The home bar is a difficult beast. It’s expensive. Especially if you live in Washington state like me (hello, eight extra tax bucks on a $25 bottle). Also, it’s temporary. If you live in a house with a bunch of thirsty roommates, I can tell you from experience, your bar is a mirage.
And it can become a bit of an obsession. I consider mine moderate but I can see the fine line right there in front of me. A few more, uhh, research projects and I’ll have no qualms about grabbing that $100 ($123.33 with tax) bottle I’ve been eyeing, that kelp gin handcrafted by specially trained Hawaiian monk seals in a lava tube and finished in a bootleg whiskey barrel from Al Capone’s vault.
But it’s a fun time to be obsessed with bartending at any level. Every book and blog seems to turn up something new to try. Here’s a jumble of stuff that’s on my bar right now.
I will crush you
Be careful, talking smack to your ice might mean you’re certifiable. But when you’re about to dole out the kind of punishment these tools are capable of, it only seems right. I love this ice crusher. And I’m not just saying that because I’m so scared of it. It kind of operates like one of those ball washers on a golf course but the similarities end in nine deadly spikes. It only handles a couple of cubes at a time but it decimates them just like you’d imagine after looking at it. I found it in a pile at a junk store so I’m only assuming it really is an ice crusher and not a TB tester for outsize land mammals.
My Japanese ice pick, an estate-sale find, is more for the day I stop reading cascading posts and comments about the best way to make blocks of perfectly clear bar ice at home and actually try it. At that point, this surprisingly hefty tool will be my ticket to gem-like chiseled ice that will make Mr. Rushmore weep.
I will read you (eventually)
Tending bar is a lot more fun with a constant influx of inspiration. When my imagination is running on fumes and my eyes are burning from gazing at screens, I turn to the library. One of the first things you’ll learn from bar books is that it seems like a lot of smart people have turned writing about booze into a great way to get free booze. Also, that we’re lucky to have these people creating so many great books covering just about any niche out there.
I’ve been tiki-absorbed lately so current props go to Potions of the Caribbean by Beachbum Berry for being a last-word essential for the tiki-inclined and just a gorgeous book, to And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis for teaching me the true meaning of the word groggy plus a ton about rum, and to both for surreptitiously forcing me to study history.
Cocktail, anyone? I got this Yarai-pattern mixing glass as a gift from my girlfriend, so even though it didn’t come with drinks in it, it’s still special. I was using a heavy pint glass that did the job fine, but the wider base of the Yarai is nice for speedy but clean and steady stirring, it has a little extra room for ice and ingredients, and it’s got a spout for a pouring accuracy (useful after a few rounds). [Ed. note: Snag a similar glass here.] A long bar spoon also helps the stirring mojo and some of them have a weighted end you can use to crack ice.
The bitterer, the betterer
Somehow I keep getting older, and with that, the less appealing simple, sweet flavors get and the more I like dryer angles with layers of bitterness to sip through. I can’t order a margarita without running a background check on the bartender or I’ll end up complaining for hours. Luckily, bitterness abounds when it comes to the bar.
From essentials like Angostura bitters (I found the bottle pictured at a garage sale. The $.69 price stamp, marked down from $.79, makes me pretty sure it’s from the sixties and it smells a bit warmer and richer than my current bottle) to homemade bitters I’ve received as gifts to Italian Amari to French wine apertifs to the mysterious sense-of-well-being-inducing German digestif Underberg (collect the caps to win prizes), even my little collection gives me a calculus-requiring array of mixing and sipping options.
Speaking of sipping
After all the babbling, it’s probably time for a drink. I’m finding these three bottles particularly tasty at the moment.
Angel’s Envy, in this case, is a bourbon that surely would have been amazing already, being the life’s work of celebrated master distiller Lincoln Henderson, but it’s finished in ruby port barrels, making it a seriously smooth, complex, all-too-easy sipper. Also available is a rye, which, if anyone has it, I’m thirsty.
Clément V.S.O.P. Rum is a rhum agricole from the island of Martinique. Distilled from sugar cane juice* rather than molasses like 95% of the rest of the world’s rum, agricoles that are unaged are so full of fresh cane flavor that they’ll overpower in most cocktails (but are delicious on their own). The problem for me is that while this oak-aged expression mellows the cane enough to make it an amazing mixer, it tastes too good in a glass by itself. One review I read touting its mixability added, “Just don’t be a philistine and mix it with Coke.”
*Lest you think yo-ho-ho-hum sugar cane, this cane is grown in a microclimate on the side of a volcano, part of the Clément estate where the rum is also distilled and bottled, giving it controlled-appelation designation like Cognac. Take that, Captain Morgan.
Diep 9 Old Grain Genever, in addition to having kind of a badass name, is a traditional Dutch spirit similar to but predating gin as we know it. It’s distilled with botanicals, aged in oak, usually bottled at lower proof and has a deep, earthy, malty flavor, perfect alongside a beer (a shot of genever chased with beer is called a kopstoot). One of only four base spirits used for cockatils in the U.S. before prohibition, it all but vanished from the country. I’m glad it’s back. For more on genever, check out Boozehound by Jason Wilson.
That’s it for me. What’s jumbled about on your bar right now? Cheers.