Sometimes, you get a hankering for a cocktail — the citrus-sweet tang of a margarita, the warming bourbon blast of an old fashioned — that beer or wine simply can’t satisfy. The only difference now is that you can’t head to happy hour with friends to have one.
Being isolated at home will give us time to try new things over the course of the next few weeks — including being your own home bartender. Liquor stores remain open during Austin’s shelter-in-place order because they are considered essential businesses, but chances are good that you can make a perfectly tasty cocktail with what you already have.
For one thing, making cocktails doesn’t have to be complicated, with 16-ingredient mixtures requiring fancy bar tools and an understanding of basic chemistry. Many of the classics, including the two mentioned above, keep it pretty simple. We have some tips and tricks to keep in mind as you prepare drinks for you and anyone else who is 21 or older in your household.
Start your home bartending practice by making a batch of simple syrup, Drink Well owner Jessica Sanders said. The liquid, equal parts sugar and water heated on the stove, serves as a main ingredient in a variety of cocktails, such as the daiquiri, the French 75 and the mint julep. Once you’ve made it (blending the sugar and water over medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved), it’ll keep in the fridge for several weeks.
"You can use virtually any kind of sugar — white, cane, brown, honey, agave nectar," Sanders said. "But keep in mind, different sugars have different densities. If you have a food scale at home, the best bet is to weigh the sugar and water and mix in equal parts by weight instead of by volume. That way you don’t end up with a syrup that’s overly thick or sweet."
Once you have the simple sugar base, you can infuse it with virtually any fresh herbs or fruits you have on hand. Sanders, who is also the beverage director for Edgewise Hospitality’s Contigo and Last Straw, recommends the combinations of strawberry and basil or fresh thyme, ginger and vanilla bean, and rosemary and lemon peel.
Missing margaritas in particular? If you have a bottle of tequila and lime, you may be able to skip the requisite triple sec. Making your own orange liqueur will work in a pinch, Sanders said. (To do so, infuse the peels of four oranges for at least 12 hours in 16 ounces of agave syrup.)
The co-owner of the Austin Shaker, Kirstyn Litchfield has noticed an uptick in retail purchases at both locations of the local liquor store. She said that if your palate prefers spirit-based cocktails, consider these items your four essentials behind the bar: gin, whiskey, Campari and a sweet vermouth. With these, you can make a number of classic, booze-forward drinks, including the Negroni and the Boulevardier.
"Personally, I would never let my rum run out, but that's not the trend for most people," she said. "I could drink daiquiris all day. Rum, sugar, lime juice, shaken real cold. That is my desert island drink, anyway. It is so refreshing and lovely."
She also recommends getting a jigger if you don’t already have one, to ensure consistency in your measurements from cocktail to cocktail. (Using a measuring cup — two tablespoons is the equivalent of one fluid ounce — is an OK substitute. Just make sure you know the amount of each ingredient if you want to replicate your boozy creation.)
Perhaps the best trick of all is the art of batching, or making enough of one drink to last you a week or two. Sanders said spirit-based cocktails are most suited for making in big batches because they won’t go bad like those with juices will.
To make a large-format martini or Manhattan, she said, blend 12 ounces of a base spirit (gin or vodka for a martini; bourbon, rye or añejo tequila for a Manhattan) with 6 ounces of vermouth and 3 ounces of water to dilute; add the mixture to a clean 24-ounce bottle or mason jar. The water makes adding ice later unnecessary. When ready to drink, pour out 3 ounces, add bitters (angostura for Manhattans, orange for martinis) and sip away.
"Almost no tools are required," she said.
Some of the following recipes specify certain brands; you can use what you have or other favorite brands. The batch cocktail can double and hold up in your fridge for a week or two.
1 1/2 ounces Absolut Citron vodka
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail
Garnish: lemon twist
Combine the vodka, Cointreau, lime juice and cranberry cocktail in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with the lemon twist. Makes 1 drink.
— From "Last Call: Bartenders on Their Final Drink and the Wisdom and Rituals of Closing Time" by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)
One of our favorite cheats opens up a whole supermarket aisle of flavors for easy use in cocktails — the tea aisle. Pick any of the dozens of wonderful flavors available, such as red berry tea, or green tea with Japanese cherry, or ginger and strawberry green tea, to create your tea syrup. There are no limits with a good tea syrup. Once the syrup is made, you can even turn it into a liqueur simply by measuring how much you have and adding an equal quantity of gin to it. Then, you can bottle it up for later.
50 milliliters Sipsmith London Dry Gin
25 milliliters fresh lemon juice
25 milliliters homemade tea syrup (directions follow)
Combine the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Alternatively, combine the ingredients in an ice-filled rocks glass and stir. Or, combine in an ice-filled highball glass and top with soda.
