Belly up to your own bar

McClatchy-TribuneJuly 17, 2013 

Home bars are back in style in a big way. Tapping into the nostalgia of the dry-martini era, they’re all about embracing the ritual and resurgence of the classic cocktail.

“You remember that generation — the man would have his Beefeater martini and the wife’s got her Tom Collins,” said Tony Abou-Ganim, renowned bar professional and author of the “Modern Mixologist” book and “Modern Mixology: Making Great Cocktails at Home” DVD. “You can offer guests wine and beer and that’s great. But offer them a classic cocktail? Now that’s an experience.”

Don’t get intimidated by the thought of being a home mixologist, said Jordan Catapano, author of the “This Girl Walks into a Bar” book and website. “You just want to entertain people in a sincere way, not show off — otherwise, it completely defeats the purpose.”

Check out these tips to get you started:

LIQUOR

One thing to consider is budget. “You could spend $100, $500, $3,000 or more,” Abou-Ganim said. He suggests starting with what you like and going from there.

His advice is to start with the basics: vodka, tequila and a light-bodied rum.

Vodka, he said, is a must. “It’s the number one consumed spirit, and most people like it.” As you add to your collection, he suggests extending to a citrus-flavored vodka.

Tequila is another good bet. Abou-Ganim suggests 100 percent agave silver, which is great for that summertime favorite: margaritas.

There’s a seemingly endless variety of rums on the market, but Catapano suggests a white rum. “It’s really popular and can be paired with simple ingredients,” she said.

If you want to expand further, Abou-Ganim recommends picking up both a masculine gin (like a Tanqueray) and a feminine one (such as Bombay Sapphire).

And as the weather cools, you also can add darker spirits into the mix such as bourbon and single-malt scotch. “It’s pretty easy to incorporate a few new liquors when the seasons change,” Catapano said.

LIQUEUR

Catapano likens liquor to a “blank canvas” and considers liqueur (a combination of liquor and various other flavors from sources such as fruit, herbs, spices and/or sugar) entitled to a rightful spot on the shelf.

Both she and Abou-Gamin suggest buying a versatile liqueur like the citrus-flavored triple sec since it’s used in so many drinks, including the feminine favorite Cosmopolitan. Stepping it up to the name brand Cointreau is great if you can, Catapano said, but even a standard will do.

Pomegranate liqueur, which she describes as “not too sweet and slightly tart,” is also a popular choice.

On the other end of the spectrum are richer liqueurs like Irish cream and creme de mint, which are all standards for the heavier winter drinks.

STORAGE

So how long will a bottle keep?

“Assuming it’s stored properly, a spirit will virtually last forever,” Abou-Ganim said.

His rules for proper storage: keep the bottle out of the sun, store it at room temperature and keep the top on. Oxygen, he said, is liquor’s enemy.

Other alcohol types are less forgiving. He notes a common mistake of serving old vermouth, an aromatized wine that’s a common ingredient in martinis and other cocktails. After opening, you should keep it closed and refrigerated — and get rid of it after a month. (Abou-Ganim suggests buying smaller bottles to avoid the waste.)

As for where to store spirit bottles: on the shelf is fine. “If you want to cool it, that’s fine, but it won’t keep any longer,” Catapano said.

OTHER EXTRAS

Fresh fruit is a must for any home mixologist.

“Whenever you’re in the supermarket, grab some lime and lemons since you can use them as both ingredients and garnishes,” Catapano said.

While lemons and limes are a must, you can really add any fresh fruit to the mix. “Buy what you like and just start combining them,” she said. “It’s hard to go wrong.”

Also don’t forget mixers like soda and tonic water. Abou-Ganim suggests buying small bottles of tonic water to keep on hand and said one bottle is enough for two drinks.

Both agree that you don’t need a bunch of fancy tools to make a mean cocktail, but there are a few worth investing in: a cocktail shaker (for mixing with ice), a strainer (to keep ice or other unwanted pieces like mint leaves out) and some type of measuring system such as a beaker.

If you’re really pressed on budget, Abou-Ganim recommends at least investing in the first on the list, noting that the “Boston shaker is like the chef’s kitchen knife.”

However far you want to take your home bar, Catapano said not to sweat any bumps along the way.

“Feel like you can make mistakes. You’ll discover your preferences. As long as you’re not setting stuff on fire, you’ll be fine.”

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