During the great coronavirus quarantine, many of us have learned new skills while sheltering in place. You’ve probably baked bread from scratch, made a household repair you’ve been putting off for the past five years, and maybe even dyed your own hair.
And you most certainly have poured yourself a drink or three.
A glass (OK, a bottle) of rose or a frosty IPA are easy enough to prepare, but what if you’re craving a craft cocktail and don’t have a degree in mixology—or a bartender kit to make one? After all, there’s probably a good reason you went to a bar to get that blackberry bramble.
Don’t despair! You may still be staying at home, but that doesn’t mean you have to show up with a lame cocktail for Friday night Zoom happy hour. Here are some home bar hacks that will make your cocktails look (and taste) professional.
Make your own simple syrup
Also known as sugar syrup, the sweetener is used as a substitute for granulated sugar, and it’s much easier to add to cold beverages. Making simple syrup is easy: Heat equal parts sugar and water in a pot over the stove until the sugar dissolves. Let it cool and store it in a glass jar in the fridge, and add it to your cocktails as needed.
However, if you’re ready to take your cocktails to the next level, try making simple syrup from honey, recommends Kate Richards, the author of “Drinking With Chickens.” You just need to cook it down at a 1-to-1 ratio with water, just as you would with a sugar-based simple syrup.
“But here’s an even easier hack if you’re ready to make your drink and don’t want to go through the hassle of cooking up a whole batch of syrup,” Richards says: Dissolve 2 ounces honey into 2 ounces hot water, and then cool it by sticking it in the fridge for a few minutes before using—it should be enough for about four drinks.
Use your garden herbs to flavor the simple syrup
Look to your pantry or garden to add flavor to your simple syrup. Richards loves to use fresh herbs to infuse her syrup.
”One of my personal favorites—because I have it growing rampant in my garden—is lavender,” she says, “followed very closely by mint. I have something like a dozen different varieties of mint growing out there, each with subtle taste variations.”
OK, so not everyone has the time, space, or patience to grow herbs. But you can totally use dried herbs! Use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs in the syrup.
Raid your spice cabinet for unexpected flavors
Common spices you use when making dinner can take your cocktails to the next level. Some of Richards’ favorite pantry items to use in drinks are chile powder or flakes, peppercorns, and salt.
“We all know we can use this to rim a margarita, but a dash of salt mixed into the drink can sometimes be an amazing addition,” she says.
“Cinnamon is another favorite,” she adds. “It’s easy to store. It’s easy to cook into a syrup, or infused into some booze, and it is a super versatile flavor.”
Make your own froth
Ever wonder how mixologists add foam to some cocktails? It’s just egg whites! And according to Richards, it’s easy to do at home. All you need to do is whip raw egg whites to soft peaks and top off your cocktail.
“If you’re daunted at the idea of adding raw egg to your drink, you can substitute with aquafaba, which is the liquid in a can of garbanzo beans,” Richards explains. “It adds a similar froth and texture to a beverage, and adds a subtle nutty flavor. Plus: It’s a great vegan option.”
Substitute stuff you already own for bartending equipment
If you don’t have the basic tools for making cocktails, no problem. Here are some viable substitutions:
- Cocktail shaker: “I routinely shake up cocktails in a Mason jar,” Richards says. In fact, any jar with a lid makes a great cocktail shaker substitute.
- Jigger: Use your measuring spoons in place of a jigger. Here are the equivalent measurements: 1/2 ounce = 1 tablespoon; 3/4 ounce = 1½ tablespoons; 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons; 1½ ounces = 3 tablespoons; 2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
- Strainer: Use a tea strainer or the lid of your Mason jar to strain out ice and flavorings.
- Stirrer: Chopsticks work great in a pinch and can reach the bottom of a tall glass.
- Muddler: The end of a wooden spoon or rolling pin muddles beautifully.
Make your own perfectly clear ice spheres
Ice is another must-have to polish off your cocktail. Here’s how Richards makes crystal-clear ice:
- Start with filtered or distilled water.
- Boil it and cool it twice.
- Pour it into ice molds.
She also routinely makes ice from leftover juice or sparkling wine.
“Add those to certain simple drinks for a little added slow-release flavor,” Richards suggests.
Don’t have ice molds? They’re not terribly expensive to buy, but if you’d rather not bother, you can make ice balls at home by filling up balloons and freezing them on a baking tray. Just snip off the balloon when you’re ready to use!