Wandering in after a long day at work, I usually sling my bag onto a chair, get the A/C going, set up the evening playlist on the stereo and head over to the home bar. As much as I like being out amidst the bustle of a cocktail bar, sometimes that nightcap sitting at home with a good book in a leather chair is unapproachably perfect. And if there’s any lingering doubt as to the benefits of mastering the home cocktail, refer to one of the only Old Fashioneds ever perfectly crafted in a movie—made by Ryan Gosling for the stunning Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Works for him; it’ll work for you.
In order to keep your cocktail game at professional bar level, try these at-home bar hacks.
That ice is awesome.
The most commented-on element of the cocktails I serve across the bar is the massive, glasslike iceberg I use for “Old Fashioned-style” drinks. Besides being more aesthetically pleasing, it serves the purposes of a cocktail better than other kinds of ice by decreasing the rate of dilution (due to the smaller surface area of ice that’s exposed to the drink).
Using silicon molds to create 2×2–inch cubes is the easiest way to make a more presentable cocktail at home; but if you want to go the extra distance, try making large-scale clear ice blocks to hack down by hand using a lunch-box–sized Igloo cooler.
One of these hard insulated coolers—top removed, filled with hot water, and put in the freezer—will allow for the ice to form from the top down, which pushes impurities and air downwards and out of the forming ice-crystal lattice, making for a perfectly clear, giant cube that you can use uncut—say, in a bowl of punch—or hacked down with a knife into individual drink-sized cubes.
Elevate your glass game.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your glassware elevates whatever drink you put in it. The proper glass adds thought, pomp and circumstance, and event to your drink that the liquid alone could never do.
Drinking an Old Fashioned out of a jar is great; drinking an Old Fashioned out your favorite double Old-Fashioned glass is a ritual. So to keep drinking from being a habit, elevate it to an event: make your drink with respect, and set yourself up to embrace the why of it, as well as the what.
Personally, I’ve yet to find glasses I adore more than the Waterford Mad Men Series Double Old Fashioneds—their crystal weight lends them a certain seriousness, and the gold bands around their rims lend a feeling of impeccable class to the ritual of drinking out of them.
Your drink is only as good as its weakest ingredient.
The single hardest part of consistently making good drinks at home is staying stocked with fresh ingredients. You wouldn’t expect a meal made with spoiled food to taste good, nor are you willing to use imitation cheese in your Cacio e Pepe. The same logic applies to drinks.
Fresh lime or lemon juice stays good for a day. Vermouth, once opened, is good for a couple of weeks, tops—if you keep it in the fridge. Rose’s Lime is a cordial, and no substitute for real simple syrup and freshly squeezed limes. I won’t even touch juice that comes in a little green or yellow plastic fruit, and you shouldn’t either. Luckily the booze itself doesn’t go bad; but make a habit of stopping by the bodega on the way home for a couple of limes, a couple of lemons, and an orange—you won’t regret it.
Ignorance is not bliss when we’re talking about crafting premium cocktails. With new cocktail bars popping up on every corner in cities across the world, an abundance of YouTube instructional videos, and a plethora of brilliant new cocktail books, there is no longer any good excuse for poorly made libations. Your best and simplest bet is to grab a couple of good books.
The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan will bolster your recipe library; The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler will give you a good selection of Cocktail 101 methods and techniques; and, if you really want to dive into the previously unobtainable scientific details of cocktailing perfection, get your hands on Liquid Intelligence by Dave Arnold. Between these three tomes of current cocktail craft, you’ll have every bit of know-how you need to make a perfect cocktail at home.