One of the things I’ve wanted forever and take a lot of pride in, is my bar. Ever since I was little, I’ve had a respect for alcohol. I love the look of the bottles, the glasses, the hardware. I also always worried that because I had such a fascination, and partly with some of my upbringing, that I’d be a crazy alcoholic if I had the opportunity. So for a long time I put off having any kind of liquor in the house.
Not so any longer. I started in on a hobby with Scotch and learning about how alcohol was made, and where it’s made – and now I have a constantly expanding bar, with a full stock of glassware and hardware to make pretty much any kind of cocktail out there.
It’s been a long road. I started small, one bottle at a time. First I got in to scotch, and boy does that get expensive quick. There are so many different kinds of scotch, not to mention just moving on to whiskey, and bourbon, and Irish whisky. From there I started in on cocktails, which made my bar explode with all kinds of things I’d never heard of.
Bitters is still one of the things I find most interesting. I’ve looked it up, but still have no idea what it really is. But it’s full of all kinds of flavours, and terribly bitter. To the point where one drop can totally change the flavour of a drink. My wife absolutely hates it, but I’ve managed to get her to try a few cocktails that have it. Now to the point where she warily asks me if it has bitters in it when I try to surprise her with a new drink.
Now, I learned early with cocktails that it isn’t just the liquor that makes the drink. It’s the garnish. Drinks can totally change based on a squeeze of this, or a peel of that. I thought I was getting the whole experience by just putting the alcohol together, but you are doing yourself a disservice if that’s as far as you go. If you want an experience, and not just a drink, you can’t forget the garnish.
My bar expanded further with tools to make garnishes, channel knives, zesters, juicers, a muddler. Things I had never heard of, but were common place in a bar. It’s amazing how much technology and technique goes in to just putting some liquids in a glass.
On that note – you can’t serve drinks in just anything. There are different glasses for different drinks. This is almost as important as the garnish. Some drinks require certain shapes to properly contain or release the smell. Some (especially when mixed with ice) need certain shapes to either let the ice melt quickly or slowly. Or to cool the drink faster or slower. Some need the proper shape to fit in your hand so you warm the liquor while you hold it. One of my favourite drinking moments was discovering that one of my glasses (stemless red wine) floats. At the time I was using it to hold some blackberry brandy (which is one of those, heat up to get the best effect drinks) and sitting it in warm bath water while you’re laying back reading is totally awesome.
I think the glasses took me the longest to collect. I still don’t have everything, but I’m close enough that I can make almost anything and can substitute as necessary. My criteria has always just been “awesome”. Like me, I want my glasses to be something special. I want to have them on display and have people say – wow, those are awesome glasses. That’s actually harder to find than you might think. Most glasses are utilitarian. They do the job, but they aren’t special. No one sits down and takes time to think up anything unique or original. Or maybe if they do they don’t sell them at box stores, and are way out of my price range. In the meantime I’ve discovered some great ones, and some good enough ones. But I’m always watching for something new.
The last part of a properly stocked bar is one that I don’t have the space for right at the moment. There are so many types of juice, and soda in the world, and all of them are used in cocktails. Even just keeping common ones like orange juice, pineapple, coconut, cranberry and the various sodas (cola, sprite/7up, ginger ale and club soda) is a huge space taker. And I don’t have a wet bar, so no mini-fridge. Most of them I just buy as I’m going to need, but one day I’m hoping to have on hand the things to make a drink, even if I haven’t planned ahead.
Anyone else out there an amateur mixologist? I’d love to hear from you, challenges, successes, fun times? Drop me a line.