• Cocktail DIY: Stocking Your Bar At Home

    As we continue our exploration of cocktails, we are often asked “how do you get started at home and what should we buy”? We certainly have our opinions and we will share them, but there are no perfect answers (opinions, comments, disagreements and even outrage are welcome, feel free to share your thoughts!).  But here is how we would get started:

    “Short and sweet” version of the home bar.

    Here is the “short and sweet” version: Get a bottle of dry gin, a bottle of light rum and a bottle of whiskey (we like rye, but bourbon or Canadian whiskey are good). Get some Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters, sweet and dry vermouth (nothing fancy) and fresh citrus. Make a few basic syrups with sugar and honey. Get that old cocktail shaker off the shelf (we bet you have one somewhere) and start making drinks. And what can you make? Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sours and Daiquiris along with dozens of other “classic” cocktails. Go to Cocktail DB to get more ideas based on ingredients in your fridge. You are off and running for about $100 bucks, and if you assume you will get at least 50 cocktails from these three bottles, the average cost per drink is about $2. Not too shabby (to borrow from Adam Sandler).

    But what if you want to take it up a notch? For about $250 you can stock a home bar that allows you to build literally hundreds of cocktails and with “professional” results. A few more spirits and bitters, a liqueur or two and a bit of extra gear and you have a “pro” bar at home. So here is the breakdown, with a focus on readily (and nationally) available ingredients:


    • Dry Gin: All sorts of good options here, but stalwarts like Tanqueray, Brokers, Gordon’s and Beefeater are all under $20. If you are a gin fan, there are dozens of good artisan gins to try, usually around $30. And if you just can’t stand juniper, “new world” gins like Hendrick’s (cucumber) and Nolet (floral) focus on other flavors and are good options. Martinis, Rickeys, Gimlets, Sours and Collins’ are all based on gin. Try classics like the Pegu Club or Aviation.
    • Whiskey: We like rye whiskey and suggest Rittenhouse 80 proof for about $20. If you like bourbon, Bulleit at $25 is a good choice, but there are good options around $15. Good for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sours. Try the Daisy Black for a twist on a Whiskey Sour.
    • Light Rum: We suggest El Dorado Light Demerara rum at $15. Great rum at a good price (their Gold rum is also excellent). Bacardi and Brugal are also solid choices. Good for classics like Daiquiris and Cuba Libre, also a component of many tiki drinks.
    • Aged / Dark Rum:  We suggest Barbancourt 4 or 8-year-old and/or Appleton aged rums, about $25 – $30. While very different, both offer the deep, funky sugar and vanilla flavors that make tiki / tropical drinks sing. Great for tiki drinks and for deeper versions of Daiquiris.
    • Tequila: Plenty of good blanco tequilas under $20, just be sure it is 100% agave. We like to use richer-flavored reposado tequila in most drinks and prefer Cazadores, it works in just about everything and is about $25. For most, tequila is still all about Margaritas, but let’s face it, Margaritas still rock. If you are looking to branch-out, try the Ernesto or Chica Facil.
    • Brandy: This is a tough one. Good brandy isn’t cheap and some brands are not widely available. You will need help at your liquor store. VS Cognac is ok, but XO or VSOP will be better but cost over $30. We like Armagnac, and you can get a very good bottle for $30- $35. National brands like Hennessy have VS Cognacs for under $30, domestic brandies will often be less expensive. If you want to make a good Sidecar, you need good brandy. Also, a key ingredient in classic punches, like Chatham Artillery Punch.
    • Vodka: While not a favorite of many cocktail enthusiasts, a lot of people like vodka, and you probably have a bottle somewhere in the house already. Plenty of good options under $20. Cosmopolitans and Lemondrops are good reasons to have some vodka in your bar.
    • Extras: If you want to add-on, blended Scotch, Irish whiskey, Genever (gin in a richer, maltier style), Laird’s Bonded Applejack (apple brandy), Cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit) and Rhum Agricole are all worthy additions to your bar. Continue reading
  • Cocktail DIY: Grenadine, Simple Syrups, Honey Syrup

    If you like to “Do-It-Yourself”, then you might want to explore the world of cocktails. Besides making classic drinks from scratch, you can create your own cocktail recipes, boozy infusions, flavored syrups, brandied fruit garnishes, fat-washes (don’t ask) and even your own tinctures and bitters. And many of these DIY products will be way better than anything you buy in the store (a few won’t, btw). And if you want to explore the boundaries of cocktail DIY we suggest visits to Cocktail Chronicles, Boozed + Infused and Serious Eats, all have a wealth of detailed DIY recipes. But before you take the full plunge into cocktail DIY esoterica, we suggest a few basic syrups that cover many classic cocktails and Tiki drinks: Grenadine (pomegranate and sugar syrup), simple syrup ( white sugar or Demerara “raw” sugar syrup) and honey syrup.

