Ever felt overwhelmed by all the cocktail possibilities? So have we.
Imagine yourself in a garden, filled with every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. Growing naturally amidst large trees in elegant planters of polished white marble and adorned with ornate fountains and topiary. Steep mountains painted in long green grasses can be seen in the distance from all around the garden, reaching an unrealistically blue sky. You follow the rushing water in an aqueduct, elegantly woven amongst the planters and walkways. It leads you down many paths of marble, gravel and grass so you may see it all. Each plant you pass is chock-full of a perfectly ripe bounty, just begging to fall into your hand at the slightest touch. There are mangos, a whole grove of apples, peaches and grapes, blackberries and raspberries on perfectly groomed bushes, so you never have to brave the bramble—apricots, strawberries, figs, and not a one on the ground.
In this perfect imaginary paradise, it’s impossible to imagine NOT being able to sample each luxury it has to offer, gluttonously frolicking through the garden and becoming progressively more sticky. What if, though, you could only pick ONE? Would you pick an exotic yellow plum, perhaps? Maybe a little wild strawberry? A luscious avocado even?
Now, in the sprawling greenery, imagine the grass stone and earth slowly fades to a speckled linoleum tile beneath your feet. Everything begins to shrink and move in on itself like a scene from Wonderland. The trees started to align with each other to form tall metal shelves, some of their leaves glowing an ever brighter white light, becoming fluorescent lights in a high drop ceiling. The impossibly perfect plants around you follow and climb the trees, branches, vines, and leaves swirling in on themselves and hardening into different colors of glass bottles, neatly aligned on their once-tree shelves. The mountains move in, stretching up and out to form walls where they once stood at the garden’s edge.
You’re in the liquor aisle of your grocery store, it’s been a long day at work, and you desperately need to relax. The basket you carry has your usual bread milk and some fruit choices that you plan to monotonously consume over the next week. Tonight, however, you plan to make yourself a cocktail, but not just something to take the edge off; you are craving something elegant, sweet, well balanced and smooth. You could go to the bar for a quick drink but maybe that hasn’t ever been your style or that couch at home is calling your name just a little too loudly.
As you approach the first aisle with the mixers, you find yourself racking your brain for ANY inspiration in your limited barkeeping experience. Your home beverage situation consists of a can of frozen orange juice concentrate, soda water from your soda stream and a pumpkin-flavored liqueur you bought on a whim years ago for a cocktail that didn’t work out well, not inspiring. Slowly moving down the aisle, you begin to feel a little desperate and a little overwhelmed. Bottles all around you seem to be reaching out with vibrant labels, clambering over each other for a spot in your basket. You see things that sound tasty, but the price tags cause a lump to form in your throat, god forbid you to have ANOTHER pumpkin liqueur incident.
So what do you do? Well if you’re a 22-year-old me in this same situation, you’ll grab a pocket flask of mediocre rum, a liter of coke and a Lime (plus some Oreos, cause damn it, they’re right there!!), go home, put it all together and binge Pretty Little Liars.
Back then, I had enjoyed cocktails very much but felt they were something only a bar or restaurant could do well. Growing up, my parents (both ex-bartenders), kept a well-stocked bar and made the occasional craft cocktail that always titillated the senses. With that, I also thought such a thing was only possible if you spent hundreds of dollars to stock a bar. As I have gotten older and sampled the various libation offerings of the beautiful world we live in, I have grown to accept that although I may never be able to replicate many of the things I have tried, I can still make a great mixed drink at home, simply and affordably.
I suppose working for a craft cocktail company will do that, and to be honest with you and myself alike, it was destined to happen once I started working for Root Elixirs. Inspired by two of the main core values to Root Elixirs; a 2 ingredient cocktail mixer with unique, fresh and lively flavors to pair well with various spirits. It was in the experimentation that I found true joy in the process. The Strawberry Lavender soda recommends vodka or champagne on its label, but I had rum. Turns out, super tasty, yaaay!!!! MOOOOORE!!!!
I found the almost savory, smokey, caramelly, citrus zesty flavors came through against the sweetness of both the soda and the rum, carrying with them a relaxing lavender tone to wash over the sole. The lemon from the soda rouses the taste buds with sharp jabs of tart freshness, like a wave of encourageable sports fans, ready for the next play of complex flavors to wash over them. And the star atop it all, the strawberry, standing proud, a queen standing on a pair of rose gold bricks, in front of her rum-bubbly throne. An almost unimaginably perfect medley of flavors beyond my basic comprehension.
It was uphill from there as I made sure to always have a few sodas on hand and one spirit I could mix and experiment with the flavors. I figured out quickly that a bad combo was hard to find, my real problem was consistency. To experiment by the scientific definition should mean, at its base, being able to track the variables and, ultimately, replicate my results, which I very much could not. ‘A poor pour here, a poor pour there, and down the hatch *thumbs up*,’ good or bad, that was pretty much my method, and it worked out half of the time depending on how long the day was and therefore, the “seconds” of pouring. Ultimately, there is nothing quite as satisfying as knowing exactly what quantities of spirit to add to your mixed companion for the evening, and nothing does that better than a shot glass or jigger… Wait.. the phrasing is admittedly questionable sounding, but no, no, this is still about drinks…
Ok, where were we? To recap, we were in a garden, some trippy shit happened, we got tired and in a grocery store somehow, and disappointingly, you got some of my life story, then we just had a possibly insensitive incident that I hope we can all move past. My point with all of this is to introduce what will apparently be a bit of a series (judging by this lengthy TIDBIT of info.. you’re welcome) about how to start your home bar from scratch, without breaking the bank and while encouraging you to take steps from being mediocre to becoming a dynamo, at-home bartender.
DRUM ROLL PLEASE! WE HAVE OUR FIRST TIP IN:
BUY ONE BOOZE!
Hear me out, we recommend starting with one spirit, maybe if you have a go-to, let it be that, or if you have had a fancy for something new, give it a shot! Start out by doing your research, for example, if you couldn’t tell, my spirit of choice leans to rums. Rum is made from distilled sugars, raw cane or molasses with additives generally consisting of citrus, tropical fruits, vanilla, and/or spices, then aged in barrels for varying times. Keeping that in mind, I think about my go-to brand of rum, it’s spiced, and to me tastes mostly of vanilla orange and smoke. SO NOW, when I’m looking for a mixer, I am thinking about pretty much any rum cocktail I may have had, and the prominent flavors I have on hand. Pineapple juice is fun and often comes in pre-mixed varieties with other fruits, or maybe a little sweetened coconut milk and soda water could be nice, why not??
See, wasn’t that easy?! Let’s do a harder one, da comrade, vodka! Vodka sucks and rocks all at the same time for the simple reason it is buh-laand! Vodka requires a lot of finesse, or else you could end up with what is essentially the “cosmos” from your college days, too strong and only just palatable to get down. As far as more standard vodka cocktails, you have things like Moscow mules, cosmos, and martinis, ranging from ginger to cranberry to olive.. ya, ok vodka, cool. A staple of most vodka cocktails, well all cocktails, to be honest, are having some bells and whistles to jazz it up.
If all you have on hand is vodka, though, and you are looking for one single mixer, your only real hope comes down to your imagination and bravery. Just remember, moderation will be your friend to avoid a repeat of the Gamma Phi situation of ’08, you generally don’t want to taste the vodka, just a slight hint of alcohol for a well-balanced vodka cocktail.
Fret not, we are very much looking forward to getting into liqueurs, bitters and other fun things to start filling out your bar and making things a little more complicated! Stay tuned, stay healthy, and maybe get a little tipsy!