Over at BookRiot, Edd McCracken has a lovely piece on Middlemarch and how meeting it too soon — say, in high school — can give you a sort of literary tongue burn.
It’s like when you take a gulp of soup before it has cooled down, burn your tongue, and are unable to taste the rest of the bowl. I frazzled my palate on Middlemarch. I was under-prepared both as a person and a reader.
My tongue-burn was The House of Mirth — which I still hate, because it falls into my adolescent least-favorite category of “People Who Do Stupid #&*$^ and #&%@ Their Lives Up.” But I bet I’d enjoy it more if I read it now.
What about you? What books did you meet too soon?
Slaughterhouse Five. Because how, exactly, does a suburban high school junior relate this book to her own life experience?
A friend of mine asked me this very question years ago, and I spent far too long researching and constructing a thorough answer, and then I lost the file. So, I never answered his question, but I gave it a lot of thought! Let me try to answer more succinctly today. (Yet still as thoroughly as I can manage. Perhaps more thoroughly than you wanted.)
A home bar should be fit for two purposes; entertaining others and entertaining yourself. To the latter end, you should buy whatever spirits you most enjoy. To the former end, here’s what I suggest.
Equipment. You must have:
- A juicer, for juicing citrus.
- A jug, for stirring cocktails in. (Eg. a Japanese yarai.)
- A shaker, for shaking cocktails in. (A Boston shaker will serve as both jug and shaker.)
- A measure. (Eg. a jigger.)
You should also have:
- A strainer.
- A long spoon, for stirring.
- A muddler, for mashing sugar, fruit, mint, etc.
- A cutting board and paring knife.
If you’re feeling fancy, get a channel knife to make citrus garnishes.
Also, buy more ice cube trays. I don’t know how many you have, but you don’t have enough. A good host must at minimum be generous with ice.
Now, for the booze, you should buy:
- Sweet vermouth
A very short list, I know, but I swear I’m not crazy. This is the basic set-up. Three bottles.
I like Tanqueray or Plymouth gin. Gordon’s will not offend. If you want to deviate from the norm, a gin with quirky botanicals like Hendrick’s is fine. But it isn’t standard.
For bourbon, any one of Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig, or Four Roses will suffice. I think Wild Turkey is generally the cheapest of these.
You might prefer a rye. You might prefer a Canadian whisky. You might prefer a blended whisky. Honestly, so long as you’re not pouring expensive single malt into cocktails, you should pick a style of whisky you prefer. For ease of reference we’ll stick to calling it bourbon.
Purists will quibble and say some drinks demand bourbon and some demand rye and some demand blended Scotch. Hey, if you can afford to stock your bar with four or five types of whisky, you can be a purist too.
Sweet vermouth is the red one. Martini & Rossi is OK. Dolin is fancy and fine. Carpano Antico Formula is the fanciest. Keep vermouth in the fridge. It’s fortified wine; it doesn’t keep forever.
What can you make with these three bottles?
Nothing. Or next to nothing. You can make a Gin & It (gin; sweet vermouth). You can… drink some bourbon. Not a bad night in, but we can do better. Here’s what else you need:
- Angostura bitters
- Soda water
- Simple syrup
Angostura is the essential cocktail “seasoning”. There are many other types of bitters worth acquiring, which can significantly change the flavour profile of a bitters cocktail, but start with Angostura. Though it contains alcohol, it’s usually sold in supermarkets rather than in liquor stores.
I like to buy soda water in cans, because otherwise it loses fizz in a hurry.
Simple syrup is liquid sugar. Make your own by dissolving one part sugar in one part boiling water. Refrigerate. Throw it away when it goes mouldy. (You can buy it if you really feel the need. It’s sometimes called gomme syrup. Monin makes a popular brand - they also make the flavour syrups you see in coffee shops.)
Keep some actual sugar to hand as well and buy lemons, limes, and mint as needed, and some cocktail cherries for garnish. You can now make:
- Manhattan (bourbon; sweet vermouth; bitters)
- Old Fashioned (bourbon; bitters; soda; sugar)
- Whisky Sour (bourbon; lemon juice; syrup)
- Mint Julep (bourbon; mint; sugar)
- Gin Fizz (gin; soda; lemon juice; syrup)
- Gin Rickey (gin; soda; lime juice)
- Pink Gin (gin; bitters)
- Gimlet (gin; lime; syrup)
- Southside (gin; syrup; lime; soda; mint)
I prefer to make my Gimlets with Rose’s Lime Cordial, but this too is a Gimlet. I often use egg whites in my sours and fizzes, and it definitely make a difference, but it’s not essential.
You can of course also make a bourbon and soda, or a gin and tonic if you buy some tonic, or a bourbon and cola if you buy some cola. Gin, sweet vermouth and orange juice makes something called an Orange Blossom.
This is the basic bar, and that’s a decent cocktail list right there, but it’s missing a couple of essentials.
You probably want to make a Martini (gin; dry vermouth). If you don’t want one, a guest will. So buy some dry vermouth - that’s the clear or “white” one in the green bottle (white like white wine, not like white paint). Again, Martini & Rossi is good. Dolin or Noilly Prat is fancier. You can also now make a Bronx (gin; sweet vermouth; dry vermouth; orange juice).
