Tuesday, June 2, 2020
June 2, 2020

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Clark County bars offer cocktail kits, recipes with ingredients you have at home

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Cocktail mixers from Amaro's Table (Photos by Rachel Pinsky)
Cocktail mixers from Amaro's Table (Photos by Rachel Pinsky) Photo Gallery

A good cocktail can transform the vibe of a dreary night of social distancing into a sophisticated soiree out of “The Thin Man.”

Many of us are busy and stressed out and just need to pour something strong into a glass and make it taste decent. Others have time on our hands and are looking for projects. Here are tips for either scenario.

Glasses can easily transform a dull drink into something celebratory. A simple coupe glass (which is stemmed with a broad, shallow bowl) adds a touch of elegance to an ordinary drink of alcohol and juice. A martini glass filled with some olives and gin or vodka chilled in the freezer feels like a steakhouse martini.

Sara Newton, beverage director of Amaro’s Table and a living cocktail encyclopedia, revealed a shocking secret: “I don’t have cocktails glasses at home.” Newton loves using a short mason jar for serving cocktails. According to Newton, wine glasses serve well as coupe glasses. When it’s possible to shop again, antique and vintage shops are a good place to find cocktail glasses.

“Ice is more of a complicated situation,” Newton said. Getting the clear square cubes or spheres that are popular in cocktail bars is difficult at home. This is because ice makers and ice-cube trays freeze from the outside in, leaving white dots in the middle of the ice. To get clear ice, it must freeze top to bottom, leaving the layer of whiteness at the bottom to be scraped off. This can be done by filling a small cooler with water and freezing it, and then carving pieces of ice from this large frozen cube with a serrated knife or saw.

“Clarity isn’t a big deal. It’s really just for the look,” said Erick Gill, co-owner of The Smokin’ Oak and head of the bar there. The restaurant uses special trays purchased on Kickstarter.

The look of an ice cube may not matter, but ice has an important role in cocktail-making. When you shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mason jar, it creates an emulsion that gives the drink texture. It also dilutes the cocktail.

Fruit juice or opaque cocktail mixtures need to be shaken with ice, Gill said. Spirit-forward drinks like an Old Fashioned or a martini should be stirred. Shaking or stirring with a large ice cube chills but doesn’t water down the drink. Gill recommends giving a martini or a Manhattan extra stirring time to cool it, because the finished drink is not served with ice.

A simple twist of orange peel or edible flowers make a nice garnish.

“It’s flowering season,” Newton said, “so it’s a great opportunity to use flowers in cocktails. Just make sure it’s an edible flower.”

For those with a bit more time on their hands, Newton has some tips on how to transform pantry staples into a tasty libation.

“Sugar and fruit teas make a great base for a cocktail syrup,” she said. “That Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea you’ve had sitting in the back of your pantry for a year would make a lovely base for a syrup to use in cocktails.”

Frozen fruit or baking spices also make a nice syrup to mix with liquor in a cocktail shaker, she said. She shared a couple of recipes (available on B1).

Several local bars have kits for making cocktails at home. Amaro’s Table offers the easiest option — a cocktail mix for $17.50. Just pour the mix into a glass with alcohol and ice, top with sparkling water, and drink. Past flavors include Coconuts About You (with dragonfruit, pineapple, peach, mango coconut, citrus, rose petals, Coco Lopez and sugar) and a Dahling I’m Home (with pineapple, tamarind, chai tea, cardamom, pink peppercorn, star anise, sugar, citrus, and Bitter Queen orange bitters).

Little Conejo has a margarita kit that encourages you to modify the drink to suit your own palate. Prices range from $10 for just lime juice and simple syrup to $50-plus for a complete kit with tequila or mezcal.

When you call to order, pick tequila or mezcal and two fruit juices. Co-owner Mychal Dynes advises mezcal users to order some grapefruit juice. All kits come with lime juice and an amber-colored simple syrup made from piloncillo sugar. The best way to tackle this kit is to pour the juice containers into a mason jar and put the simple syrup in a squeeze bottle. You can salt the rim of your glass by running a slice of lime around it and dipping the glass into a plate of kosher salt. Add some ice to the glass. Pour ice, mezcal or tequila, juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker or mason jar, shake, and then taste and adjust. Strain into a glass and garnish with a slice of lime or a lime peel. This kit doesn’t come with a recipe. Dynes wants margarita-kit users to have fun playing with the ratio. His guidance is more about personal pleasure than precision.

“Each sip should make you want another one,” Dynes said.

Gill has put together an Old Fashioned kit. The kit comes with The Smokin’ Oak’s mix of bitters, demerara sugar simple syrup, a silicon square cube ice tray, a couple of oranges and lemons, and a recipe card. Aspiring home cocktail makers can choose between Buffalo Trace whiskey ($59 for the kit) or upgrade to a small batch Elijah Craig made especially for The Smokin’ Oak ($69). The cocktail recipe walks users through the pre-Prohibition style Old Fashioned served at The Smokin’ Oak.

“The Old Fashioned is probably the most ambiguous drink,” Gill said. “I wouldn’t order an Old Fashioned until I get a feel for the place.”

Many bars, influenced by the television show “Mad Men,” serve a Don Draper-style Old Fashioned based on a scene in which Draper mashed maraschino cherries and ice in a glass and then filled it with seltzer water and a generous glug of rye. Some consider this mix of slushy fruit and bubbles a crime against cocktails.

The benefit of being a home bartender is that you can make a drink as boozy, bubbly, fruity or ugly as you like — and there’s no one to judge your drink choices, the sweat pants you’ve been wearing and sleeping in for the last week, or your unbrushed hair.

Cocktail Recipes from Sara Newton of Amaro’s Table

Wild Sweet Orange Gimlet

4-6 fruit tea bags such as Tazo Wild Sweet Orange

2 cups of sugar

2 cups of water

Gin or tequila

Juice of one lime

Ice

Put tea bags, sugar and water into a pot. Boil the water and then reduce it to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove tea bags and allow syrup to cool. Once cooled, combine syrup with gin or tequila and juice from one lime. Shake ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker or mason jar. Strain into your favorite cocktail glass.

Abandoned Freezer Fruit Lemon Drop

Frozen fruit

3 cups of sugar

3 cups of water

Vodka

1 lemon

Orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier, for example)

Place frozen fruit on the counter or in the sink to thaw. While fruit is thawing, boil 3 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and place in the fridge to cool. Once the simple syrup is cooled and the fruit is thawed, place them in a blender and blend for 10-15 seconds to incorporate ingredients. Strain through a find mesh strainer to remove any noticeable particulates from the syrup. Combine the syrup with vodka, the juice of 1 lemon, and orange liqueur to taste.

Winter Spiced Margarita

2 teaspoons of baking spices such as pumpkin spice mix

2 cups of sugar or agave

2 cups of water

Tequila

1-2 limes

Simmer baking spices, 2 cups of sugar or agave and 2 cups of water for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add syrup, tequila, and the juice of 1-2 limes to an ice-filled cocktail shaker strain into glass.

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