How to Replace Proper Barware With What You've Got Lying Around the House

Ryan Chetiyawardana teaches us how to make bar-quality cocktails at home

Bartending tools
Home bartending can be done with everyday kitchenware
Photo illustration by Mike Falco

If you’re trying to make a cocktail at home and freaking out because you’re lacking the proper strainer or jigger, relax. The world’s best bartender says you can wing it. 

“Most things [while making cocktails] are adaptable,” says Ryan Chetiyawardana, who is possibly the most decorated bartender alive. The affable mixologist — who goes by Mr. Lyan professionally — has won accolades as the World’s Most Influential Bar Personality, Innovator of the Year and International Bartender of the Year. In 2018, his iconic London bar Dandelyan won the World’s Best Bar designation … so, naturally, he closed it and started a new place.

Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka the award-winning Mr Lyan (Courtesy of MasterClass)

I came across Chetiyawardana’s incredibly smart but DIY-friendly cocktail philosophy while undertaking his new MasterClass mixology virtual seminar (co-hosted by Lynnette Marrero — my review of the experience will be up on the site soon). In it, Chetiyawardana talks about “using things you know and love” to build your drinks at home and how it’s “perfectly acceptable to toss out some of the textbook cocktail lessons.” 

And that includes the idea that your drink is lost without, say, a Hawthorne strainer.

“What you are looking for is a degree of control,” as Chetiyawardana tells us. “Making individual, or small group drinks — and keeping to drinks that suit the home setting — means that you can be quite wide in options in what can be used.”

Caveat: Don’t go thinking you can ignore the need for some basic bar equipment. Says Mr. Lyan: “If you’re after very minute nuances to your drinks, you might need to find items that give you some greater accuracy, or it’s worth investing in some professional kit. But most of the time you can use what’s around the house.”

Mr. Lyan likes to improvise, but he also has a well-stocked home bar (Courtesy of MasterClass)

Here are some barware substitutes you probably already own, as told us by Chetiyawardana.

Jiggers: “Shot glasses, egg cups or tablespoons all work, but a set of digital scales can be really helpful here. Ratios and consistency are the key, so just use something that’s easy to pour and around 1 oz./30ml in volume and you should be pretty good!”

Bar spoon: “I actually really enjoy stirring with a chopstick — it’s smooth and designed to not taint with other flavors, so it’s quite useful, although it does miss the spoon part to pull liquids up that might have sunk to the bottom. But any long-handled straight implement will work well. The sadly departed Don Javier of La Capilla famously mixed drinks using a knife!”

Shaker: “Anything that seals well but can be easily opened is great here. Protein shaker, NutriBullet, jam jar … all these work, but at a push you can use a stick blender and a big bowl!”

Strainers: “A sieve works grand, but can be a little tricky to control. A funnel can be used to take out large bulk volume, and then you can fine-strain using a tea strainer to get out all the parts afterwards.”

Mixing glass: “A fancy mixing glass is beautiful in a bar, but it’ll likely get chipped or broken in a home kitchen, and will take up a lot of space. I personally stir in the small part of a tin as it has a clean lip and chills quickly, but anything that pours neatly and can hold enough volume would work great. A teapot is ideal.”

During the pandemic and due to the season, Chetiyawardana says he is currently going without a few things himself. “One thing that I love to use is fresh herbs, and they’ve not started creeping through sufficiently in the garden, so I am adapting with other fresh accents. Leaves from some of my (edible!) plants and trees are good substitutes (bay leaf, citrus leaves, sansho, lavender, fig leaf) and give that aromatic lift that fresh herbs do.”

Having said all this, there are some necessities when making cocktails. “Investing in a good shaker is worthwhile,” says Chetiyawardana. “And an isi canister is also hard to replicate, but there are ways around using it. The most crucial one for me is a good knife, though. Invest in a blade that suits your budget, and get a sharpening stone. Blunt knives are way more dangerous that sharp ones, and a good knife will give you a greater control that will take your drinks from good to great.”


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.