    This is all you need to impress your party guests…;-)

    What makes these syrups so special? Firstly, you can make hundreds of snazzy cocktails with these syrups as the primary sweeteners (and they dissolve better in cold drinks than honey or granulated sugar- nobody likes gummy or gritty cocktails). Second, you can find all the ingredients at the grocery store. Third, you can make these syrups in under 15 minutes….combined. And finally, they keep in the fridge for weeks. So if you invest just a little time, you get a big payoff. And the payoff is in the cocktails. What cocktails? Here are just a few examples:

    Scofflaw with Grenadine.

    Grenadine: Planter’s Punch, Scofflaw, Tequila Sunrise, Jack Rose and Bacardi Cocktail (and the Shirley Temple / Roy Rodgers for the kids).

    Daiquiri’s use simple syrup (Demerara will make for a very different sip).

    Simple Syrup: Daiquiris, Mojitos, Collins, Sours, Juleps, French 75, and the Long Island Iced Tea (use Demerara syrup for a richer, molasses-tinged flavor).

    Lots of Tiki drinks use Honey Syrup.

    Honey Syrup: Air Mail, Bee’s Knees, Bebbo, Navy Grog, Tiki Bowl, Rum Barrel and the Missionary’s Downfall.

    And as we noted, making these syrups is very, very easy. You only need two basic cooking methods; mixing and boiling. Grenadine and honey syrup are the “mixers”. Just combine 1/2 sweetener and 1/2 liquid in a container and shake  (just use really hot water for the honey syrup). After a few minutes of shaking, you’re done.  The simple syrups require a brief boiling time to incorporate the sugar and water, but it only takes a few minutes.

    Finally, these syrups can keep for a while. Honey syrup, if kept in the fridge, will last up to a month. Both the Grenadine and simple syrup will last 1-2 weeks in the fridge, but adding a tablespoon of vodka or grain alcohol for every cup of syrup will extend their life a few weeks more. And once you make these syrups, you may find yourself using them quite often- your cocktails will be very tasty and have smooth, “professional” texture. Continue reading

  • Simple Garden Recipes: Apricot Shrub (And a Bonus Cocktail)

    Apricot shrub and apricot shrub soda.

    Last Apricot On Earth Cocktail using apricot shrub.

    Let’s get right to it, a fruit shrub is basically an equal mixture of fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar. Yes vinegar. But shrubs are better than you might think (actually quite tasty) and were a very popular way to preserve fruit in the days before refrigeration. And rather than tasting of vinegar, shrubs are sweet and very tangy. The vinegar acts as a flavor enhancer, somewhat like salt on savory foods- you don’t  know it’s there, but everything tastes better. A cool trick, and one that works with most summer fruits. And if you like cocktails or home-made soda, you should know about shrubs. But first a little “back story”…

    Blenheim apricots. Yum.

    Last week Carolyn and I traveled to wine country and then, ironically, started drinking cocktails. Happily both Napa and Sonoma have a number of restaurants and bars that feature world-class drinks, as well as excellent wine lists. One of the best places we visited was Bar Terra, an extension of the very well-regarded Terra in St. Helena. Bar Terra features a less formal and more “bar-driven” menu of smaller plates, wine and hand-crafted cocktails in a very welcoming atmosphere. The food and service were very good, but we did go for the drinks, and Bar Terra did not disappoint.

