Your Home Start-up Bar Essentials

My friends Jordie and Darcy just opened a new cocktail supply shop in Vancouver called Sips Cocktail Emporium. Since they are in the business of supplying you with the wares to stock your home bar, perhaps you are asking yourself “Where would I begin?”

Lucky for you, they wrote a blog post about How to Start Your Home Liquor Cabinet. The thing I liked the most about this post was reading about their recommended home bar supplies separately, as well as why. They had some cross-over, but each added their personal flair to it. Which just goes to show, aside from an assortment of spirits, the liqueurs, aperitifs, bitters and so on are really up to your personal preference.


Start_Your_Home_Bar2_1024x1024There’s a theory that with only 12 bottles of liquor you can start your own home bar well-equipped to make hundreds of cocktails. The theory is put forward by the Solomonsons in their book The 12 Bottle Bar. While these bottles will definitely equip you with a lot of cocktail ammo, we don’t even think you’d need 12. When it comes down to it your bar is what you think is important. We believe that, not only is there room for more personalization, it can take much less to start your own liquor cabinet!Personalization is key and even between the two of us, we created different starter home-bars. Here what we came up with:

Darcy’s starter home-bar:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Bourbon
4. Rye
Even though they seem similar, I like to have specify both bourbon and rye (and not just whisky) since they have unique flavours and there are many cocktails that specify which is needed.
5. Amber Rum
6. Dark Rum
Again, while these two rums may seem similar, they are used for completely different purposes. I like a good amber rum for mixing in cocktails and a dark rum for sipping.
6. Sweet Vermouth
7. Dry Vermouth
8. Campari
9. Lillet Blanc
One of my favourite liqueurs! I would ideally like to have a bottle of each kind: Blanc, Rose and Rouge. However, to simplify, I think the Blanc is more versatile as a cocktail ingredient and a drink on its own.
With this selection of bottles, I can make countless cocktails including: A Negroni, a Vesper Martini and my personal favourite A Little Princess (equal parts amber rum and sweet vermouth).

 

Jordie’s starter home-bar:
Now before I tell you what I’d include I think that I should talk about my philosophy here. What you want in a home bar is something that if anyone comes over you can make something to suit their tastes, while at the same time showing off your own. It’s a very free-flowing style, well suited to my own flexible personality.
First off I need the basics:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Whisky
Rye or bourbon is what I prefer for mixing cocktails, bourbon is a little sweeter and rye is a little spicier, play it to your tastes. If you are a scotch drinker, I’d recommend getting a bottle of scotch for sipping and another bottle of a cheaper variety of whisky for pouring mixed drinks.
4. Tequila
Good for certain cocktails, but also useful for those people who just want a shot.
5. Rum
Now many people will criticize this (Darcy included), but you can probably just get away with one type of rum. White rum is used for some types of rum cocktails (Daiquiris, Long Island Iced Teas) whereas amber or spiced dark rums are preferred for more rum-centric drinks (Hot Buttered Rum, Rum & Cokes) that known, no reasonable human being is going to spit in your eye if you offer them one for the other. If you in particular are the sort of person who cares, by all means get all three types. (If you, like me, don’t care I’d say just get a nice tasting amber and use it for everything.)
Then I’d want a few things to just make many classic cocktails:
6-7. Sweet & Dry Vermouth
Crucial for classic cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans these vermouths (unlike rums imho) are not suitable for interchangeable use. I like to age my sweet vermouth in a barrel for a couple weeks before use, but this is not at all necessary.
8. Aromatic Bitters
There’s 100s of types of bitters out there, but the only one you absolutely have to have is an aromatic. I like to use Scrappy’s but other brands are fine, and each offers their own subtleties. Once you get started down the bitter’s road you can expand your bars versatility in many directions, but aromatic is all you need to start (and is what is being referred to when any cocktail recipe just calls for “bitters”).
And finally, a place to start experimenting:
9. Your favourite type of liqueur
There’s many types of liqueurs out there, but there’s no need to get all of them. You probably know what flavours you like and what you’ll use the most. I like to always have Campari and an orange liqueur in the house, but that’s because I particularly like experimenting with those flavours in cocktails. If you like Irish Cream, Coffee Liqueur, Amaretto, Fernet Branca, Lillet, Fireball or Peppermint Schnapps, that’s great. Get those. Just get a flavour you like and experiment with making your own cocktails at home with it. Then when you get bored of it, get something else!
So don’t be fooled into thinking you need certain types of liquor to start your home bar. There are great basics to begin with and there is lots of room for personalization. Ultimately, your home bar is for you: to make yourself delicious cocktails that you love and to show off to your friends what tastes you like.
Happy sipping!

