DIY Home Bar Essentials

In making cocktails it often calls for certain liqueurs added into the mix. For those not in the know a liqueur is defined as a spirit containing added flavors and sugars usually from fruits, nuts or herbs. Though liqueurs can be enjoyed neat, over ice, or can be used in cooking and baking,  more often it’s found in a mixed drink. Yes it’s versatile, but there are dozens of different types which if you’re trying to create your own cocktail bar, it could add up to a lot of money. What do you do? How about making them yourself.

 

Trust me, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. If you can fry an egg, you can definitely make your own liqueur. Plus a benefit in homemade liqueurs is that you can get creative with it.  Add some rosemary to that simple syrup base. Maybe toss some matcha in that coffee liqueur. Go crazy with it. Well…maybe not swedish chef crazy, but you get the point.

This DIY liqueur doesn’t include cooking any misfortunate muppets.

 

 

Here’s two recipes that I’ve tested and can say were easy to make and very useful for a home bar.

 

The first is the one and only amaretto. This almond flavored liqueur is a must have for classics like a “Godfather,” or can be found sweeter drinks like an “Orgasm.” Originally recipes call for almonds but many contemporary brands use pits from peaches or apricots because they all produce the same compound that makes that bitter almond aroma.

 

To make it an easy project I decided to just use almond extract which worked perfectly. The intent is not to mimic big brand amarettos but to make your own, but like some so as I said earlier, play around with the ingredients. I added vanilla extract to the mix in hopes to brighten up the sweeter notes that come from the liqueur.

Amaretto

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With just a few ingredients you can make your own liqueurs. (Photo: Ryan Hickey) 
  1. ½ cups of water
  2. 1 cup white sugar
  3. ½ cup brown sugar
  4. 2 tablespoons of almond extract
  5. 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
  6. 2 cups of vodka

Directions

  1. Combine and bring to boil water, sugars, almond extract and vanilla extract. Lower heat to a simmer and mix thoroughly for 8-10 minutes.
  2. Turn off the flame and give 10-15 minutes to cool the ingredients.
  3. After cooled down mix ingredients with vodka and funnel the ingredients into a glass container that can be sealed.

 

The second recipe is a ginger liqueur that adds a bite to any cocktail. This one will take a little longer than the amaretto, but the longer the wait the more likely the ginger flavors soak into the liqueur. Recipes found online vary so if you have a clue with what you want out of the liqueur you can easily create it. I was hoping for something more fruit forward while retaining that ginger punch so I chose brandy for the liquor and added grapefruit and oranges for the zest. Here’s a tip, if you want more of a ginger edge double the amount of ginger used, and extend the time where the ginger is in contact with the liqueur.

 

 

Ginger Liqueur

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After a week of steeping. (Photo: Ryan Hickey) 
  1. 1 cup of sugar
  2. 1½ cups of water
  3. 1 cup of ginger
  4. 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  5. 1 orange
  6. 1 grapefruit
  7. 1 ½ cups of brandy

Directions

  1. Peel the skin off the 1 cup of ginger. You can use a vegetable peeler but using the back of a spoon works even better. Don’t believe me? Check out the video.
  2. Combine and bring to a boil sugar, water, vanilla extract, ginger. Then let it simmer in low a lower heat until ginger is soft. This could take 15-25 minutes. Once it is soft turn off the flame and let it cool down.
  3. While that’s simmering zest the grapefruit and the orange. Then pour the zest into a glass container that’s sealable.
  4. Pour the brandy and the mixture you’ve just cooked into the glass container that already has the zest inside.
  5. Seal the container and wait week.
  6. After waiting so patiently for a week strain the ingredients out from the liqueur. Coffee filters worked well for filtering. Now it’s ready for use.
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Cocktails On Hand #1

Some distillery’s spirits are meant to be sipped on. Other spirits, like ones created at Greenbar Distillery, are meant to be mixed into a delicious cocktail. Writing about distilleries without writing about cocktails is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute; if you’re into it it’s a thrill, but you won’t last. For that reason this will be the first weekly post highlighting some drinks that are tasty, easy to make, easier to order, and can be a switch up from the usual margarita or old fashioned.

