With less than a week until the champagne cork pops, it’s time to think of those 2014 resolutions. Whether you resolve to be a first-time party host or maintain an impeccable home bar for post-work elixirs, Anthony Caporale, host of Art of the Drink and spirit expert, is here to guide you.
On building your bar: The most difficult part of starting a home bar is determining exactly what you need. Caporale’s necessities include a minimum of five bottles of your basic liquor: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey. Additionally, he suggests topping your collection with one or two bottles of liqueur, a bottle of vermouth, and a bottle of bitters to maximize your drink repertoire. Depending on the cocktails you want to make for each occasion, mixers should be bought as needed—fresh lemons, limes, and oranges. According to Caporale, “You can do 80% of what we do in professional bars with citrus. It’s fresh, it adds acid, it’s got lots of flavors, and it’s easy to obtain.”
On the best bar tools: A Boston Shaker set will properly arm you for nearly any cocktail you want to create—piña coladas aside. The set includes a mixing tin, a cocktail mixing glass, a Hawthorn strainer, and a bar spoon. Boston Shakers are invaluable to the home bartender, because they can hold up to three drinks at a time.
On what makes a cocktail: So, now you’ve got a full bar and no idea what to do with it. Let’s start from the beginning. “The definition of a cocktail is a spirit, with a sweetener, and something to balance it. The balance is either going to be the acid in the citrus or the alkaline in the bitters,” Caporale says. “Anything else is a mixed drink.” Follow the formula of 4 parts spirit + 1 part sweetener + 1 part citrus or 2 dashes of bitters for a shot at the most successful cocktail.
On what to make when you’ve never made anything: Caporale suggests starting with the classics, like an Old Fashioned, which is 2 oz. whiskey + ¼-½ oz. simple syrup + 2 dashes bitters. For an even easier cocktail crafting experience, turn to liqueurs—spirits that have already been sweetened and spiced. “I always tell people that your liqueurs are your spice cabinet, so in addition to your base spirits, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, you should always have at least a couple of liqueurs,” he says. For an Old Fashioned, fill a glass with Scotch liqueur, like Drambuie, and ice. Stir the combination down, and then strain over fresh ice before adding two dashes of bitters.
On technique: You’ve been asked if you prefer your drink shaken or stirred, but have you ever known the answer? What you probably didn’t realize is that neither the shaking nor the stirring are techniques used for actually mixing the drink! Caporale says: “The point of those two techniques is to chill the ingredients to the proper temperature and to dilute the alcohol.” To dilute alcohol, he explains, is to lower the strength of the alcohol to a palatable level. Whether you give drinks a vigorous shake or a delicate swirl depends on your goal. Shaking your cocktail introduces air into the drink and “[creates] micro bubbles that, when you put the drink on the palate, will burst and carry the flavors up through the olfactory passage into your nose.” Because of this, shaken cocktails will taste more intense than stirred cocktails.
On ice: When hosting, if you remember nothing else, remember ice. And you’ll need a lot more than you think. “Always have tons and tons of ice. That’s where everybody goes wrong,” he says. “You’re doing what we call ‘burning’ the ice. You’re actually using it to shake and stir the drinks, and you need a lot.” So, how much ice is enough? One or two ten-pound bags for a party of up to eight people will keep everyone in good spirits. Good news is the shape and size of the ice doesn’t matter too much for the home bartender. Any ice made with good-quality water will work just fine.
Trends to try: If you’ve ever wondered how a professional handles holiday entertaining, the answer is bottling. Of the many trends Caporale foresees for 2014, bottled cocktails are high on the list. The process is simple. Make your cocktail, bottle, cap, and store until you’re ready to serve. “It’s as easy as serving a beer, but you’re serving a cocktail that you’ve put a lot of time, love, and effort into and it’s really impressive,” he says. Caporale suggests serving your cocktails in mini champagne bottles with a paper straw for festive, retro flair.
From the bar of Anthony Caporale:
1 oz. Drambuie
4 oz. cold brewed coffee
1 oz. Drambuie
Craft ale, preferably an IPA