 
 
Links:
Starting Your Home Liquor Cabinet original post
Sips Cocktail Emporium home page

How to Make Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is a definite cocktailing essential, but it can end up being quite expensive. If you’re like me and you want high quality taste without a high quality price, then the ultimate dilemma is, “How can I justify buying that bottle of Grand Marnier when I only finished it a month ago?” In BC, it runs $38.49 for a 750 ml bottle, and while it leaves behind a neat golden hue, the price does not justify it for me. I wouldn’t be satisfied with a bottle of triple sec, and Cointreau is too similar a price point to the Grand Marnier.  Keep in mind that making it yourself does not save you much money (only a few dollars cheaper), but you end up with leftovers of the ingredients, can customize it further to your palate, and creates less glass waste!

I searched high and low for an orange liqueur that I thought sounded like what I wanted to produce, and this recipe on Serious Eats sounded the best to me. What distinguished this recipe from others I found is that this one uses equal parts vodka and brandy, rather than just vodka. What I love the most about Grand Marnier is that it’s an orange cognac liqueur, so this seemed appropriate. While I would have loved to use cognac in my homemade concoction, if I could afford something like Courvoisier or Remy Martin, I wouldn’t be ruining it with a pile of flavour and sugar! Brandy would have to do.

I made the recipe exactly as given, to see how it would taste. I really don’t have any modifications to suggest. Some people left behind comments on the recipe page that indicated they didn’t like the taste of cloves and omitted it from the recipe, but I did add the cloves and there is certainly no clove taste in my final product. It was added to the final day of steeping, long enough only to round out the flavour.

As for authenticity, since I consumed all of my Grand Marnier, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I tried it in a margarita (1.5 oz reposado tequila, 0.5 oz orange liqueur, 1 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup, shake and pour into a salted rim glass), a daiquiri (same as a margarita but with a white rum), and a beautiful (0.5 oz orange liqueur, 0.5 oz cognac), and all of them were quite tasty!

Smirnoff and St-RemyI used cheap spirits, Smirnoff vodka and St-Remy VSOP brandy. I bought the bitter orange peel from a local home-brewing supply shop. The recipe said to use “navel oranges”, and I’m not sure if that’s what I brought home; I used small-ish firm oranges that weren’t mandarins. The major point is to use a combination of sweet and bitter orange peel, like the store-bought orange liqueurs would use. I used a zester on the oranges because if you use a grater, you run the risk of having too much of the white bitter pith (bitter in the bad way, not the good way!) end up in the infusion and make it less palatable.

I’ve included some pictures of progress after the recipe directions, so you have some idea of how it will look along the way. I will absolutely be making this again!

Orange Liqueur Recipe (from Serious Eats)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup zest from 3 small naval oranges
  • 1 tablespoon dried bitter orange peel
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine zest, dried orange peels, brandy, and vodka in a small sealable container. Seal and shake. Let steep for 19 days at room temperature. On day 20, add the cloves, then seal and shake. Let steep for an additional day.

  2. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat stirring to dissolve. Let this simple syrup cool. Strain the contents of the jar through a fine mesh strainer and then through a coffee filter. Discard the solids. Combine the strained mixture with the simple syrup in a jar or bottle. Shake and let it rest for a minimum of one day before use. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to one year (it’s best within three months). I didn’t have a 1L bottle, so I used two leftover 750 ml bottles.

Here are the pictures of progress:

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it's yummy and homogeneous.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it’s yummy and homogeneous.

Legend Distilling – Full Line Review

Legend Distilling is a new distillery that opened in the Okanagan in July 2014. They are located in Naramata (near Penticton), a region more well-known in British Columbia for its vineyards than it is for its distilleries. According to an article about the distillery though, this was done somewhat intentionally. Why do what everyone else in the region is doing? Good point.

