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The Much Maligned Home Bar

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MEZCAL COCKTAIL
Liquor.com

My house is filled with booze. This could sound like a damning statement, but it's all very controlled. Some of it is from competitions (essentially trophies or mementos), others are beautiful editions that I have collected over the years. The remaining bottles fulfill a drinking role.

I actually don't drink too much at home. People always suspect that those that work with drinks drink a lot. Sure, there's the fact that there is a privileged access to some finer tipples, but actually the reality is we also see the more indulgent side of consumption which often leaves us more respectful of alcohol than many are.

When I do tend to make drinks at home, it's usually around dinner or when I'm hosting friends - both of which I love doing. As a result, there's a fairly wide collection - gins, vodkas, whiskies, sherries, vermouths. There's so much available though that I like to change what we have available in the house. As with many things, the old idiom of variety being the spice of life is very apt.

Some people wonder whether there's any difference between brands of gin (for example) and if there's actually any need for all the different shapes and sizes we see in bars and on shop shelves. The reality is, yes. Of course, we don't need them, but they definitely fill their own niches. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive. I like to use different gins (again, for example) for different drinks that suit their specific occasion. Sure, it's not like the other gins wouldn't work, but it's even better to have it just so.

One thing people always seem to ask me is how long the products will last. I've been served drinks in people's homes that really should've been thrown out long ago. Similarly, I've been served whiskies in bars that have simply been open too long. It seems a common belief that spirits don't change. It's not true - firstly your bottles will continue to develop (which can be beneficial), but crucially, they'll also oxidise (which'll often be to detriment). This is why once they're open, and particularly as they go lower down the bottle, they'll need to be drunk quicker. Therefore, it's not worth having several bottles open if you rarely entertain or have a drink in the house.

A particular one to note on this is vermouth. Vermouths are wonderful ingredients - not only to drink on their own, but also in many truly fantastic and iconic cocktails (think martinis, Manhattans) but often these drinks only require a little bit of vermouth. Vermouths are wine-based so without the alcohol content of spirits, they'll oxidise quicker. The first thing to do is store them in the fridge, but you can also decant them into smaller bottles so there is less empty space in the bottle. I'd also recommend trying more vermouth-heavy cocktails - they make excellent aperitifs. Another trick is to cook with them - they'll hold up better than a wine, and also have the added benefit of their herbal and botanical elements (try braising lamb in Martini Rosso with some fennel). You'll be amazed by what they can add.

That said, it's worth having a small selection of your favourite spirits, vermouths and bitters in the house. It might not be necessary to pick up an expensive bottle of liqueur just to use in a certain recipe - there's little need to have a bar's worth of booze in the house. The fact is, unless you use them on this scale they'll get past their prime. A miniature of absinthe will go a huge distance and is very worth it for the wonderful affect little dashes will make to a drink, but on the flip side, a crusty bottle of cassis clogging up your liquor cabinet may be unnecessary (unless you have a particular penchant for a kir). Go to your friendly bar or shop, find the products you like best, and also find the drinks you like best. These are the ones you're likely to make at home for you and your friends and will also give you the most experience and confidence in to start customising to your own personal favourite recipe. It's a great feeling to showcase your own twist.

I keep a bottle of this in my fridge at home and simply stir over ice when I need a pick me up, or if friends are round.

Place all ingredients in a high walled bowl and cover with cling film. Zap in the microwave for two mins and allow to cool. When cool, strain and bottle.

400ml Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
200ml Cocchi di Torino vermouth
Teaspoon Boker's bitters
3 strips orange peel
2 strips lemon peel
3 juniper berries
1/2 star anise
6 fennel seeds
6 coriander seeds

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