We’ve talked about elevating your home bar and cocktail game by using a budget spirit for an infusion, but what about the cocktail itself? The basic components of the modern cocktail are water, spirit, sugar and many a cocktail includes bitters. The water here in Cuenca comes straight off the mountains, the spirit, Cristal, is made more wonderful by a few simple infusions, and sugar is plentiful. The rest is as easy as a trip to the market. Bitters are one thing I have yet to see here in Cuenca, so I may be making our own in the near future, as the thought of a bottle of Angostura exploding in my luggage is a literal nightmare. No matter where you are, you should always be able to find a bottle of liquor and some sugar, otherwise, cocktails are likely the least of your concerns.
Before we get to making drinks, we’ll need to make simple syrup, which takes about 10 minutes, tops:
Take equal parts water and sugar, place into a saucepan or pot, heat and stir until dissolved. Allow the mix to cool, then place in a clean plastic bottle or jar, whatever’s handy, and store in the refrigerator. That’s it. Don’t ever buy simple syrup in a grocery store, whether you’re traveling abroad, an expat or just kicking it at home. That purchase never makes sense in any budget. This basic building block is also something that can be elevated for more advanced cocktails.
The Sour: A Major Cocktail Family
Citrus is generally in ready supply in much of the world, thanks to the marvels of a global economy. When you mix citrus with some form of sugar and some form of alcohol, you’ve got yourself a traditional Sour. The Sour is an easy, basic recipe to remember, generally 2:1:1/2, Spirit: Acid: Sweetener. Simply take your infusion or spirit of choice, the juice of either a lemon (or lime) and some of our simple syrup. Add a healthy amount of ice (we bought extra ice cube trays on our first grocery store trip) and your ingredients to your favorite water bottle (we like Nalgene) and shake the hell out of it. Pour into a glass with fresh ice, using the lid to strain out the broken ice.
The Basic Sour
- 2oz Spirit
- 1oz Lemon (or Lime) juice
- .5 Simple Syrup
Combine all ingredients into your shaking vessel, add ice and shake. Pour and strain over fresh ice into desired glass.
If you want to get a little messy and really fancy, that’s easy. You can delicately pour a red wine of your choice over the top of the drink you’ve just made (that’s called a New York Sour) or, you can add an egg. The method for that is going to be a little different:
The Egg White Sour
Combine all ingredients from before, adding an egg white. Do not add ice. Seal your container, and shake. Open the lid once to relieve pressure, close and shake a bit more. Add ice and shake, then pour and strain. Ideally, you’ll have a tea strainer handy. We don’t, so we’re not making any egg drinks for the foreseeable future. They’re delicious, but can be incredibly messy. Consider yourself warned.
A Note on Bar Tools for Travelers
Now, we’re far from home, and all of my tools are in storage. Tools for a home bar are very nice, and they definitely make your life a lot easier, but their use is specific, they can be rough on the budget and they do not generally travel well. Unless you’re setting down permanent roots, or already have some second-string tools laying around, I would not recommend adding them to your traveler’s home bar. Many a bartender has had wine keys, cocktail spoons, muddlers and all types of items draw them into unwanted conversations with airport security, and sometimes, these treasured tools are confiscated, lost or broken. They also take up space, and when traveling, a luggage budget is often as important as your financial budget. A wide-mouthed water bottle, a knife, and a wine key are about all you’ll ever need as far as these articles are concerned.
The French 75 and Variations
A cousin to the basic Sour is the Gin-based French 75, named for a famed cannon. If you’ve got some form of budget sparkling wine available, it’s a very easy way to make a very fancy cocktail. Simply make a smaller version of your sour with lemon juice, strain into a champagne flute if you’ve got one, or just a coffee mug if that’s what’s in the cupboard, then top with sparkling wine. For extra credit, use a paring knife to slice part of the lemon peel, and delicately place the peel on the rim of your coffee mug.
- 1oz Spirit
- .5oz Lemon juice
- .25 Simple Syrup
Add all the ingredients to your shaking vessel (or water bottle), strain and pour, then top with sparkling wine.
A Collins is the perfect bubbly cocktail for those unsure of their masculinity and afraid of stemware. It’s a French 75 substituting sparkling water for the sparkling wine and bringing the addition of ice cubes, like so:
- 1.5oz Spirit
- .75oz Lemon juice
- .5oz Simple syrup
Place all ingredients into your shaking vessel, add ice, seal and shake. Pour and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice, then top with sparkling water. Gently stir with a knife to incorporate and enjoy.
The Next Steps for Your Home Bar
Once you’ve mastered basic drinks, you’re ready to riff on them. Learning the rules allows you to break them. Since our options at the liquor store are scant, we’ll mostly be doing this with different infusions and different house-made syrups. We’ll take a trip to the market with the next few posts and play around in the kitchen.