The first drink is an El Diablo. This crimson concoction is made with only four ingredients, but is a wallop of flavor that hypnotize ones into driving to the beach, lying  a beach towel down and soaking up some sun.

The El Diablo includes the usual pairing of tequila with lime juice. Then adding creme de cassis offers the magenta color and an undercurrent of sweetness. After mixing, a few ounces of ginger beer delivers a prickly end to this refreshing drink.

 

 

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The name doesn’t fit such a tame drink (Photo: Ryan Hickey)

 

 

 

 

 

El Diablo

1½ oz. reposado tequila (Espolon Tequila)

½  oz. creme de cassis

½  oz. fresh lime juice

2-3 oz. ginger beer (Fever Tree)

Combine the first three ingredients into a shaker, and shake. Fine-strain ingredients into a ice filled highball glass. Then top off with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wheel.

How Greenbar Distillery has Created Craft Disciples

If any distillery can foster the micro spirits and craft cocktail movement it’s Greenbar Distillery. They know how to transform any craft cocktail appreciator to a raging cocktail zealot. Not some naive cut-for-Bieber zealot, but a let’s drink the Kool-Aid zealot–oh and has Greenbar told you the Kool-Aid’s organic?

That’s right, all the produce that’s used in making their spirits are organic, and it is NOT Greenbar’s ploy to get on the organic hype-train. It’s all about the flavor organic provides.

Organic products are known to have different tastes than something from the supermarket, and Greenbar owners, Melkhon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew,found this out by accident. Their supplier mistakenly gave them a batch of organic produce, and after they distilled it the difference in taste was easily discernible. The organic taste was favored so much that by 2008 they used only organic produce in their spirits.

But that’s not what makes them so great.

First of all, they understand that creating a delicious drink shouldn’t include slogging as a barback for six months, getting a sleeve of tattoos or growing a curly mustache. So they train you in the sacred texts of creating your own delicious cocktails.

Greenbar presents classes that give their guests the core tenets on creating tasty cocktails. Which is a great class for anybody interested in making cocktails, but don’t know where to begin.


Also they made the class around experimenting, so you can make drinks that fit your preferences. Enjoy drinks which often include a mini umbrella? They have that. Have a fondness toward a dry and spice-filled cocktail? They’ll be your guru until you find cocktail-nirvana.

Analogous to Mass, these classes are happening all the time, and unlike Ben Stein’s class from that hit 80s movie this isn’t a snooze. 

Greenbar doesn’t  preach to you. It’s always lighthearted. Attending with nervousness is normal, but after class you’ll probably want to spread that new knowledge of yours like those so pleasantly dressed boys on bikes.

The other reason that makes them so revered is their spirits are made specifically for new believers. They understand creating great cocktails at home can be time consuming and expensive. They don’t want you to tithe all your income away. Therefore their alcohols are brimming with flavor to save time and cut that lengthy list of ingredients on cocktails.

Spirits like their “Crusoe Spiced Rum” or “Tru Garden Vodka” contain striking flavors of clove or botanicals, which is perfect for a spiced daiquiri or a bloody mary. Concocting that perfect drink is easy as picking the type of alcohol, choosing a mixer that pairs or contrasts well with it, mixing and serving.

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Want to drink something floral? Add Greenbar’s Tru Garden Vodka to the mix photo:Ryan Hickey

I won’t give away the doctrines bestowed upon guest on creating delightful drinks because it’s worth the pilgrimage to Greenbar Distillery, but there is one tip that the distillery and most bartenders have full faith in:

Use fresh ingredients.

It’s like their first commandment, and unlike some Pastors who praise the almighty dollar over their god, any bartender worth their salt believes in it.

