In order to make the best drinks, you need the right tools. While we're all about getting creative in a pinch, it helps to have a few key items behind your bar before mixing up a cocktail.
1) A Cocktail Shaker
No matter which type of cocktail shaker you use, these metal mixing vessels will come in handy when making most recipes. Shaking a cocktail incorporates air into the drink, which helps soften the acidity in citrus juices, incorporate sugary ingredients, and give your final product a smooth, delicious mouthfeel. I personally am privy to the Boston Shaker, but many home bartenders enjoy the Parisian style for it's simple to open top and sleek design.
2) A Strainer
Being able to easily strain your freshly shaken and stirred cocktails will come in very handy when serving up drinks.
Hawthorne Strainers are great for all purpose use. Look for one with a tight coil to avoid ice chips sneaking into your drink. Julep strainers (pictured) and fine mesh strainers may also prove helpful as you advance your cocktail technique.
While an unmeasured free pour may look fun and glamorous, a well measured cocktail makes all the difference. When dealing with recipe ratios, a measurement as small as 1/4 of an ounce can make a big difference in quality of your cocktail. Make sure you hit the mark every time by using a jigger to measure your ingredient pours. I prefer tall, slim Japanese style jiggers built for speed, but American style jiggers have a wide bell shape that makes it easy to get precise measurements. Look for one with clearly marked measurements as you get started, and use a pour spout on your bottles for extra precision.
4) Bar Spoon and Mixing Vessel
These long, twisted spoons are about more than just aesthetics! Their clever design makes it easy to gently stir a cocktail without breaking down the ice or adding too much air to the mix. While you can stir a drink easily enough in a pint glass, it's also nice to have a solid mixing vessel on hand, which will give you more space and control as you dilute your drink.
This may seem obvious, but great quality ice is one of the best things you can use to take your cocktails to the next level. Before mixing up drinks, make sure you have plenty of ice on hand as well as a tools to help you work with it. A good ice bin and ice scoop can help you be efficient as you make drinks. Larger (1") ice cubes are best to work with when stirring and shaking, and never underestimate the power of large format ice cubes when serving a classic cocktail (Manhattan on the rocks, anyone?)