Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
The title “mixologist” has replaced “bartender” for many serious students of the cocktail game, but I prefer the term “bar chef.” To me it connotes a culinary connection to the creation of cocktails.
Thinking like a bar chef can also help home chefs understand that cocktails can be a part of the dining experience. While setting up a home bar can seem daunting, it need not be so intimidating if you break it down into individual elements.
Let’s begin with the booze. What kind of cocktails do you usually order?
If you like margaritas, then you’ll want some tequila around the house. Do you drink manhattans? Then you’ll need some bourbon. Gin and tonic your cocktail of choice? I think you know where I am headed with this. Your home bar should have a decent to good bottle of each of the following: vodka, gin, bourbon, rum (both light and dark), tequila and a Scotch Whisky. This collection of liquor provides a base from which you can make up to 90 percent of all cocktails that you and your guests may want.
Next, think about mixers. Freshly squeezed oranges, limes, and lemons are big players in cocktails, and the fresher the better. If you can, keep some fresh fruit around; they can be used in so many different ways and in so many different recipes that you’ll be always be glad to have them. While fresh juices are great, there are a number of bottled juices that will also mix well with your drinks. Cranberry juice is versatile and the newly popular pomegranate and acai products also can be used in innovative drinks. Think about what you like, put it in your bar and then, when the time comes, create something around those ingredients. Also make sure to pick up six-packs of tonic water, club soda and a cola.
There are other products that will also enhance your cocktail options if you have them in your home bar. Both dry and sweet vermouths are often called for and are essential for martinis. Rose’s Lime Juice is a handy mixer and defiantly have at least one bottle of bitters. Bitters are herbal infused liquors and just a few drops can change the flavor of a cocktail. Angostura, originally from Venezuela but currently made in Trinidad and Tobago, may be the best known, but other varieties like Aperol, Campari and Fernet Branca are also popular with bartenders.
That margarita you like so much can likely use the hint of orange-flavored or -infused liqueur like Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier. You don’t need all three, but if you like orange, then choose one of these and buy a small bottle for the bar. Coffee flavors from liqueurs like Kahlua or Tia Maria are used in a number of tasty wintertime brews. The options are endless, so take a look around at the liquor store and if a particular liqueur strikes you then take it home and experiment.
Aside from the ingredients to make drinks, there are a few things you will need to get the most out of your home bar. First, you’ll want some good glassware. The Old Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide lists 25 different glass shapes for the recipes in the book. Obviously you won’t need that many, but a set of martini glasses is always a good choice paired with a set of old-fashioned glasses, short tumblers that are also called rocks glasses.
And you’ll want a few bar tools as well. Make sure you have a jigger to measure your ingredients, a cocktail shaker to shake your drinks, and a strainer. You’ll want a squeezer for your lemons and limes, a long spoon or stirring rod and, of course, a good paring knife.
That all sounds like a lot of stuff, but if you look around your kitchen you may find that you already have some of these things on hand. And, even if you don’t, you can start slowly. Find a recipe, purchase the ingredients for that recipe and then slowly add to them.
Cocktail culture. It’s not just for bars. Try and you can create a little culture in your home.
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