Having a liquor cabinet or bar has always struck me as very grown-up.
It’s probably because my parents’ liquor cabinet was off limits to me and my sister when we were children. Of course, that made it all the more intriguing. What were they keeping in their oak sideboard that we weren’t allowed to touch? When my folks weren’t looking, we’d open it and marvel at the collection of potions inside. I felt a mix of fascination and disgust at the tequila with the shrivelled worm lurking at the bottom of the bottle. I was in awe of the brilliant evergreen mint liqueur. And what was with that stern-looking guard wearing a funny hat on that bottle of gin? Fast forward more than 30 years to my adulthood and I’m sad to say that I don’t have a liquor cabinet. I have a bottle of 12-year-old Guyanese rum and some lime bitters shoved in the back of a cupboard occupied mostly by pots and pans. And until I used it up to make borscht, a bottle of vodka languished in my freezer for nearly four years. Yet, I love a good cocktail. I feel parched when I thumb through my Instagram feed and see stunningly styled, technicolour shots of craft, seasonal drinks. Then I wonder to myself if maybe, just maybe, at 38 years old, I should invest in some lovely local Dillon's Distillery gin, pad out my bitters collection, splurge on that $75-bottle of tequila and look up recipes to make my own limoncello.
I even head to the liquor store with good intentions but then wind up spending my money on craft beer instead. So thank goodness for my grown-up friends who do have liquor cabinets. That means when I get a thirst-inducing book like The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion by Julie Reiner ($29, Grand Central Publishing), I have someone else’s liquor cabinet to use: in this case, my friend Sebastien’s. Here’s the thing: Sebastien is from Belgium so he has a European sense of hospitality, hence his well-stocked liquor cabinet and his collection of impressive bar tools, which make me realize how stunted my development as a grown-up really has been. Reiner’s book, with its elegant, moody photos, did make me want to catch up and stock up on every ingredient for the mouthwatering libations about which she writes. But more than dreaming of all the seasonal cocktails I could make if I did just that, I found myself lost in the engaging writing and practical advice that the James Beard-nominated Reiner includes in The Craft Cocktail Party.
Sebastien pours the spritzers.
It’s the kind of knowledge that comes from working for more than 20 years in the industry and co-owning two popular New York watering holes, the Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge. Reiner, named one of the Top 10 mixologists by Food & Wine, reassures people like me that you don’t have to buy fancy bar fixings, even if proper julep cups are now on my wish list. No muddler? Use a wooden spoon. Want to get crafty and come up with your own concoction? Reiner offers the proper ratios of booze, sweet and sour to nail custom-made balanced beverages (It’s 2:0.75:0.75 by the way). This is the kind of information I plan to squirrel away so that even if I can’t remember what goes into a lilikoi, I can at least get by when left to my own devices with someone else’s booze collection. Tips included with some of the recipes, like how to throw a Repeal Day party, rinsing and seasoning cocktail glasses, and how to make oleo saccharum (citrus oil-infused sugar), make it seem like Reiner is chatting with you as you shake, mix and swizzle. This book isn’t about turning you into a bartender but rather giving you the know-how to make a good drink when you want one. One pointer that I plan to use if I ever grow up and get around to stocking my own liquor cabinet is how to set up a drinks table at a party: stock with booze, glasses and ice and leave a few copies of easy-to-mix drink recipes for people to help themselves.
Drinks like the Mexican Spritzer, from the brunch section of the book, for example. It’s a great patio sipper, too, with its tequila, Aperol, lime juice and simple syrup served in a Collins glass. None of those ingredients is a big investment to have on hand or leave out for people to have their way with. So maybe today is the day I head to the liquor store and avoid getting distracted by the beer section. But if not, I’m grateful my grown-up pal Sebastien and his well-stocked bar are only a few streets over should I get thirsty.
Shake 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila, 1 1/2 ounces Aperol, 3/4 ounce lime juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup with ice until chilled.
Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice.
Top with 1 1/2 ounces club soda and place a lime wheel in the drink to garnish.
Excerpted from the book The Craft Cocktail Party by Julie Reiner. © 2015 by Julie Reiner. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Life and Style. All rights reserved.