Sunday, December 30, 2018

Some thoughts about Home Bars

Christmas and New Year have fallen reasonably well for me this year, in that I've got a reasonable amount of time not at work inbetween days at work. I had big reading plans but haven't really followed through on them, instead it's been a bit of gentle tidying and a lot of being quite lazy and doing nothing - a rare treat that I'm enjoying.

There's also been a bit of drinking nice things, so a few thoughts about home bars and wine storage seems like a logical way to finish up decembers posts, not least because I had some good luck hunting for glasses yesterday - good glasses are very important.

In terms of keeping wine at home I used to live in a house that didn't have central heating, it was extraordinarily cold in the winter, and not especially warm in the summer. It didn't have a cellar, but it had a cupboard under the stairs which maintained an even and low temperature throughout the year, protected wine from sunlight, and generally kept things very well.

The flat I live in now gets far to hot in the summer, doesn't have anywhere really good to keep wine, and after opening a couple of older bottles recently I've renewed my resolve to get through all the good stuff I've had hanging around for a while whilst it's still worth drinking. A bottle of Sauturnes had definitely gone past it's best, and I got to a bottle of 2003 Shiraz I opened last night just in the nick of time. The cork was crumbly and another hot summer would have seriously started to cook the fruit flavours out of it. The lesson really is if you don't have somewhere appropriate to store wine, don't hang on to it, or over invest in things that need cellaring before they're worth drinking.

Storage issues are one reason why I drink more spirits than wine now (the other is that I find it easy to have a single gin, whisky, whatever whereas when a bottle of wine is open there's a very specific window within which it needs to be drunk, which can mean pressure to drink more than I want to).

I know from work that my increasing interest in cocktails (specifically) is a commonly shared one, so much so that it's customers questions that started me down that particular path in the first place. The home bar is definitely becoming a thing again (Henry Jeffrey's has even written a Book about it).

From a wine merchants point of view, as well as a personal one, I have a lot of opinions about home bars starting with cocktail mixing equipment. I've not had much luck with proper cocktail shakers (I find the top, which should also act as a measure often gets sticky and stuck, that the threads for screwing and unscrewing the top half are often not as good as they could be) and I'm quite happy improvising with a jar that once had cherries in kirsch in it. This suits me and the kind of drinks I'm mixing, so I think it's worth taking the time to work out exactly what sort of equipment you want or need rather than spending money on it up front.

Glasses however are really important. When it comes to wine glass shape matters a lot, if you buy good wine invest in good glasses, they'll noticeably improve the drinking experience. The very minimum standard should be a reasonably thin, tulip shaped glass big enough to be able to swish your wine around in a bit (should you feel the need to do such a thing). In terms of cocktails tumblers, high ball glasses, and cocktail glasses are all neccesary.

Presentation matters for these drinks, it's half the fun of them, so taking care over the glasses you buy makes sense. Mine are mostly antique and junk shop finds, and not expensive. I have some Edwardian Champagne coupes that are terrible for Champagne (the bubbles dissipate far to quickly, and it does nothing for the aroma) but which do good service as cocktail glasses, and which I particularly love.

My preferences are for glasses which have a good weight and balance to them, feel nice to hold, fit well into my hand, and feel good against the mouth - so I think you need to be able to pick them up before you buy them. What exactly that means will vary according to the individual, but definitely take the trouble to get glasses right for you.

A lot of cookbooks include cocktail recipes now, and there's a growing number of dedicated books too, as well as a world of information online. It's worth having at least one dedicated book you really like as a starting point though. For me that's the Savoy Cocktail guide which reflects other interests (period detail particularly) as well as giving lots of template recipes that have taught me how to make simple things well. There's also a lot of crap in it, so if you're not specifically interested in the history element it might not be your first choice. As long as whatever book you start with has a good selection of things that don't need a lot of ingredients, and sound like you want to drink them, you're off to a good start.

Use good quality ingredients for your drinks, that doesn't mean super premium, but if a things worth doing, it's worth doing well. I very much believe in drink less but better. I want my drinks to be a treat (from coffee upwards) and I'm not going to compromise on the quality of the gin, Brandy, whisky, Rum, vodka, or tequila I have in the house. (Nothing below 40% abv, brands I like, flavour profiles that work well in mixed drinks)

That also means that I want a good repertoire of drinks that build on the same basic themes because I don't want a small fortunes worth of bottles cluttering the place up. More so because a lot of liqueurs are relatively low in alcohol (around 20%) as are vermouths. They start to lose their flavour if they're open too long, so however tempting it is to buy all the drinks, be sensible about it, also periodically check open bottles to make sure they still taste right. Bitters on the other hand are you're friend in this situation. They keep reasonably well, and you can have all sorts of fun with them.

I don't drink enough, or with enough people, to want to bother making flavoured syrups which again need to be used fairly quickly. They also demand a degree of forethought about the drinks you will be making that doesn't suit me. However appealing a drink sounds on paper it's worth considering if it's the kind of thing you really want to make before you embark on a weeks worth of preparation and buy a list as long as your arm of things to go in it. If on the other hand this is exactly what you do want to be doing, I'd be delighted to be your friend and help you try these creations.

Happy, sensible, drinking, and Happy New Year.


  1. And Happy New Year to you! I look forward to continuing to read your blog next year.

  2. Happy New Year! I have been learning a lot about cocktails and wine since I found your nice blog. I look forward to reading and learning more in 2019!