Sitting downstairs at my bar just the other night, while having a belt, the thought came to me that there are plenty of little ideas, suggestions and shout-outs your Cyber Bartender can give you, that he need not devote an entire article to. Vibe on the Rocks will be the place you can come to for a quick pop, a place for cocktail or home-bar related information that will be short and sweet. Little tidbits of boozy information updated on a regular basis.
You’ll need it. This sweet sugar syrup is called for in more than a few cocktails, and it is one of the few poured ingredients you won’t have to spend any money on. I use Simple Syrup in Whiskey Sours, Margaritas, Apple Ginger Sanagarees, loads of Tiki Drinks, pretty much any sipper that calls for a little sweet. The recipe couldn’t be any easier. What I do is make a big ole’ batch of it up, pour it into a label less, clean bottle and leave it in my bar fridge for up to six weeks. It calls for just two ingredients — equal parts sugar to water. Mix two cups sugar to two cups water in a saucepan, stir ‘til completely dissolved while bringing it to a boil. After the mixture boils and is completely clear, let it sit on the stove ‘til room temperature, then just bottle and store in the fridge.
- What I do is infuse other flavors into smaller batches. For example a cinnamon stick added to the mixture during the cooking and cooling process, will add a nice cinnamon under taste to your winter cocktails.
I love this magazine and use it a lot. A buddy of Mr. Booze gave me a gift subscription to this 6 X’s a year magazine a few years back, and I’ll never let my subscription expire. Every two months, I’m treated to articles dealing primarily with bars, spirits, bar-tools and cocktail recipes. There’s even a classic, old school cocktail column written in every issue by a gent known as Doctor Cocktail. His recipes alone are worth the price. With usually around 20 drink recipes each issue plus articles on their principle spirits, this is a great magazine to stack next to your home bar. Here’s a link to their page. I learn tons through this read. http://www.imbibemagazine.com/
Just because you use it everyday doesn’t mean I shouldn’t mention it on Mr. Booze. I’ll be brief. Buy lots of it when you’re going to entertain. The ice that comes out of little plastic trays from your freezer that you make from sink tap will not cut it. You need clear, fresh, clean ice. Never skimp on the cold. You want to make, shake, stir and mix freezing cold cocktails. Fill a cooler up with a couple bags of the good stuff, keep it in a cooler, somewhere close during your party. You’ll use it.
Mr. Booze realizes that times are tight out there, we all have to watch our pennies, but this is why a home bar is such a great idea in the first place. Besides keeping you and your guests close to home and safe while drinking, the money you all will save by not going out to expensive joints will put a smile on your face come Monday morning. Don’t skimp on the mixers! Buy the good stuff. For ginger ale, I recommend a good ginger beer as substitute. Ginger ales just aren’t spicy enough. Goya Brand Ginger Beer is the best. Buy it when you see it.
Estate Sales or Equivalent
Sad as it may be, the last great cocktail generation, the guys and gals who saw the Rat Pack in Vegas, purchased Vodka by the case, smoked drank and enjoyed three Martini lunches, are all moving out of their ranch houses and into assisted living facilities or pine boxes. What they’re leaving behind … are houses stuffed to the rafters with the stylized cocktail odds and ends that folks like us dream about. Mr. Booze tries to hit at least one estate sale a month and it’s at these sales that he’s able to stock his bar with all sorts of 80 proof goodies. Stemware, cocktail shakers, cocktail themed linens, lighters, ashtrays, LP’s, bar bibles, hell, I even picked up a vintage 1960’s brown leather studded bar-on-wheels at an estate sale. This is the decade for barware at estate sales. A swingin’ martini guzzler in the early 60’s would be in his/her 80’s by now and their kids just don’t have room for all this stuff. Help them pay the Old Folk’s Home bills and buy something cool at their parent’s estate sale.
Older Liquor Stores = Pay Dirt
If you’re ever near a liquor store that’s been in business longer than you’ve been alive, poke your head in on a slow Tuesday and ask to speak to the owner. Ask them if they have any real old bottles of liquor or liqueurs, no longer for sale or even being produced, lying around in the back. They often will. If the seal’s still tight, the booze inside will still be good and you can often pick up long forgotten ingredients for long forgotten cocktails this way. I’ve picked up flavored brandies, bitters, bourbons, cordials and various other gems by just asking. Remember, you’re taking these dusty bottles off their hands, so feel free to try and lowball ‘em at the cash register.
