The Names and Origins of 4 Tools You See Behind the Bar

iStock / iStock

If you’ve made or ordered something beyond a straight pour of whiskey, you’re likely familiar with a few types of bar equipment. And as the craft cocktail movement has caught on, you may have noticed that your local bar is now stocked with more tools than ever.

Although some of the tools’ names are intuitive, others are almost silly. To help you out, we’ve compiled the history behind some of the tools that you can find almost anywhere.

1. Jigger


As a measuring tool, the jigger helps bartenders pour precise amounts. The word “jigger” also signified an old measurement roughly equivalent to 1.5 ounces.

One theory is that the tool got its name during the heyday of the British navy. Each sailor would get a daily ration of rum or gin, depending on what they’d picked up at port. As the story goes, the sailors nicknamed the boatswain’s measuring device after the lowest sail on the jiggermast, the fourth mast on a sailing ship.

Another theory about the name is that “jigger” is a derivation of “thingamajig.” Since thingamajig is a made-up word used to refer to something that’s not yet named or something with a name you can’t remember, the tool may have simply gotten a nonsensical nickname that stuck.

2. Shaker


Versions of cocktail shakers have existed for thousands of years. In ancient Mexico and South America, it's believed that hollowed-out gourds were used to add spices and sweeteners to drinks. Today, bartenders use one of three types of shaker: the Boston shaker, the Parisian shaker, or the cobbler shaker.

In the U.S., the shaker was a rarity until about the 1840s. Before that time, bartenders mixed drinks by pouring them between two cups. Once they adopted the shaker, Americans preferred a combination of a glass and a metal tin that’s now known as the Boston shaker.

Back in the 19th century, "Boston shaker" signified the smallest possible glass that would both hold the drink and form a seal with the tin. Oddly, the first known instance of its name actually referred to a catalogue listing for an all-metal shaker advertised in Britain in the 1920s.

A two-part metal shaker is better known as a French or Parisian shaker. Though the exact origins of its name are lost, it’s likely that a bartender brought one back from Europe—or at least claimed to have gotten it there—and the name stuck. By 1878, catalogues referred to the setup as a Parisian shaker.

At some point in the late 19th century, an inventor built a strainer into a Parisian shaker to make a combination shaker, now known as a cobbler shaker. Since the cobbler was a popular drink often produced in this type of bar tool, the cobbler shaker likely draws its name from a popular use.

3. Yarai Mixing Glass

Though pint glasses and mason jars work just fine for stirred drinks, some bartenders prefer specially crafted mixing glasses. One popular type is the diamond-patterned Yarai glass. Named for a traditional Japanese weaving pattern, this design is thought to make the glass easier to hold.

4. Strainer


Though cocktail strainers may be related to ancient Chinese tea strainers, they’re a pretty new addition to the bar. We know that strainers arose around the same time that ice became widely available. The julep strainer was the first type of commercially sold strainer. It emerged around the same time as the Mint Julep, but the connection between the two is murky.

The American Mint Julep doesn’t require straining since it’s usually made and served in the same glass. One theory posits the strainer used to be served in the glass to keep ice away from the drinker’s teeth. Another story is that it would be presented with the drink and the drinker could use it to keep his mustache dry.

Around the 1880s, a variation of the julep strainer emerged. Now known as the Hawthorne strainer, this tool paired a slotted piece of metal with a spring around the edge. The first record of these being referred to as Hawthorne strainers was by a British company called Bonzer in the 1930s. Their strainers had holes punched in them that spelled out “Hawthorne.” It may have been an homage to a long-defunct Hawthorne bar, but the tie is lost to history.