Their line is quite impressive: they are producing a vodka, gin, 3 fruit-infused vodkas, a coffee liqueur, and a special edition gin. All within their first year of distilling! Grabbing the bull by the horns, here is my review of their individual products and line as a whole.

Starting with their “Shadow in the Lake” vodka, smelled like vanilla, tasted like vanilla, smooth texture, medium bodied, not too sweet or complex, with only a slight eLegend Distilling Linethanol taste to it (not enough to be undesirable, did not affect the flavour). Definitely worth drinking straight, perhaps neat or use a big ol’ oversized ice cube, like in an Old Fashioned.

Next up, their “Doctor’s Orders” gin, smells lightly like citrus with strong juniper notes, tastes like juniper, lavender, and something green! Potent but not overpowering, and not one botanical stands out. Their website lists “lavender, elderberry, mint and apple” as their botanicals. I didn’t taste the mint, though it did leave a cool little tingle on my tongue. Would love to try this in a martini, or mixed in a cucumber-mint tonic water (Phillips Brewing has another project called The Fermentorium and makes assorted tonic water flavours).

The Slowpoke vodkas come in 3 flavours: Okanagan Apricot, Rhubarb and Honey, and Naramata Sour Cherry. The rep told me that their Apricot one sells the best, but my store staff and I agreed that the Naramata Sour Cherry was the best. Perhaps because it had the strongest flavour. The flavours were nice, not too sweet and have natural flavours from the fruit grown locally.
My criticism of the flavoured vodkas is this: if I’m going to pay $30+ dollars for a 500 ml bottle, I’m going to by mighty upset that it’s only 23-25% ABV. Not simply because it’s a low alcohol percentage (for a spirit), but because that price is paying for a product that’s 75% water. All spirits yield a distillate in the high 90% ABV range, and subsequently get watered down to a suitable percentage (Popular Mechanics magazine does a really good job of explaining how distilling works). I understand that these were not created to be spirits mixed into cocktails necessarily, but they taste watered down. In my opinion, they would work better either as 40% ABV vodkas or sell them as vodka coolers.

The Blasted Brew coffee liqueur was quite tasty! Made from cold brewed coffee grown in the region, and tasted like coffee and vanilla. Again though, similar to the Slowpoke, I found it to taste a bit watered down. I liked that it wasn’t overly sweet or cheap tasting, and would still likely buy it in place of Kahlua/Tia Maria.

Last but not least, my favourite of the whole lot, the Defender Island gin. There’s no link to this yet because the first shipment is being sent to stores tomorrow; we got to try it from their sales rep. The key botanicals they added to their Doctor’s Orders gin that made this stand out is wild sage brush and smoked rosemary. When I asked the rep how the rosemary was smoked, he said that it was “roasted with a butane torch and then put on the BBQ with the lid closed!” The smokiness reminds me of a peated Scotch; not quite the same kind of smokiness but strong and similarly polarizing, either people will love it or hate it. Definitely a sipping gin.

Overall review of their line: I like their straight up vodka and gin, and love their special release gin. Was not too impressed with their Slowpoke or Blasted Brew. I like that they have a lot to choose from but too many choices means that less time can be devoted to perfecting a few things before moving forward. My hands-down favourite part of their line though, that completely sets them apart from their competition, is that they will be selling their teeny 50 ml bottles in stores. No better way to sample a $40+ bottle than by trying a teeny bottle! Especially considering that the distillery is a 6-hour drive from Vancouver, not many people will be hitting the tasting lounge soon, unless they are on a Naramata Bench wineries tour. I hope to have some of those teeny bottles in my stocking for Christmas this year. ;)

Sons of Vancouver – Amaretto Review

Sons of Vancouver is a new distillery operating out of North Vancouver. They opened on March 14, 2015 and have been enjoying immediate success. They won the Best of BC Distilled competition for this year in the “Favourite Spirits/Liqueur” category for their Amaretto, and both of their vodkas came in second and third place in the “Favourite Vodka” category.

LOVE Amaretto. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about making a saffron Amaretto sour. With the Sons of Vancouver Amaretto though, you won’t need to add any flavoured syrups, because this flavour is so outstanding on its own. I think I just want to drink it straight until the bottle is gone, and then cry about I can’t just live at the distillery. Yes, it’s THAT good!!