You’ll need a couple bottles of assorted Bitters in your bar fridge. In case your unfamiliar with bitters or the purpose, they’re an alcoholic beverage primarily used as flavoring for cocktails that usually come in small, shaker-top bottles.. Concocted of citrus and herbs, bitters carry a bitter or bittersweet flavor. I use them all the time to add a little something extra in my cocktails. Think of them as seasoning in a stew. From a Manhattan to a Martini, bitters offer a drink a little something special in many cases. You’ll need a bottle of
- Pechaud’s Bitters (A New Orleans Bitter that is amazing, flavor-wise and relatively available)
- Angostura Bitters (Delicious and often directly called for in a cocktail)
- Regan’s Orange Bitters Number 6 (Try 2 dashes in your next gin martini)
- Fee Brothers – Orange, Peach, Root Beer, Mint and Whiskey Barrel (I just do a lot of experimenting with these bottles. You’d be surprised how interesting they can make a cocktail. Here’s a link to The Fee Brothers Page. You can find dozens of cocktail related products here.
Used Book Stores and Used Book Sales
I probably have around fifteen old bar and cocktail recipe books, with one going back to 1913. Bartenders’ guides, official mixers manuals, Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, House and Garden’s Drink Guide, these books are gold for old drink recipes. Trader Vic, Playboy, Mr. Boston and dozens more published books on everything you needed to know on throwing a party back in the day. I find these old recipe books in second hand bookstores, school white elephants, garage and estate sales and just about anywhere where there are stacks of old books. They’re gold mines of useful information and forgotten cocktail recipes.
I almost feel silly writing this, but I went to yet another get-together this past weekend where the hosts didn’t do their prep work. Sure, the booze, glasses, ice and friends were there, but the proper party atmosphere was missing. A half hour before your guests arrive, put on the music, dim the lights, set the cocktail tables with snacks, etc… Walking into an over lit, music-less room when you’re nothing but in the mood to kick back and enjoy yourself is the pits. Set it up ahead of time. For what to play on your hi-fi, click on our Music Section.
Obvious, but…always add any carbonated ingredient last. You want the fizz to stay.
I see them in catalogs and in old ladies’ homes, and I’m starting to understand their importance. If you have just a couple of “go to” drinks, or are happy drinking one or two cocktails for the foreseeable future, a bar cart might really come in handy. I keep my real bar downstairs in the basement, but the ability to simply wheel martini or manhattan fixings right on up to the dining room table would sure be nice. If you have a studio apartment or a small entertainment area, a bar cart should be considered. Most of them have bottle storage on the lower level, so I’m sure you could stock one for more than just a few drinks.
When you’re mixing drinks, be sure to leave room in your shaker or cocktail pitcher for the magic to happen. You want to leave plenty of room for the ice and liquid to dance. A too-full container doesn’t leave enough room for the infusing, chilling, frothing or flavors to happen. If you have a lot of friends over, better to have a couple of shakers shaking rather than one overstuffed shaker.
It has happened too many times to me not to mention. Handle cocktail glasses, or traditional glasses, by the stem or base. You don’t want to leave a big ol’ maraschino cherry-juice thumbprint on someone’s fresh manhattan. Any evidence of a bartender’s handiwork besides the delicious end result is a boozy no-no.
Decorating Your Bar
This is a big deal for me, and I spend way too much time tweaking mine, but how you set the tone for your home-bar is key, in my opinion. I’m a throwback kind of guy, so I appreciate the old things. My bar has framed pictures and autographs of 50’s and 60’s entertainers, old liquor ads, album art, amber ashtrays, etc… You may be more of a fan of the modern, and there are boozy little avenues for that point of view, too. Regardless, when you have a little drinking hide-away, it’s fun to reflect your way of thinking. Good cocktails lead to good conversation, and good talk can often erupt from the bric-a-brac, photos, souvenirs and what-nots that you have around your set-up. Put some thought, imagination and passion into your home-bar and just see how much more fun you have.
Let your guests see a little of your personality when bending their elbows.