    The best cocktail we had at Bar Terra (and our entire trip) was a creation that is a riff on the Last Word, that just happens to have apricot shrub. If you are unfamiliar with the Last Word it is a roughly equal combination of gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse. It sounds like a train wreck, but the Last Word is real alchemy, all the flavors blend into a well-balanced, refreshing cocktail. And the recipe invites mixologist to play around. We often ask good bartenders to make a Last Word variant, and the team at Bar Terra struck gold. Their version of the Last Word included dry gin, apricot shrub, maraschino liqueur and yellow Chartreuse (and maybe a touch of lemon juice). The drink was an absolute winner with the apricot shrub supplying both sweetness and tang, the gin and Chartreuse herbal notes and the maraschino liqueur some nutty flavors. And if you didn’t know a shrub has vinegar, you would never place the flavor, you would just notice a lovely, palate-pleasing “zing”. You can’t wait for another sip. We didn’t get a name for the cocktail, but we have an adapted recipe below, and in honor of Bar Terra we will call it the Last Apricot On Earth.

    Rinse your apricots.

    Pit and quarter the apricots.

    We’ve known about fruit shrubs for some time, as they are popular in cocktail circles, but the cocktail at Bar Terra finally motivated us to make shrubs at home. And as we are near the end of apricot season, and there are Blenheim apricots available, we chose to make a “cold shrub” of the apricots before they were gone. Making the shrub is very easy. Simply mash and then macerate equal parts fruit and sugar, let a syrup form for a few days in the fridge and then strain and add an equal part of cider vinegar and mix. You can try the shrub immediately and it will be tasty, but it will “mature” and the flavors develop more with a few days / weeks. And it is not a vinegar, more like a preserved syrup. If you want a full breakdown on fruit shrubs Michael Dietsch of Serious Eats has a good article here.

    Macerate fruit with sugar in fridge for 12-48 hours. 48 hours is better.

    Strain fruit syrup and add the vinegar.

    Continue reading

  • Simple Garden Recipes: Maraschino Cherries And Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

    Homemade maraschino cherries.

    Sweet refrigerator pickles.

    The bounty of summer often comes with a vexing question that basically boils down to, “what am I supposed to do with all of this stuff?!?” Wether you garden, join a CSA, shop the farmers market or simply succumb to the temptations of a roadside fruit stand, when we get summer fruits and veggies we tend to get a lot of them. All at once.  And not all produce stays fresh for very long. Abundance can have a (very slight) downside.

    Now possibly the best answer to this “challenge” is to share with friends, assuming they aren’t already overwhelmed with their own produce. But when generosity fails, preservation is the next step. Now if you want to get serious about preservation, we suggest you visit Wifemeetslife for an intro to canning- Alison has some great posts. And if you want to add some booze into the mix, then we suggest a visit to Boozed + Infused, where Alicia makes incredible fruit-based infusions.

    We can’t keep up with Alison and Alicia (although we are trying) but we do often use some short-term preservation techniques to extend our produce. For our cherries we make quick “maraschino” cherries and for cucumbers we make refrigerator pickles. Both are easy to make and extend the life of our produce by a few weeks. Oh, and both taste great.

    Just cherries and Maraschino liqueur.

    Just a quick simmer, then jar and chill for two days.

    As for the maraschino cherries, we take our end-of season cherries, lightly cook them in maraschino liqueur and then pop them in the fridge and let them macerate for two days and then the are ready and will last for a few weeks. While sour cherries may be the ideal, we use Bings or Vans and they are very tasty. Contrary to the bright pink, overly sweet store-bought maraschinos, home-made maraschino cherries are just a touch sweet with a bit of tartness and some crunch. The liqueur adds some lovely nutty flavors to the cherries. And they are not particularly boozy. We put the cherries in cocktails, on top of ice cream, between layers of cakes (yum) and simply eat them out of hand. Good stuff and a good excuse to buy one more basket of cherries (and add some maraschino liqueur to your bar).

    Cucumbers, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices. Simple.

    As for the sweet refrigerator pickles, we love our cucumbers fresh, or in quick pickles, but we like this recipe so much it is one of the main reasons we grow cukes and buy a lot at the farmers market. Making these pickles is a snap. Simply cut up some pickling cucumbers (Kirbys are good here) and a bit of onion and then quickly/lightly cook in a solution of brown sugar, vinegar, salt and spices. Let the mixture cool and then put it in the fridge, the pickles will keep for about 10 days, but they won’t last that long. The pickles are sharp, sweet and crunchy with just a touch of spice. We eat them out of hand but also put them on sandwiches or serve them with burgers and hot dogs at cookouts. We also chop the pickles up into a quick relish- so good. And our kids love them, so it is a good way to get a few more veggies in their diet. Continue reading