For the homemade tea syrup: Heat 500 milliliters water with 500 grams sugar on a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then bring it up to a simmer. Add a few tea bags and set it aside to cool. Lift out the tea bags after about 10 minutes and you have a simple and delicious flavored syrup, as well as a seemingly endless palette for making more.
— From "Sip: 100 Gin Cocktails With Just Three Ingredients" by Sipsmith (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99)
If you miss your Pimm’s in the summer months, I promise you this is at least as good if not better. Stick to strawberries — you won’t miss the other fruit. Note that you will need to brew the tea and macerate the strawberries in advance.
2 breakfast tea bags
1 1/4 cups cold water
9 ounces strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 cups lemonade
Generous handful of ice cubes
2 sprigs of mint, to garnish
Put the tea bags in a jug, pour over the measured water and leave to infuse for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, hull the strawberries, removing any unripe white fruit around the stalk, and slice thickly. Put in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the sugar and vinegar. Turn the fruit over with a tablespoon and leave to macerate while the tea infuses.
Fish the tea bags out of the jug, add the strawberries with their juice and the lemonade and stir to mix. Add the ice cubes, garnish with the sprigs of mint and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "How to Drink without Drinking: Celebratory alcohol-free drinks for any time of the day" by Fiona Beckett (Kyle Bookes, $19.99)
Chai Bourbon Mule
Smoky, heady with spice and not too sweet, this is a drink that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
2 slices of lime
1 heaped teaspoon Assam tea leaves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, bashed to open slightly
3 ounces bourbon or whiskey
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/4 cups ginger ale
Prepare two whiskey glasses with plenty of ice and a slice of lime in each.
Measure the tea leaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods into a mug or heatproof jug and cover with 1/2 cups freshly boiled water. Leave to steep for 5 minutes before straining the liquor and discarding the spices and tea.
Add the bourbon, lime juice and infused tea to a jug or cocktail shaker, and muddle or shake to combine. Add plenty of ice and shake or muddle vigorously. Strain the drink into the two prepared glasses, top up with ginger ale and enjoy. Makes 2 tall glasses.
— From "Good & Proper Tea: How to make, drink and cook with tea" by Emilie Holmes and Ben Benton (Kyle Books, $19.99)
Bourbon loves orange and spice; fans of the old fashioned know this. In this cocktail from Katipai Richardson-Wilson of Brooklyn’s Dirty Precious, the citrus and whiskey share the spotlight. Honey and orange tea amplify the bourbon’s toasty barrel flavors. (The honey syrup is cut with a bit of sugar so the honey doesn’t dominate.) We’re not hosting parties right now, but you can double the recipe and store it in the fridge to enjoy over a week or two.
1 cup high-proof bourbon (such as Medley Bros.)
1/2 cup chilled orange-honey syrup (recipe follows)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
To serve: orange wheels
Up to 1 day before serving, make the batch. Pour bourbon, chilled orange-honey syrup and water into a 2-quart pitcher and stir to mix. If not serving immediately, seal well, covering with plastic wrap if needed, and refrigerate.
Up to 2 hours before serving, prepare lemon juice and stir into pitcher mix. Reseal and return to refrigerator if not serving immediately.
To serve, fill pitcher with ice, add orange wheels and stir gently until outside of pitcher is cool. Pour cocktail into ice-filled rocks glasses. Express oils from an orange twist over each cocktail, if desired, and use twist as garnish.
Orange Honey Syrup
1/2 cup water
1 orange tea bags (such as Tazo wild sweet orange)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup honey
In a small saucepan, bring water to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. As soon as you spot the first bubble, add tea bags, remove from heat, and let steep for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add honey and sugar to saucepan, return to medium-high heat, and stir constantly, just until dissolved. Remove from heat. Let cool, then transfer to a resealable container and refrigerate until chilled or for up to 1 week.
— From "Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion" by Maggie Hoffman (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)
This cocktail is one of the classics and still one of our favorites.
2 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 large ice cube
Orange slice, for garnish
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
In a rocks glass, combine the bourbon, simple syrup and bitters. Add the ice cube and use a bar spoon to stir until the drink is well chilled, about 30 seconds. Garnish with the orange and cherry. Serve. Makes 1.
— Southern Kitchen
Grown-Up Jack and Coke
This flavorful highball cocktail is a grown-up version of the classic Southern drink Jack and Coke. Molasses and angostura bitters hint at Coca-Cola, while your favorite bourbon (or Jack Daniels, if you’d like) provides the oomph. Top it all off with club soda and a splash of lime.
8 ounces bourbon
1 1/2 ounces molasses
1 ounce fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges, for garnish
1/2 ounce angostura bitters
In a mixing glass, combine the bourbon, molasses, lime juice and bitters. Stir to dissolve the molasses.
Fill four highball or Collins glasses with ice. Divide the bourbon mixture between the glasses and top with the soda. Garnish with a lime wedge and serve immediately. Makes four.
— Southern Kitchen