The label tells us that it’s crafted from apricot kernels, Bourbon vanilla beans, and No. 82 Amaretto label from behindorange peel. Then later, gets sweetened with Demerera sugar and BC blackberry honey to round out the flavour. Oddly enough, there does not appear to be any almonds in it. Upon some further research however, it turns out that a lot Amaretto (e.g. DiSaronno) does not have almonds in it, despite it being an “almond liqueur”. Guess it’s easier to make almond liqueur sound more appetizing than apricot pit liqueur? And yet, some distillers do add bitter almonds or sweet almonds into the distillation process. The Spirit of BC‘s review indicates that the distillers wanted to emphasize using only local ingredients; so perhaps, using imported almonds would not fit the bill? Makes me wonder they got their Bourbon vanilla beans then, as those tend to be from Madagascar!

No. 82 AmarettoThe front of the bottle says “No. 82” Amaretto, and according to The Spirit of BC’s review, this is because they made 81 batches of Amaretto before they reached the flavour they were the most satisfied with. Well, I gotta say, it shows! This Amaretto is not only the best I have ever tasted, but it’s distilled locally too, and I <3 supporting local distillers, whenever possible.

So, how does it taste? It smells like vanilla, honey, and mildly like root beer. It tastes strongly vanilla, and has a wonderful nutty roundness to it. The finish is sweet and not strong in alcohol flavour. At 26% ABV, it’s not surprising, and falls in line with their competition. The honey and Demerera sugar give it a nice, syrupy thickness to it, but it doesn’t taste overpowering or cheap. I would much prefer this in a latte over almond syrup, any day!

 

How to Make Irish Cream

Irish Cream, or better known to many as “Bailey’s” is dead easy to make at home.

Now, you might be thinking “But adding alcohol to dairy is going to make it curdle!” And you are right. You might think “EEW gross!” but think about it this way: if you are buying Bailey’s and it’s not curdling and can be left warm on a liquor store shelf for months at a time, what are they putting in it to keep it from doing that?

Now that we’ve established that it will curdle, how do we prevent that? Aside from keeping it in the fridge, a nice hearty shake of the container will bring it back to its luscious velvety state in no time. I tested this out when my handy dandy mason jar was full of homemade Irish Cream, half full, and even when there was only a couple ounces left. No matter how lumpy it started, it always reverted to the desired texture after shaking.

Next question: does it taste as good as the original? HELL YES. I’m not exaggerating. I would even say it tastes better than the original, simply because it’s fresher. Mine tasted a little bit less sweet (which I’ll discuss below the recipe),  but that didn’t change the authenticity of the flavour all that much.

Of course, you must be wondering: “But how will it taste and mix into my coffee?” Again, exactly like the original.

However, the best part about making it home: you have to use Irish whiskey. Which means that not only are you given the power to choose which Irish whiskey you use, but you’ll have some left over after you make it. My biggest hesitation to buying Irish Cream or any other liqueur I would largely have simply to put into coffee, is that I’m going to drop $30 on something I use infrequently. Irish whiskey however, is far more versatile. I could mix that in anything or just drink it straight up; the possibilities are endless!

The recipe I used from sourced from All Recipes, and I knew it was good because my friend made it for me and gave it to me as a birthday present. She also used soy milk and cream, though I am not certain how she found a non-dairy replacement for the condensed milk, or if that hadn’t been taken into consideration.

I tested it out at half the recommended yield (4 cups on the recipe page), as I wanted to ensure I would enjoy it. The great thing about All Recipes is you can specify what yield you want and it automatically modifies all the quantities for you.

“Original” Irish Cream Recipe
Makes 2 cups

  • 1/2 cup whipping (heavy) cream (35% MF)
  • 7 oz condensed milk (half a 14 oz can)
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp Irish whiskey
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp chocolate syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

In a blender, combine whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, Irish wIrish Cream Gift Bottlehiskey, instant coffee, chocolate syrup, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Blend on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Shake well before serving. Keeps for about 2 months in the fridge.

I did not have chocolate syrup on hand, so I used 1 tsp of cocoa powder instead. This made my version slightly less sweet but did not change the flavour otherwise. Next time, I will add 1 tbsp of sugar as well.