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The Hacker’s Home Bar

How to use everything from a salad spinner to a protein shaker to make better drinks at home.

From bubble tea shakers to the Instant Pot, some of the handiest gizmos for making cocktails weren’t expressly designed for that purpose. The kitchen, hardware store or even your gym bag likely house these unassuming tools, all recommended by bartenders to help perfect the at-home cocktail.

Here, the tools to help hack your home bar game and how to use them.

Protein Shaker
A protein shaker, sports drink mixer or water bottle can all pinch-hit as cocktail shakers or frothers for creamy or egg-based drinks. At New York’s Dead Rabbit, for example, beverage director Jillian Vose calls on a protein shaker with a metal ball inside to whip up heavy cream for the bar’s signature Irish Coffee.

Salad Spinner
Don Lee of Existing Conditions has been known to pull out a salad spinner to double as an ice bucket with a built-in strainer. Similarly, long-handled strainers meant to remove noodles or vegetables from boiling water can double as ice scoops, suggests Chicago bartender Carol Donovan.

Use a blender to make a quick spirit infusion for drinks like Dorothy Elizabeth’s Basil-Infused Gin Rickey or her kale-infused Oh Kale No. A blender, immersion blender or milk frother can also fluff up citrus juices for added texture and aroma in classics like the GaribaldiPaloma or Gin and Juice or add extra froth to any egg-based drinks.

Instant Pot
An electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker all in one, the Instant Pot can also assist in rapid infusions, like the flavored wine component in Luis Hernandez’s Spiced Sangria. Horchata-like drinks, such as the Jasmine Colada, also benefit from the rice-cooking feature of the Instant Pot.

Bento Vegetable Cutters
At the Fenix speakeasy within Boston’s Nahita, bartender Frederic Yarm shapes citrus peels using Bento box vegetable cutters and pinking shears (meant for fabric) for artfully zig-zagged edges. “It adds another level of attention to detail,” he says.

Bread Knife
Serrated bread knives and wood chisels can be used to shape ice cubes, says Detroit cocktail enthusiast and booze blogger Nick Britsky (he learned the technique from bartender Chas Williams at The Oakland).

Woodworking Microplane
“The best microplanes are sold at the hardware store for woodworking,” says Donovan, who puts them into play for super finely sliced fruits, ginger root and more. Among other hardware store items that bartenders say can double as cocktail gear: funnels, particularly collapsible oil funnels and rubber mallets for crushing ice. Of course, make sure any items plucked from the hardware store aisles (or your garage) are scrupulously clean.

Medicine Dropper
Medicine droppers can be used to administer small amounts of bitters or strong-flavored spirits into a cocktail. Often found at the perfume counter or travel-size section of the local drug store, atomizers are another popular way to add small amounts of spirits or tinctures to drinks. One home bartender even turned to the dosing cup from a bottle of Children’s Tylenol in place of a jigger—“dosing is dosing,” he says.

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