It's four o'clock somewhere, and the homemade cocktail is seeing a resurgence, writes Juliette Sivertsen.
"We were not a hugging people. In terms of emotional comfort, it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well-made cocktail."
More than two decades on from David Sedaris' 1997 book Naked , the humourist's words could not be more relevant than in 2020, at a time in history that required us to stay in our homes and avoid physical contact with others.
Most of us had a stash of something in our liquor cabinets during lockdown to whip up a so-called Quarantini. I've even heard of multiple stories of fortunate working wives being presented gin cocktails at 4pm by well-trained partners.
The pandemic certainly has helped contribute to a resurgence of the DIY aperitif. But tragically, many of us are well acquainted with the realities of a last-minute homemade cocktail. You might have a bottle of gin, but the only mixer in the fridge is a slurp of tonic and a bit of flat lemonade. Tequila, but no lime. Campari, no vermouth. Rum, but no pineapple or coconut milk.
Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy you an impressive alcohol stash for a homemade cocktail bar and that's pretty much the same thing. With a little bit of effort to bolster your liquor cabinet staples, fancy cocktails are just a shake - or even just a stir - away.
How to stock a home cocktail bar
A good home bar is something that should be created over time, not a weekend.
Quality control, and "research" are important and you should most definitely try a few beverages to see what you like to make, and most importantly, like to drink. It's all very well deciding to splash out on a dozen types of interesting-sounding liquors in the hopes of magically becoming a star mixologist among your friends, but it will burn a hole in your wallet. And, if you end up buying something you don't like, it will sit on the shelf and haunt you for years until you find the magic modifier that finally makes it palatable.
Auckland mixologist Laura Lopez Lopez says reliable choices to start with are rum, tequila, gin, vodka, whisky and vermouth.
Then it's about a few good modifiers to mix in. Lopez Lopez suggests coffee, citrus, bitters, honey, sparkling water and tonic. And then a couple of key cocktail tools will elevate your game.
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"You can make any cocktail with a shaker, mixing glass, bar spoon, a couple of strainers, a jigger and a muddler," she says.
The easiest cocktails to make with the ingredients you're likely to have at home are going to be a Gin & Tonic, Daiquiri, Mojito and a Dark & Stormy.
"I love a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Dirty Martini - I love making them all, but especially creating something I didn't make before."
How to dress up a drink
There are a few ways to turn a simple beverage into something a little more exquisite with the addition of some kitchen staples. Bitters can be transformational, but best to start off small and only add a dash at a time. The purpose of bitters is to add a little complexity and depth of flavour rather than changing the taste entirely.
Lopez Lopez also suggests using herbs and spices instead of the traditional citrus in your drink, and other chilled beverages.
"You can make amazing drinks with tea, coffee or fresh lemonade," she says.
Her current favourite flavour additions include lemongrass, kaffir lime, cinnamon and thyme. For those who are a little more adventurous, Lopez Lopez has been testing out a few more options, including tamarillo and ginger, feijoa and mint, citrus pina colada, orange blossom water and chilli. She says the secret is not to be scared of trying anything. "Never think you can't do it."
If you are making cocktails for friends, the crowd-pleasers are usually Margaritas, Aperol Spritz or even mulled wine, especially if it's cold outside.
Finally, don't forget about the presentation. You could make the most delicious cocktail but it will lose its charm if you serve it up in a boring water glass.
Cocktail glasses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, such as the inverted cone with a stem, which typically serves drinks without ice like cosmopolitans, sidecars and martinis. Because these drinks are mixed with ice then strained, the stem means you can hold on to the glass without warming up the contents. Margaritas also are served in a stemmed glass, but with a round bowl.
Highball glasses tend to be for cocktails that have a high ratio of non-alcoholic mixer. Not far from the highball is the Collins glass, a skinnier and slightly taller version of a highball. A single rocks glass is a short tumbler best reserved for when you want a drink neat.
Lopez Lopez encourages people to play around and try new ingredients and techniques.
"Look for the balance in your flavours and make it with love."
Four cocktail recipes to try at home this weekend
20ml Fresh lemon Juice
Preparation: Shake with ice, strain into a chilled glass, add lemon peel.
30ml Vermouth Rosso
Preparation: Stir over ice in a short glass and garnish with orange peel.
50ml Rye whisky
20ml Vermouth Rosso
dash Angostura Bitters
Preparation: Stir over ice, strain into a chilled glass, add a cherry.
20ml Orange liqueur/Triple Sec
20ml Fresh lemon juice
Preparation: Shake with ice, strain into a chilled glass.