With the closure of our favorite bars, Houstonians have had plenty of time during the COVID-19 pandemic to assess the alcohol situations in their homes. Some are ordering drinks from restaurants in big batches, thanks to relaxed rules from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, helping some establishments make ends meet while crowds are told to stay away.
Crafting cocktails at home isn’t a new concept, of course, but in the absence of a professional bartender under your roof, you have to make do more than ever. We asked two area drink experts how you can make the best of your own home bar.
“The first thing to know about setting up a home cocktail bar is to know what you actually like to drink,” says Adrienne Byard, craft spirits specialist for the Republic National Distributing Company, and a veteran bartender who has worked around the city. “Don’t worry about setting up a bar that can function as a small cocktail bar. Chances are, you’re not going to use a lot of it.”
Stocking a home bar requires a few pieces of equipment you can order online. Byard is fond of Cocktail Kingdom for great barware supplies. A gold-plated cocktail set might just be the thing missing from your life.
“Honestly, if you want to get to drinking right away, you can fashion a shaker out of a piece of Tupperware and a lid. I like Koriko tins for shaking and a Hawthorne strainer to strain it out,” Byard says.
She also has a small mesh strainer on hand at all times for keeping mint and larger ice chips out of the finished product.
“Some sort of measuring device is great—jiggers or a small measuring cup is preferred—but you can always use a shot glass or some other standard of measurement,” Byard says. “A long stirring spoon is nice for stirred drinks, but you can use a knife or a straw just fine.”
For booze, Byard says that you should think about how and what you really like to drink. Do you like margaritas? Definitely invest in tequila and a bottle of triple sec. Like a stiff Manhattan? Try a nice rye or bourbon and a bottle of sweet vermouth. Martini drinker? A bottle of gin or vodka and some dry vermouth.
If you only drink an Old Fashioned like Don Draper, then get a few different whiskies and some bitters that sound intriguing, and have fun with it.
Pantry items are important, too; it’s easy to forget the little things involved in making cocktails.
“I’ve always got small bottles of ginger beer, tonic, and soda water stashed away. Every time I go to the grocery store I buy those bags of lemons and limes, a couple oranges and a grapefruit,” Byard says. “If you keep them in your fridge, they will last you two or three weeks.”
Simple syrup—equal parts sugar and water, boiled then stored cold, is a versatile kitchen ingredient that you can make on your own, Byard says. She uses simple syrup for iced coffee, too.
“Always have a bottle of bitters. A little dash will be the bridge between sweet and booze,” says Linda Salinas, a Houston bar veteran who consults and serves as the market manager for Liquid Alchemist, a craft brand of cocktail syrups. “Fresh juice will always be king. Keep a few on hand, like lemon, lime or grapefruit juice.”
Bitters and soda makes for a great cocktail replacement if you’re on the booze-free train at the moment.
Since we all have some free time, Salinas says this could be a good time to stretch your flavor palette. We’ve heard a few people exploring the world of vermouth.
“Vermouth is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in bars across the country,” Salinas says. “It’s wine with a little added oomph, and different vermouths have different ingredients like cinnamon, bark, or even orange peels, or made with moscato grapes.”
She goes for Cocchi Vermouth di Torino for Manhattans, or she just drinks it on the rocks with an olive and a twist.
“Don’t be a savage, vermouth goes in the fridge. It’s wine,” she says.
Glassware doesn’t need to be high class in this age of COVID-19. Salinas ensures you don’t need the best and most proper glassware if you’re just making drinks at home. A fancy glass, though, might make you feel like you aren’t sitting on the couch in sweatpants living through a historical pandemic.
“If you have stemmed glassware, awesome,” Salinas says. “I like a white wine glass for champagne, cause I like to smell what’s going on even in my bubbly drinks. But a mason jar with a lid will double as a shaker and a vessel for these trying times.”
Salinas says that drinks like the apple-spiced old fashioned, prickly pear margarita, and the Miami Vice (basically a piña colada and strawberry daiquiri in one glass) are great “getaway” drinks to enjoy while we are stuck indoors.
“I mean, we’re not on vacation, but if this is the time to have a drink, it’s now,” Salinas laughs. “Pinkies up!”