Pandemic-related stress, uncertainty and outright boredom have caused a worldwide boom in alcohol sales.
We all drink more, so why not drink better? Having a well-stocked and – more importantly – well-designed home bar at the ready can reduce cabin fever- induced angst in the case of another outdoor dining hiatus.
If you’re setting one up for the first time, carefully consider where you usually entertain the most, such as part of the dining room or in the study. “This way you’ll never be too far from your guests,” advises Andrew Pang, regional brand ambassador for House of Suntory Spirits & Maker’s Mark. “The bar was never intended for one person, so when considering location, let it be where conversation and laughter happen the most.”
Once you’re ready for fixtures, ensure everything will be within reach or at most a step away. You will need a clean, well-lit space for safety, and you can add dimmers on the shelves to give your carefully curated bottles a soft glow. “Consider how you can simplify your operation. Is an ice bin necessary? What would be the best way for the excess water to drain? What will the photos look like?”
Pang recommends solid surface countertops as they make cleaning easier, even if your bar is dry. They are also less porous than prettier materials like marble, quartz or wood. “If you choose a black countertop and decorate it with bottles or a nice lamp, no one will notice the material.”
Once you’re behind it, start by learning to make the drinks you love “because it’s easier to talk about things you already like,” says Pang. “This will get you in the groove of explaining the concept behind the drink, too.” Once you’re able to concoct your signatures, communicating your inspiration is all part of the experience.
“Your bar is a reflection of you. Your life, favourite song, time of day, or where you want to travel next can all inspire your signature cocktails. With each drink, take your guests on a journey.”
(Related: How to run a restaurant: Zen)
Even if you have all the ingredients for a Long Island Tea, why stop there when you can explore an entire world of flavours?
You can do so much better than juices and lazy virgin versions of your favourite cocktails to serve non-imbibing guests. There are now non-alcoholic beverages that deliver layers of flavour – from bitter to acidic and sweet to spicy – without the bite, adding sophisticated dimensions that a Shirley Temple can only dream of. Give Melati Botanical, Pentire Adrift or Seedlip Grove 42 a whirl.
Exploring all the obscure bitters and liqueurs available is an adventure, but your must-haves should include vermouths, Campari, orange liqueur, sloe gin, green and yellow chartreuse, lillet blanc, creme de cassis, blue curacao, Aperol, sherry and angostura bitters. You can also experiment with infusing fruit into your vermouths.
The options off the shelf are plentiful and sometimes not even restricted to just one flavour. This means you can and should get creative if you want to try your hand at making your own. Use what you have – chilli, ginger, fruit, herbs and spices – and go wild. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the ciders, beers, mead and wines you have lying around either.
Your bar should already have all the standard brown and white stuff, but Jason Williams, creative director at Proof & Company, strongly recommends including left-field spirits like pisco (“The unaged, Peruvian kind, of course.”) and mezcal, tequila’s cooler, smokier and spicier cousin. “It’s like tasting the heart of Oaxaca and works great as a float on a margarita, too.” And let’s not forget our local offerings. “Get into what Singapore distillers are doing. We have some great localised, modern gins. But stay away from the overly flavoured stuff.”
Excellence is anchored in the details. Put in the extra effort because you and your guests deserve it in these exhausting times.
Finishing touches can add a fun element to the drinking experience, but they also display the host’s flair. Dehydrated wheels of lemon, lime or grapefruit are easy to make. Just pop thin slices of the chosen fruit into an oven at the lowest temperature and bake until sufficiently dry. This could take up to a day, but check on them every few hours. Singular drops of bitters onto egg white froths in sours are also a quick and classy touch. Pro tip: wrap thyme around frozen slices of mango for your next gin and tonic.
There’s no shame in relying on solid study material at the start. If endless rounds of experimenting take too long, here are Jason Williams’ top picks for you and guests to pore over: ]
- A Spot at the Bar: Welcome to the Everleigh: The Art of Good Drinking in Three Hundred Recipes by Michael Madrusan and Zara Young
- Meehan’s Bartender Manual by Jim Meehan
- The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft by Gary Regan
- The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morgenthaler
If you want to edge closer to the pros, add these to your arsenal, if for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of doing things right.
01 A MICROPLANE
Nothing will create the perfect dusting of nutmeg, zest, chocolate or even cheese more consistently than a fine microplane. Get one with a comfortable grip and a sharp blade. It should be dishwasher- friendly since it can be time- consuming to wash by hand.
02 A BLOWTORCH
Playing with fire (responsibly) rewards spectacle and aroma. Torch a cinnamon stick, a rosemary sprig, or a citrus peel for a cocktail experience that begins before your guests drink. Make sure you can adjust the flame of your culinary torch to your preference for better control.
03 POUR SPOUTS
Also known as speed pourers, these hasten the process of mixing a complex concoction. Even if time isn’t a factor, spouts help with flow control when you’re free pouring. In addition, they make pouring into a jigger less risky.
04 CANELLE KNIFE
If you have neither the hours to spare for garnish prep nor the requisite knife skills, a canelle knife is a quick and simple way to sculpt citrus peel ribbons and spirals. They’re also more attractive than vegetable peelers. There are even models that include graters.
05 YARAI MIXING GLASS
You can get away with stirring your drinks in a Boston shaker or any other glass, but a Japanese-style Yarai mixing glass shows you mean business. Named for the diamond- cut patterns on the glass, these are made from thicker glass with a non-tapered heavy base and pour spout for ease of use.
You don’t have to serve everything out of a rocks glass or, heaven forbid, a conical martini glass. Stock your cabinet with these shapes, and freeze them before use for best results.
A tall glass for tall drinks like gin and tonic, spirit and sodas, breezy mixes full of crushed ice and, of course, the Tom Collins.
Far more elegant than the v-shaped martini glass and easier to drink from, this is used for drinks served chilled without ice.
03 DOUBLE ROCKS
Only slightly larger than a single rocks glass, these are more versatile since the extra room lets you fit in more ice, spirits or garnishes.
04 NICK & NORA
These coupe and wine glass hybrids are gaining popularity for their chic smallness as they encourage slow enjoyment. Best for stirred cocktails.