Campari is an excellent bitter herbal liqueur. Buy a bottle of that and you can make a Negroni (gin; sweet vermouth; Campari) and an Americano (sweet vermouth; Campari; soda). You can also make a Campari and soda, which is perhaps the finest long drink to enjoy on a hot summer day.
With eleven ingredients - gin, bourbon, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Angostura bitters, Campari, soda water, simple syrup, lemon, lime, and mint - you can make a Martini, a Manhattan, a Negroni, a Gimlet, an Old Fashioned, a Mint Julep, a Whisky Sour, a Gin Fizz, and more. If you ever find you’re not in the mood for at least one of those drinks, you’re probably not thirsty.
If you pick up a bottle of white rum you can make three more classic cocktails. Daiquiri (white rum; syrup; lime juice), Mojito (white rum; lime; mint; sugar; soda), and - with the addition of some cola - Cuba Libre (white rum, cola, lime juice). Coincidentally, these are just about the only white rum cocktails worth making.
(You might enjoy a Mai Tai, a Pina Colada, a Zombie, or a Hurricane - I certainly do - but they all contain weird ingredients that make them impractical additions to your repertoire. Order them at a bar; don’t try to make them.)
Pick up a bottle of triple sec and you can make a White Lady (gin; triple sec; lemon juice) or a Flying Dutchman (gin; triple sec). If you want to make Margaritas (tequila; triple sec; lime juice) you’ll obviously need tequila as well as triple sec. With maraschino liqueur you can make a basic Aviation (gin; lemon juice; maraschino liqueur). With sparkling wine you can make a French 75 (gin; syrup; lemon juice; sparkling wine).
You’ll spot other drinks missing from this list, and some of them may be your favourites. You should buy the bottles you need to fill those gaps. What I’ve described is a foundation, one that’s dominated by pre-dinner cocktails, light on fruity drinks, and absent of any creamy drinks.
You might also buy curacao, creme de cacao, peach schnapps, peppermint schnapps, absinthe, amaretto, pisco, cachaca, calvados, cherry brandy, Pimm’s, Aperol, Southern Comfort, Midori, Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico, Goldschlager, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Chambord, Fernet Branca, or Galliano, but none of them will add much to your drinks list.
Buy them if they’re in one cocktail you love, or if you like them on their own.
For example, I love a Dark ‘N Stormy (black rum; ginger beer), but there aren’t a lot of other cocktails I use either of those ingredients in, so I only buy those ingredients specifically to make Dark ‘N Stormies. I always have creme de cassis in my bar so I can make Kir (creme de cassis; white wine), but I don’t use it for anything else. I have pastis so I can… drink pastis. (But I can also make a basic Sazerac with it - bourbon; pastis; sugar; bitters; lemon.)
You may have noticed that I’m missing something. Something big.
Brandy! If you buy a bottle of brandy you can make a Sidecar (brandy; triple sec; lemon juice) and a Metropolitan (brandy; sweet vermouth; bitters; syrup). With sparkling wine you can make a classic Champagne Cocktail (brandy; bitters; sugar; sparkling wine). Some of the more famous brandy cocktails require more elaborate ingredients. You;ll need creme de cacao and cream to make a Brandy Alexander, and calvados to make a Corpse Reviver. These probably aren’t high priorities.
Oh, all right, I’m missing something bigger than brandy. I haven’t mentioned vodka.
Old school cocktails don’t contain vodka, and vodka cocktails exist in their own little world of awkwardness. Buying vodka as a supplement to the basic ingredients I’ve listed won’t add anything to your repertoire except the vodka versions of gin cocktails.
If you buy triple sec, you can also make a Lemon Drop (vodka; triple sec; lemon juice, syrup) or a Kamikaze (vodka; triple sec; lime juice). If you buy ginger beer for a Dark ‘N Stormy, you can also use it in a Moscow Mule (vodka; lime juice; ginger beer). For a Black Russian you need coffee liqueur. For a Bloody Mary you need tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. For a Cosmopolitan you need triple sec and cranberry juice. For a Woo Woo you need peach schnapps and cranberry juice. For a Harvey Wallbanger you need orange juice and Galliano.
All that said, you might as well buy a bottle of vodka. Vodka with any mixer - tonic, soda, cola - and a little citrus is a serviceable long drink, and vodka loves fruit juice. Vodka and orange juice is a Screwdriver. Vodka and cranberry juice is a Cape Codder. Add grapefruit juice to a Cape Codder and it’s a Sea Breeze. Add pineapple juice instead and it’s a Bay Breeze. Vodka, orange juice, cranberry juice, and peach schnapps makes a Sex On The Beach. If you like that sort of thing.
Gin, bourbon, vermouth and bitters will satisfy the people who want a cocktail. Vodka and juice will satisfy the people who just want a drink. A good host should be ready for both.
And a good host should have lots of ice.
More than that.
Meryl Streep on working with Chris and Liam Hemsworth
When she’s right, she’s right.
Hey y’all, it’s been an age since I last posted here—even Tumblr didn’t know who I was! I’m hoping to get back into the reviewing/tweeting/tumbling thing soon. In the meantime, however, I’m trimming my manga collection to make room for my current loves: A Bride’s Story, Nijihara Holograph, Sunny,…
C & H sugar, 1959
I can sing this jingle for you right now, if you’d like.
My comp copies of The King’s Dragon just arrived. In stores next month!
Woohoo! I had someone asking me about this just today.!