Dating Mixology: Building the Home Bar Part 2
in part 1, we talked about the essential spirits and cordials you need to procure to have an incredible home cocktail bar, in this part, we’re going to address the other, oft neglected, 2nd part:
Why are Mixers neglected?
I can’t tell you how many home bars I’ve seen that don’t have appropriate mixers. It’s enough to make me carry my own bottle of bitters around to spice up an Old Fashioned, or make a Maker’s Manhattan. It all comes down to three reasons:
They don’t know how to make drinks and therefore don’t understand the nuances of the ingredients required i.e. They’ve never worked in a bar, and don’t realize the importance of say, buying about four times as much ice as you think you need when you’re throwing a party, or investing in distilled water/mineral water, and buying the right molds and setting the freezer to the lowest temperature so those ice blocks will freeze slowly and evenly. The sexiest garnish by far in a home bar is well taken care of ice.
They’re lazy singles I’ve been guilty of this one. If I don’t eat those raspberries they’re just going to go bad in the fridge, and that mint is gonna brown and turn all kinds of unsavory. This has largely been supplanted once I eased off of a low carb diet (which I hated) and switched to a Paleo diet (where fruits are permitted). All of a sudden fruit started to be the snack of choice, with or without the . Face it, fruits are good for you, and everything else I’m going to recommend you buy is essentially healthy. And even the unhealthy stuff (Mexican Coke) is way better than the alternative. For the vast majority of people reading this, having this stuff in your fridge is a plain old good idea. Buy these staples and eat them quick.
They just don’t have a shopping list- For most of us, it’s just that simple. They don’t know what they absolutely should buy to make outstanding cocktails. It’s less than you might expect, and most items on this list are staples for any fresh kitchen.
With that in mind, here’s the list.
Juices that don’t need to be fresh:
Pressed Apple Juice
Pomegranate (esp. for the homemade grenadine)
While fresh Pomegranate juice after a workout in one of the tiny vendors near the beach in Tel Aviv is one of my favorite things, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not exactly practical. Pineapple, and tomato juice are other examples that should be squeezed fresh, it’s simply not time or cost effective. And all cranberry juice must be heavily processed and sweetened because of the incredible bitterness of the fruit, and the very low water content a cranberry possesses, so it’s best to Ocean Spray. My favorite way of circumventing this is to visit the farmers market only marginally farther away from my house than the supermarket, and pick up some fresh, difficult to make juice there.
Mexican Coke, or any cane sugar cola
Ginger Ale and Jamaican Ginger Beer
Angostura Bitters (I get more mileage out of Regan’s Orange Bitters, but that’s a personal preference)
These are your liquid mixing staples. If you’ve never had Mexican Coke before, or any pure cane soda artisanal beverage, you’re in for a treat. It’s difficult to appreciate how much corn syrup affects both the flavor and the texture of soda. And I find “normal” high fructose corn syrup drinks impossible to tolerate after making the switch, and will simply refrain from ordering them when I’m not at home unless I’m at a cocktail bar where mixers are given the respect they deserve. Just another advantage a proper home bar has…Ginger ale is a staple, but I also find spicy Jamaican Ginger Beer a cackling addition to a hot toddy, and essential for a dark and stormy. A cocktail bar without bitters is a kitchen without salt and pepper. They don’t matter-until they’re missing and then they’re all you can think about. I prefer heavy or “double” cream as my mixer of choice for both cream drinks and for making whipped cream fresh in a mixing tin, but I do use milk when I want to lessen the viscosity and impact of the cream while achieving a similar effect.
Sugar cubes are great for effect when you’re making Old Fashioneds. I like dark demerarra sugar, and prefer it over the white variety pretty much exclusively, but either will work. Agave Nectar is ubiquitous for me, because it’s cold water soluble, and has a low glycemic index, which is a plus for diabetics, and people like me who just like things to last long, you don’t need to use as much of it as honey to typically achieve the same effect. I go back and forth between runny honey, and raw honey from the farmers market that I make into a syrup, using the latter when I’m more health concious and during the months leading up to allergy season. Using honey rich in local pollen seems to mitigate my allergies.
These are your pantry staples. Keep in mind that fruit should be room temperature before you make cocktails with it, so run it under warm water before juicing/garnishing.
Odds and Ends
Earl Grey and Green Teas
The type of tea you use will be dependent on how you like your hot toddies. My favorites are Gunpowder Green tea and Bourbon, Darjeeling tea and Rum, and Earl Grey and, surprisingly, gin.
Knife & Plastic Cutting Board
Bar “Tea” Towel
To Make Yourself
Simple Syrup- In a sauce pan, mix one part sugar and one part water until the sugar dissolves. Will keep for at least 3 weeks. Tea strain or use a cheesecloth, coffee, or water filter to strain out any loose solids for best results.
Grenadine- Same as above, except use that Pomegranate juice in place of the water. I like to throw some raspberries and (in season) peaches to the saucepan, but experiment and see what you like.
Brandied Cherries- In a mason jar, fill with pitted cherries (though I usually don’t bother pitting for my home bar), brandy (or bourbon if that’s your preference), and a couple of accents. I put grenadine, vanilla, and cinnamon in mine, but none of these are essential.
And that’s it for mixers.
In the last part of this series, we’re going to finish up by waxing poetic about those classic aesthetic and textural obsessions:
Glasses, Ice, and Equipment.
Image Credit: native-radio.com