Pour Yourself a Drink
An endorsement of the "house drink," and how to make your own.
Are you thirsty? I know it’s a bit early to raid the bar cart, but this week on Amateur Hours, happy hour is a state of mind.
For years, my home bartending consisted mainly of buying an extra agua fresca with my lunchtime tacos so I could add tequila to it later. Honestly, a pro move! But lately, I’ve been finding pleasure in taking a few moments to actually mix myself a drink, whether it’s a blood orange Negroni or hibiscus tea spiked with orange juice, ginger, and vanilla. Like cooking, a lot of joy can be found in the act of mixing a drink just for yourself (not to mention enjoying it).
If you’re reluctant to crowd your countertop with ingredients or just feeling decision fatigue, the easiest way to be your own bartender is to establish a house cocktail. Maybe you’re partial to a soothing non-alcoholic nightcap. Maybe you want something decidedly stronger! Whatever you choose, call it your “specialty,” even it’s the only thing you know how to make. Looking for extra credit? Rotate in a few seasonal options. I do ginger-lemon hot toddies in the winter, mezcal Palomas in the summer, and low-ABV amaro spritzes whenever I feel like it. (More on these recipes below.)
When I asked folks about their house cocktails on Instagram, the array of responses was delightful: Negronis came in on top, followed by a wave of Texan support for ranch water (a.k.a. Topo Chico seltzer with lime juice and tequila), a fervent endorsement of Martinelli’s sparkling cider, and a lot of spritzes. Not sure where to start for your own? Read on for a lot of ideas. Before we open the fridge, a quick ~ad break~:
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A Few Home Bar Staples
Before you hit up the store, think about what drinks you gravitate towards. Don’t stock up on supplies to make Manhattans if you hate sweet vermouth, unless you’re really committed to growing to like it. (It took me years to grow to like Negronis, but it happened!) My go-to bar order is usually an agave-based spirit that benefit from bubbles and citrus, so my home bar staples include:
Citrus + Seltzer. Duh! Topo Chico is my favorite form of bubbles, but Vintage Seltzer carbonates for less. I always put sweet-tart Cara Cara oranges in my cart when I see them, but red grapefruit and classic limes are good year-round options too. Use them to make a Vitamin C Spritz:
Fill a glass with ice, seltzer, a shot of mezcal or your preferred liquor, and ¼ cup fresh squeezed juice from one grapefruit, orange, lemon, or lime. Stir and adjust to taste. Top with a sprinkle of Urfa chile or another dry chile if you like things spicy.
A Bitter Aperitif or Digestif. What’s the difference? Aperitifs like Aperol and Campari are based on fortified wine and traditionally diluted with soda or ice, while amari like Fernet and Averna are bitter distilled spirits generally sipped straight-up. Don’t tell the Italians, but I use both pretty interchangeably.
My current favorites include: herbaceous Cynar (made from artichokes!) gently floral Faccia Brutto Aperitivo, and cola-like Meletti. Add a splash to seltzer or Prosecco for the easiest spritz around or pour a inch over ice for the easiest after-dinner drink. I also add a shot to cake batter for extra depth (and dial back another liquid to compensate.)
The House Cocktails:
Highly personal, highly delicious endorsements:
Rachel Karten Endorses Martinis: “I grew up on martinis. Seriously, my parents would serve me "watinis"—a briny mix of water and olive juice—alongside their more potent versions. So it really only makes sense that the martini would be my cocktail of choice these days. Now I make mine with ice-cold gin, a good pour of vermouth (sue me), and a hit of olive juice, shaken until the ice is in shards, and poured into my favorite glasses. Sometimes I let out a loud "wooo" after the first sip. I like that in a cocktail.”
Uzma Chowdhury Gets Her Greens with Chartreuse: “You already love finishing all your dishes with a scattering of fresh herbs, so why aren’t you treating your cocktails with the same love? Enter Green Chartreuse: the bar cart staple you didn’t know you need it. Botanical, herbal, spicy, sweet, smooth. It’s the one flavor you don’t have on your cart, and you need it. It’s a key ingredient in my two favorite at-home slow sippers: A Tailspin and a Naked and Famous.”
Kelsey Malone Knows The Best Seltzer for Spritzes: “Current Cassis in Gerolsteiner mineral water is truly the best low-abv home cocktail! The key is using a salty water to balance out the sweet cassis, and Gerolsteiner is one of the saltiest. (Vichy Catalan works too but is harder to find.) The mineral water also has calcium and magnesium, and black currants are super high in antioxidants. It’s a self care beverage!!”
Jesse Sparks Cuts To The Chase With Marg Mix: “At this point in the panna cotta, I’ve released myself from the pressures of realizing my hyper-aspirational self. I appreciate gem-toned Negronis in diamond-cut glasses and espresso martinis chaotically overfilled. I have no space for the resurgent of hope of becoming a gorgeous, gorgeous girl out on the town once more — instead, I opt for the singular pleasure that outlasts trends and shame in its many forms: grocery store margarita mix. It’s imperfect, adaptable, and consistent, and that’s all I’ve ever needed my go-to libation to be.”
Jordan Lee Stays Warm With Toddies: “In my opinion, the hot toddy is the perfect drink once it starts dipping below freezing. It's good for beginners too, because all the ingredients are kitchen staples and the measurements are forgiving.”
Jordan’s Hot Toddy:
2oz of low cost, high quality Bourbon (I prefer Deadwood Straight Bourbon)
0.75oz freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon)
0.75oz of honey (or less depending on your desired sweetness level)
1 cinnamon stick
Lemon slice for garnish
Boil a kettle of water and add the ingredients to your favorite mug. When boiling, add the water and mix until the honey has dissolved into the drink. Float the lemon slice on top and enjoy!
Nothing yet, but I’ve been working on some long-term reported stories that will start to come out soon. Watch this space!