit and toffee show on the bold and boozy nose. This is a robust, flavorful, but very hot rum; add water or ice for sipping. Crème brulee and vanilla bean are layered with grapefruit peel, cocoa and cinnamon, finishing long and warming. Single cask distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2020 at cask strength. —K.N.

Holmes Cay

7. Darnley’s Original London Dry Gin; $30, 90 points.

The mild, citrus aroma leads into a bouncy lemon palate that finishes clean, with brisk lemon-pepper heat. Botanicals include elderflower and citrus. Best Buy. —K.N.

Darnley's London Dry Gin

8. Supergay Craft Vodka; $29, 90 points.

A percentage of profits from this “farm to disco” vodka benefits LGBTQ+ organizations. Distilled from corn, look for mellow butterscotch sweetness on nose and palate. A mouthwatering saline hint on the finish fleetingly evokes salted caramel. Mix into White Russians and other rich drinks. —K.N.

Super Gay Spirits

9. Ver Liqueur; $35, 92 points.

An American-made take on herbal liqueurs like absinthe or pastis, expect a pale olive hue and anise and fennel-seed aromas. Add water to take the edge off this 100-proof spirit. The result is hypnotic haziness and amped-up licorice and anise, accented with hints of tarragon and fresh fennel, winding into peppery sting. Sip, mix or use as a glass rinse. —K.N.