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Home Bar Basics: Everything You Need to Know About Bar Spoons

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You’ve finally carved away precious square footage to make room for that most sacred of household additions: the home bar. But turning out top-notch drinks while in your slippers takes more than good intentions. There are bottles to buy, tools to agonize over and techniques to master. Follow us as we help you navigate your home bar basics.

Stirring things up? Then you need a spoon. But not just any kind will do. A proper bar spoon is tall enough for a cocktail glass, often with a twisted handle that makes circular moves smooth and steady. It may be adorned with a decorative topper, fork or disk with which to move or muddle ingredients, and the bowl can be used to crack ice or measure out the appropriate amount of bitters, syrups or liqueurs.

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The Backstory

Spoons as eating utensils date back to ancient Egypt, when they were made from wood, flint, slate and ivory. But the bar spoon as we know it today has its origins in Europe. The sucket spoon, which has a spoon at one end and a two-prong fork on the other, was the utensil of choice in Germany to eat fruited desserts. It migrated to Britain, and in the mid-19th century, bartenders realized people could stir their Cobblers and eat the fruit in them with one utensil. Separately, the mazagran spoon, which flaunts a twisted handle and muddler on the opposite end, was in use around the same time in France to stir and crush the sugar cubes in a coffee drink of the same name.

Today, three basic styles of exist. The American bar spoon has a twisted handle and, usually, a plastic cap on the end, the European bar spoon has a flat muddler/crusher, and the Japanese bar spoon is heavier with a weighted teardrop shape opposite the bowl. So which one should you buy?

Japanese bar spoon (image: Tim Nusog)

What Experts Say

“The width of the American bar spoon allows for easier incorporation of measured liquids,” says Baltimore cocktail consultant Aaron Joseph. It’s inexpensive and easy to find, but it’s not without its drawbacks, says Joseph, namely that its design limits it to just measuring and stirring and its flat surfaces can make the latter feel awkward. Depending on the brand, it can have a lightweight feel, and the red plastic cap on the tip looks chintzy.

Try this: American bar spoon

Brandon Bramhall, a managing partner at Attaboy in Nashville, often uses a European bar spoon with a metal disk on top. “It’s great for cracking ice and gives nice leverage when held at the top,” he says. He also reaches for it to lower cubes into a glass or measure one barspoon for certain recipes.

But Joseph points out that while this style can be highly functional, “it’s also extremely rigid,” he says. “The grooves on the spoon make it rough to stir, and the muddler can be troublesome.”

Try this: European bar spoon

As with so many other styles of bar tools, Japanese is the way to go, according to Alonzo Freeman, a co-head bartender at The Royal in Washington, D.C. “They’re usually longer and skinnier, which makes stirring easy for everyone—small hands, big hands, experienced, novice,” he says. Japanese spoons have a spiral that runs the length of the handle (versus the American, which has a spiral on about one-third of the handle), which means it can easily be used to pour liquids for layered drinks. And Japanese bar spoons tend to feel hefty, professional and balanced in your hand, thanks in part to that weighted teardrop.

Try this: Japanese bar spoon

(image: Tim Nusog)

The Takeaway

For the home bartender, Freeman recommends a standard Japanese bar spoon and lots of practice stirring. “Technique is far more important than the actual spoon,” he says. Bramhall suggests resting the spoon between your thumb, middle and ring fingers, holding it like a writing utensil.

“While you always want the back of the spoon portion touching the glass, you also want to roll the spoon between your three fingers as you gently ‘orbit’ your wrist around the outer rim of the mixing glass,” says Joseph. It helps to think of it as a push and pull motion rather than a circular one. “It’s all in the wrist.”

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