No home bartender disputes the importance of a quality shaker. Opaque cocktail ingredients like cream, fruit juice, and egg whites need to be shaken hard to be incorporated into a drink. It provides a light, delicate experience; a cocktail full of tiny air bubbles that dance on the tongue. Well, that shaker alone won't do a ton of good for cocktails made with clear ingredients. Drinks like Manhattans, Negronis, and Martinis should be ice cold, crystal clear, and have a good deal of richness, heft and weight on the palate. To achieve that, they must be stirred, which means you've got to have a quality bar spoon.
Bartenders use spoons as multi-tools to muddle herbs, crack ice, measure ingredients (though this is one of my pet peeves, since every bar spoon is slightly different the only way to measure small amounts consistently is by employing a teaspoon), and—oh yeah—stir drinks.
Spoons seem simple enough that any model will do just fine. Like, say, one of those ubiquitous bar spoons with red plastic tips available at liquor stores and discount restaurant suppliers. Trust me, those things are crap. They're made from cheap, thick stainless steel, and feel clumsy when you use them. And those designer spoons with a non-twisted handle? Avoid those too, as they tend to slip around between wet fingers.
Here's what you actually want to look for. A twisted-handle spoon that's ergonomic, nimble, comfortable between the fingers, and perfectly balanced in the hand, like Cocktail Kingdom's Teardrop spoon. But I prefer a multi-tasker, so I seek out spoons with some sort of tool on the other end too. A trident fork is popular among the mustachioed bartending crowd, and provides a useful tool for spearing garnishes such as olives, cherries, and onions, which minimizes finger contact. I prefer a disc or hammer end spoon, which comes in handy for muddling soft ingredients such as herbs and sugar. My personal favorite is the Swissmar Hammer End Spoon.
Now, am I so precious about spoons that I wouldn't use a wooden chopstick in a pinch to stir my Manhattan? No, a man's got to drink. But when you go to buy the genuine article, make sure to skip the cheap crap from the liquor store. It's worth spending the few extra bucks to get a quality spoon that will make your life just a little bit easier and your technique a little bit better.
Photo by David L. Reamer