5 drinks every home bartender should know how to make

Our editor’s essential cocktails

An Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail every home bartender should know how to make. Getty images photo

Now that we’re all spending so much more time at home, this is a good opportunity to brush up on our home-bartending skills. That means learning at least a few recipes to serve to the people in your bubble and, eventually, all the many friends you’re making on Zoom.

The most important drink you should know how to make is the one you like best. That’s also the best advice for stocking your liquor cabinet, though for your sake I hope it’s something simple, like a highball, rather than, say, a Ramos Gin Fizz, which requires egg whites, orange blossom water and a seltzer bottle, among other things.

After that, it’s best to start with classics. They are, after all, classics for a reason—they taste good, and they work—but they are also a good place to start experimenting if you want to get creative. Here are five drinks every home bartender should have in their repertoire.

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The new home bar

Getty Images photo

Even before we found ourselves hunkering down at home trying to flatten the curve of a global pandemic, home bartending was already a growing trend. Once COVID-19 hit, though, we were all living in a world of cocktail kits and mixology livestreams and tutorials on how to arrange your bar cart.

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DIY vermouth

Add a personalized twist to your favourite cocktails with this aromatized, fortified wine

For this white vermouth, you’ll need botanicals such as grapefruit peel, bay leaves, dried apples, chamomile and mint tea, which mimic the earthy flavours of the wormwood that gave vermouth its name. Matthew Benevoli photo

Let’s talk about the often-misunderstood aperitif vermouth. What is it? Where does it come from?

Vermouth is fortified wine with herbs, roots, spices and sometimes sugar added. There are a handful of different styles to choose from: the most common offerings are sweet red, traditionally from Italy; and dry white wormwood-infused from France. The word vermouth is the French pronunciation for “wermut,” which is German for wormwood, the mystical herb that gives absinthe its reputation and provides the distinctive dry, bitter note found in vermouth.

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Dangerous drinks

10 things not to do at home—or anywhere, according to CocktailSafe’s Camper English

Writer Camper English, the San-Francisco-based founder of Alcademics, created cocktailsafe.org when he saw the risky techniques being used by some bartenders. Bastian Bochinski photo

The Roof is on Fire! That was the name of a dangerous-drinks seminar that San Francisco writer Camper English (of alcademics.com fame) and Bittermens co-founder Avery Glasser gave in 2016 at Tales of the Cocktail. Their warnings on potentially dangerous bartending ingredients, equipment and techniques were so eye-opening, English later nabbed a grant to develop cocktailsafe.org, a geekily helpful website packed with deeply researched information and resources.

“Bartenders on Facebook were chatting a lot about potentially dangerous drinks … and I thought it would be useful to put all this information, and a lot more, in one place as a reference to bartenders everywhere,” he says.

Here are his top 10 red flags for home mixologists—and pros, too.

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Unleaded: the Best Alcohol-free Drinks of 2021

Let’s retire the mocktails and let these placebo drinks, “nocktails” and free-spirited bottles happily get you through Dry-uary

A huge range of non-alcoholic spirits and other drinks are increasingly easy to find in Canada, since non-boozy drinks can ship almost anywhere. Sobrii photo

This year could be peak Sober Curious: just check out the new booze-free vending machine at Larry’s Market in the Shipyards, featuring mickeys of Solbru booze-free spirit and cans of Sober Carpenter and Partake near-beer in slots that recently held healthy salads and takeout—proof that Dry-uary is a full-blown lifestyle trend.

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Power Tools

Shake and mix like a pro with this starter list of essential bar gear

Essential tools include jiggers, barspoons, muddlers and strainers—and these days they come in a variety of finishes such as stainless steel, rose gold and gunmetal. Fifth & Vermouth photo

Ask a pro bartender for their must-haves, and the answer might be practical: bar mops (a cheap pack of these thin, absorbent white towels is smart, even for home) and pens. However, the essentials below look more aspirational on your home bar cart: always chic in stainless steel, they’re especially envy-inspiring in on-point finishes from gold and rose gold to gunmetal and matte black. (For a roundup of additional tools for the advanced bartending pro, read here.)

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Upscale off-sales

The cocktail kit is the best way to bring your favourite bar home

Sabrine Dhaliwal and Lily Duong have put together four different kits at Chickadee. Photo courtesy of Chickadee

It’s been a long day and all you want to do is get into your pyjamas (if you ever got out of them, let’s be real) and settle in with a good cocktail. But it’s just too much effort to make one yourself. Never fear, thirsty reader. The cocktail kit is here to help.

During the pandemic, many Vancouver restaurants have turned to takeout and some have added cocktails to their to-go menus. What you get varies depending on the establishment. Most offer some sort of mixer, bottle of spirits and garnish; some also offer top-quality ice as well as tools and glassware. Not only do these kits quench your thirst, they also make great gifts and, best of all, support your favourite establishments when they need it most.

Here are just some to try. Note that in restaurants sales of alcohol must be accompanied by sales of food; check the websites for details regarding price and availability.

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