Bitter truth is not too hard to find in Newfoundland for a true cocktilian. By their very definition, coined in 1806, cocktails include bitters. These aromatic dashes of concentrated flavour, of liquid spice, are used only in the tiniest drops, yet they make our cocktails deep, complex, and balanced.
Bitters can completely change the profile of a drink, but local selection is severely limited at liquor stores, bars can’t legally produce their own, and the variety of cocktails available suffers as a result. It’s a source of frustration for professional bartenders like Chinched’s bar manager, Des Tapper.
Short of changing the regulations, is there a way for an enterprising citizen to prevail? As always, yes. Create your own home bar. Start by making the special varieties of bitters you need for cocktails customized perfectly to you and your b’ys.
Incidentally, the home bar’s most important customer is you. So even if steeping artisanal bitters is not your game, cheaper cocktails and mixed drinks probably are. You may not have the years of bar experience Des does, but he’s happy to guide you through the basics of creating a bar at home.
The Basics of Creating a Bar at Home
It starts with spirits. Des suggests four. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a versatile bar, he stresses. A whisky, a gin, a vodka, and a tequila make a totally reasonable starter kit.
While taste in liqueurs is personal, Des advises having one around specifically for coffee, such as Baileys. Buy mix in small cans (large bottles go flat before used up), and “if you’re going to go drinking one evening, buy a separate bottle for that so you don’t deplete your stock. Your bar is for an after work drink, or when you have your friends over.” Not for binge drinking alone.
As for tools, Des recommends a small kit. The Boston shaker, favoured by most professional bartenders , is his choice over the 3 piece Cobbler shaker, which limits drink capacity, and can become difficult to open. A multi tasking beverage opener, a jigger for measuring liquids, a large silicone ice cube tray, tongs, and a strainer round out his needs. The more gear-oriented may want to add a muddler, an egg separator, a citrus juice squeezer, and a bar spoon to this list.
An art of presentation as much as tastiness, glasses and garnish play their role in the cocktail experience. For Des, whiskey, wine, and beer glasses in sets of 4 should cover most requirements, but having a few coupe glasses (also known as the Champagne Saucer) for the really fancy stuff is never a bad idea. One drink he loves to put in this glass is a Tequila Sour. It’s made with 2 oz tequila, 1 oz simple syrup, 1 oz lemon juice, and 1 egg white. Dry shake ingredients first, which simply means shake them without ice, add ice, shake again, strain into a coupe, and garnish with lemon zest.
Steeping bitters itself is a fairly simple task. It requires little more than a couple of quart sized jars, cheesecloth for straining, a decent quality high proof spirit such as vodka, and whatever roots, spices herbs or flavours float your boat. Crafting bitters is enjoying a renaissance at the moment. With just a few tiny bottles, your cocktail potential has increased significantly for a tiny investment of cash and time.