If lockdown 2.0 has you missing the vibe of a night out on the town and the taste of an expertly crafted cocktail; we have the perfect new skill for you to hone.
To help you master mixology at home, we caught up with our Group General Manager of Beverage, Chris Crawford. Read on for some recommendations from Chris to help you master a great cocktail at home.
Kit Out Your Cart
It’s important to get your kit together with all the essentials. There is nothing more stylish and sophisticated than a fully stocked bar cart.
1. Bases and Mixers
First, stock your bar with a selection of base spirits so you can make just about any cocktail. Think gin, white rum, vodka, bourbon, tequila and brandy.
I personally go through different stages with cocktails, which means I’ve always got a large variety of spirits on hand. Yes, I have a spirit trolley at home! But I always make sure I have the following:
– You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the explosion of gin now – from imported to local, there’s a gin for literally every occasion. Never underestimate the power and versatility of a great G&T!
– I prefer dark rum. Think long glass, lots of ice, spicy ginger beer and fresh lime. Dark and Stormy. If you like the spiced versions (and there’s a bucket load) they are certainly full flavoured and punchy. I’m in the Zacapa camp from Guatemala, it’s still rich and has plenty of depth without being overpowering.
– Blanco, and a tequila Reposado. I always have a blending tequila on hand (Blanco) as a Margarita is a quick, easy cocktail to knock up. I always make sure I have some agave syrup on hand as a Tommy’s Margarita has plenty of flavour and a lick of sweetness. Or for something that packs a punch, muddle with jalapeño and some cucumber and serve on the rocks. Then there’s a sipping tequila (Reposado) to have on the side either neat or on ice.
– I only really have one vodka at home that goes into Bloody Marys. I’m not a huge fan of vodka, hence the lone bottle.
– Of course I have Bourbon at home Barry! A mixture of levels from sipping bourbons (I like a few blocks of ice) to blending for Old Fashions. I am partial to a boozy, punchy cocktail.
– My mother in law is Scottish. Therefore, it’s in my best interest to always have at least one solid blended or single malt lying around. Say no more.
Regarding downscaling or upgrading your level of spirits…I’m a firm believer in personal preference. If you LOVE gin, then go for it. Try lots of different styles and countries – there’s a huge variety around. On the other hand, if you’re like me and not a huge fan of vodka then skip it! Be adventurous and try different brands.
Next, add in mixers that complement your base spirits; like dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, cointreau and bitters.
I always have some mixers in the fridge - mainly a good dry tonic water. But I also don’t mind the diet tonic water from the big brands as these tend to be dry as well. Bitters never go astray, as well as a dark vermouth.
I also have Aperol
– I mean who doesn’t love a Spritz in summer!
– a dash in nearly every cocktail adds some depth and bitterness. Not to mention essential for a Negroni.
as a digestive – perfect after those ‘larger’ meals where I may
have overindulged. Trust me it helps!
To cover all cocktails, you will need short glasses, tall glasses, coupes or v-shaped martini glasses (for cocktails and sparkly wines) and wine glasses. You can pick up some fairly good quality yet inexpensive glassware sets at affordable retail stores such as Kmart or Target. Or splash out with something more special if this is a real passion.
Having some versatility in glassware is great, but certainly not essential. You can definitely get away with a long glass (high ball) and a short glass (tumbler/rocks) and that should cover most drinks. However, a couple of martini glasses (I prefer a coupe) never go astray and make you feel super refined! Think of the TV series Mad Men set in the 1960’s.
Bar tools are fun to use and can easily make you feel like a pro cocktail maker. Stock up on measuring equipment, a funnel, a cocktail shaker (perhaps avoid glass ones if you are just starting out!), a strainer, jigger, a bar spoon, and a good knife. You can easily (and cost-effectively) pick-up these tools as a complete set to save you hunting around for each individually.
Most gift shops sell cocktail shakers and all the relevant paraphernalia that goes with it. This certainly looks the part but definitely isn’t necessary. For years I used an empty Moccona Coffee container for shaking cocktails. My mates called it “Mocca-tini Time”. Don’t judge me. Be resourceful, have a cloth handy and if you spill it, who cares!
4. Accessories and Garnishes
Presentation is everything. The easiest way to go from just good to impressive is with glassware, ice and garnishes. The same drink with some nice big ice cubes and a perfect citrus twist in a beautiful glass can look ten times more impressive.
Make sure you have an ice ball mould and keep some in the freezer. They’re available literally everywhere.
Start with the Basics - Practice Makes Perfect
Give yourself a chance to learn and hone your skills by starting with some basic recipes and building your way up to more complex concoctions.
See below some classic tipples to master.
– Pour 30-45mls tequila Blanco (depending on how much tequila flavour you like) into a vessel for muddling.
– Add some slices of fresh jalapeño (if you like it spicier – add more) and cucumber to the tequila and muddle together.
– Add a dash (say 15ml) of agave syrup and the juice of one lemon.
– Mix together well and taste. You may need to tweak either the acidity from the lemon or the sweetness of the agave.
– Serve on the rocks in a tumbler with the bits of jalapeño and cucumber. Add more freshly sliced cucumber for garnish.
– In a tumbler add about half a teaspoon of white sugar then two / three dashes of bitters (soak the sugar).
– Add a dash of water (soda stream is even better) and try to mix the sugar, bitters and water.
– If you have an ice ball in the freezer, throw that in. If not, don’t stress, and just use heaps of ice.
– Add 45-60ml of a good bourbon or rye whiskey and serve with some orange - either a slice or some rind.
– In a long glass fill with plenty of ice.
– Add plenty of freshly cracked pepper onto the ice (it should stick to it).
– I add a teaspoon of horseradish, celery salt and the juice of half a lemon.
– Add a healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce. Then add the same again – you want it punchy!
– I love olives, so I grab some for the garnish – put in a couple of drops of the brine in (you’ll thank me later).
– Add 45mls of vodka and top with a good tomato juice or similar (V8) and mix well.
– Garnish time…be creative and go crazy. I search the fridge for olives and anything pickled – think cornichons and Spanish green chillies. Sure you can do celery, but life if too short.
Seek Inspiration and Embrace Ingredient Swaps
Because four lockdown is not particularly kind to our pantry, get creative and use what you have. Look for a flavour twist, for example, try jams, preserves, honey and syrups instead of regular old sugar. Try sage and thyme instead of mint. Seek some inspiration from different cuisines or the leftover ingredients from last night’s Thai attempt.
When it comes to the best advice for any budding at-home bartender, experimentation is the mother of all creation. But if it’s all just too much, jump online and find out if your local bar is dishing out delivery cocktails and support small, local businesses around you.