THE MONTH OF JANUARY’S ETERNAL CASTIGATION
January inevitably feels even longer than just 31 days, it always feels like it lasts an entire geological era: between the foot-dragging winter, the aftermath of the holidays, and our inevitable inconstant good intentions, it never seems to end. As if that wasn’t more than enough already, in recent years, we’ve even found ways to prolong its hefty conscious weight, inflicting on ourselves even more restrictions: the vegan month, or Veganuary, the month of virtuous cash saving, and the dreaded Dry January; that is, challenging ourselves to a month-long of living alcohol-free. Hey, it’s potentially a wise choice, for goodness sake! Not only are we giving our physical systems a break, it can also help us better understand our relationship with alcohol: is a drink a pleasant habit or an indispensable hangover?
LOOKING AHEAD TO FEBRUARY
Whatever your thoughts on this, at the end of January, we mercifully jump into February. And with this new month, we still have old limits: aperitif at your favorite (or any!) bar remains a mirage.
Which brings us to this solution - for every dilemma, we find a solution. When I became a mom in 2018, I thankfully was eased with a soft landing from mundane rituals to a rigid routine whereby a night out required loads of lead time, and the synchronization of at least three people's agendas. Thanks to this necessity, I discovered the virtues of the Home Bar.
HOW TO MAKE THE JUMP TO STAY-AT-HOME COCKTAIL DRINKER
Becoming your mixologist-next-door wasn't as difficult as you might think. Don’t jump on board the Cocktail train (Tom Cruise, anyone?) and conjure images of acrobatic bartenders. Become a home bartender is akin to learning to make delicious pizza in your own kitchen - you certainly don't need to know how to twirl pizza dough on one finger to make a scrumptious Margherita in your home oven.
It is necessary, instead, to know the phrasing and fundamental construction of cocktails. We usually can find a distillate - vodka, gin, whisky or otherwise - some simple syrup or a sweet concoction composed of 50% water and 50% white sugar, and an acidic part, such as lemon or lime juice. And, very important: ice.
ALL THE COCKTAIL-MAKING TOOLS AND GOODIES
I have a double-sided refrigerator with an ice dispenser, a rarity in Italy. As time marches on, freestanding ice machines are affordable and can be hidden in a wall unit or cabinet. At the very least, if a freestanding ice machine isn’t possible for your kitchen, invest in some silicone ice molds, for larger cubes. It's not just a quirk or aesthetic issue: cubes that are too small melt too quickly, watering down the drink. And who wants a diluted cocktail?!
What else is needed? A shaker, a bar spoon - the long, thin spoon used to stir drinks, a jigger - a measuring cup. And now for the basic liquid ingredients that will help you create a starting menu of Cocktail classics to please everyone.
LIQUID INGREDIENTS TO TURN YOUR HOME BAR INTO YOUR PREFERRED BAR
My own bar, and I recommend following this formula, has all the ingredients I need for classic Italian aperitifs: a bitter like Campari, a vermouth like Carpano Antica Formula or Punt e Mes, and gin. One of the first drinks you can make with these ingredients is the Milano-Torino. This cocktail represents a meeting of the minds as well as geography - halfway between a Campari hailing from Milan, and a Punt e Mes, from Turin.
You could also indulge in an Americano, with the simple addition of soda or sparkling water. Get busy with a Negroni, with gin accents, or a Negroni Sbagliato. This last cocktail selection, a personal favorite, includes the addition of sparkling wine rather than gin, to meet the requests of the ladies in attendance at Milan’s Bar Basso, who insisted that a classic Negroni was too strong for their palates.
A couple of gin selection - one more neutral and another more aromatic, and an appropriate supply of premium tonic water, I love the Fever Tree brand, will keep the late-night gin and tonic lovers happy. Toss a bourbon selection into your home bar, and you’re just a cherry away from an Old Fashioned.
If you want to pretend like winter’s not still in swing, try whipping up pineapple juice, coconut milk, rum, and ice for a Piña Colada. Sipping on this confection will transform your living room’s well-loved armchair into a beachside lounger, complete with your b-side’s imprint on the cushions!
LEARN MORE ABOUT HOME COCKTAIL CREATIONS
Need to know more? Italian editorial company, Giunti, published a great starting point guide last year called Cocktail. Manuale per aspiranti intenditori, or Cocktail. A Manual for Aspiring Connoisseurs, by Mickaël Guidot. Giudot’s guide goes over everything in the vast world of cocktails, starting from cocktail categories and ingredients, leaping over to cocktail crafting techniques, to cocktail recipes. The guide also takes a look at the tools of the trade, and provides interesting insight into cocktail food pairing, and most exciting for whenever we might socialize freely once more, how to organize a successful cocktail party.