The Editor’s Answer to Holiday Withdrawal
The holiday season has ended, and, after countless glasses of eggnog, mulled wine, and holiday-themed beer, many revelers are happy to trade in their wine glasses for water glasses. But, every year there's a festive contingent who can't bear the holidays' end. These hardy folk who suffer from party withdrawal in January should be happy to read about the trials and triumphs involved in assembling a functional cocktail bar.
The Cocktail Bar: History of the Cocktail
As with the origins of many cocktail recipes, the origins of the word "cocktail" are up for debate. Wikipedia notes a few different possibilities for the first usage of the word, one of which involves a horse suppository! But, whatever its etymology, the cocktail appears to have been enlivening evenings as far back as the 1800s. Although cocktails were traditionally a mixture of sugar, spirits, bitters, and water, by the 1860s liqueurs were also added to the mix.
Jerry Thomas, the author of How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862)—the first bartender's reference guide to hit the shelves—differentiates between cocktails, made with bitters, and other mixed drinks. Popular usage today, though, defines "cocktails" as mixed drinks that contain two or more ingredients when at least one of those ingredients is alcoholic.
The Cocktail Bar: The Book
One integral part of any bar is a bartender's reference guide. Although Google can help you find recipes for various cocktails simply by searching their names, many of these recipes are invented by bloggers who have little to no experience mixing drinks. This lack of bartending experience on the part of the online mixologist becomes obvious after their unfortunate victim takes the first sip.
A bartender's reference guide, such as How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion, helps the adventurous cocktailer avoid such untested formulae, providing recipes for classic cocktails that have proven themselves to cocktail lovers for years.
And, beyond recipes, many bartender’' reference guides also detail the various liquors, liqueurs, beers, wines, glasses, bitters, and other implements you’ll need to turn your empty liquor cabinet into a working bar. I continually make reference to Gary Regan’s The Bartender's Bible: 1,001 Mixed Drinks And Everything You Need To Know To Set Up Your Bar.
The Cocktail Bar: New Additions
This holiday season I was fortunate enough to find two cocktail ingredients I didn't own yet. After months of deliberation, I finally purchased a bottle of advocaat. This eggy liqueur is a Dutch concoction, and it's a great drink to enjoy when the weather gets colder. Some choose to enjoy advocaat on its own, or maybe with a dollop of whipped cream. For those looking to mix it into a drink, though, there are some surprisingly tasty options available. Just make sure that you either finish advocaat quickly or store it in your fridge. Nothing spoils a cocktail like rotten eggs.
You're probably familiar with sherry, port, vermouth, and Dubonnet, but have you ever had a glass of Lillet? Available in three different varieties, blanc, rosé, and rouge, Lillet is an aperitif best served chilled on its own or as part of a cocktail. I found bottles of Lillet Rouge and Blanc at my local LCBO, and happily added it to the array of cocktail ingredients already in place in my home bar. And, like any wine-based liqueur, I made sure to refrigerate this one after opening.
Despite Jack Torrance's appreciation of bourbon and advocaat in The Shining, I recommend a more tried and tested cocktail recipe like the Snowball. There are variations on this cocktail, but both options are similar, creating a kind of key-lime pie taste:
- Mix 1.5 ounces of advocaat (add more for a stronger drink) and a squeeze of lime juice together in a shaker half-filled with ice
- Shake well
- Strain into an old-fashioned glass almost filled with ice
- Top with lemonade or, the variation, Sprite/7-Up
- Stir well
- Mix two ounces of Lillet Blanc and a 1/2 ounce of gin in a mixing glass half-filled with ice
- Stir well
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a twist of lemon
The Cocktail Bar: Final Advice
It will take some time to assemble all the components you'll need to have in order to offer fans of the most obscure of cocktails their drink of choice. At 80+ ingredients and counting, including beers, wines, spirits, and bitters, I still find that I'm unable to mix certain drinks. However, there are certain cocktail ingredients that come up more than others. One such popular component is bitters, and another is vermouth—both dry and sweet. So, I suggest concentrating on acquiring these more common ingredients before working your way up to exotic ingredients like advocaat or Lillet.