A Tour Infused with Creativity

So you’ve never been to a micro distillery tasting room? Let me tell you of one that’ll make the child in you think they’ve received the golden ticket. No we aren’t going to the chocolate factory, but this distillery has as much imagination as Willy.

It’s called Lost Spirits, and from their alcohol to their atmosphere, they send your imagination through fantastical worlds.  

The adult in you will fall heavily for their awarded rums and whiskeys, intentionally distilled to taste like famous places in fiction. For example, one rum was creatively inspired to taste like rum from the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Plundered treasures and rum fill this pirate themed tasting room (Image: Dario Griffin) @ https://bit.ly/2rdLZDa

The child in you would love how it teleports you out of Los Angeles’ yippy arts district and into a boat ride in the jungle. Yes that’s right, a boat ride and a jungle inside a distillery. From one tasting room to another, all rooms imitate famous fictional places such as Doctor Moreau’s jungle hut and Calypso’s room from the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Don’t worry there’s no vivisection in this Island of Doctor Moreau themed tasting room  (Image: Laurel Dailey) @ https://bit.ly/2rdLZDa

There’s even more to this distillery which has been awarded “Best Distillery Tour in the World” from multiple institutions. But you’ll have to wait for my full review of this place later this month.

The Shifting Tide of Craft Alcohol

Only recently can you hear someone raving about a small distributed, premium papaya infused tart IPA they just had. It’s always the third topic while conversing with Californians, right after they tell you that they’re vegan and that they “can’t even escape traffic on the hiking trails.” But we shouldn’t poke fun at them, at least for the beer part, because more than ever younger generations are attentive to knowing their alcohol isn’t mass produced and isn’t owned by a conglomerate of foreign owners.

The stereotypical Californian’s weekend

Though big beer brands hold a majority of the sales, craft beer has elbowed out a fair 12.7 percent of the market. Some optimistically forecast craft could own 25 percent. Yet after years of double-digit growth, this year it’s slumped to 5 percent. Before you hop-fiends start reaching for the tissue, understand most analyst say it merely represents a maturing market.

Beer companies aren’t the only ones carefully examining these stats. For years craft distilleries have been closely eyeing this market. After seeing the craft beer boom, craft distilleries are opening meteorically. Similar to craft beer they hold a small percentage of the liquor marketplace, but they hope the same people enjoying craft beer would also enjoy craft spirits.

For some distilleries this wishful thinking has worked out. One example is Bert Beveridge and his famous company Tito’s Vodka. Though no longer considered a micro distillery, it originated just the same. Its humble beginnings started with distilling vodka in two tanks that originally were used for Dr. Pepper. He even cooked corn into alcohol with a turkey fryer. The two things that led to Beveridge’s success was promoting his vodka as handmade and having a limited distribution. Which spoke true to its home state of Texas and eventually led to the 2.5 billion dollar success it is today.

Tito’s Vodka is no longer a micro distillery because they make beyond Texas’ mandated amount to be considered “micro.” For every Tito’s there are dozens of micro-distilleries that follow their state regulated preconditions on considering themselves micro. The defining factor is how many gallons a distillery makes in a year, but because there’s isn’t a federally mandated amount the exact number varies amongst states.

Unlike micro breweries, micro distilleries are just beginning their expansion into American markets. With more than 1,589 micro distilleries in the United States they are growing at a 20.8% rate compared to the year before. Sales peaked at only 3 billion dollars in 2016, but that was a 25% percent increase from 2015. It’s only expected to keeping going up.

That increase almost parallels the daft increase in unicorn related objects last year. From Starbucks’ “Unicorn Frappuccino” which is what I’d guess Oompa Loompa barf looks like. To the glitter infused “Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur”–something tells me it isn’t craft.

What I’m trying to get at is if you’ve always stuck to your craft beers or artisanal wines this is the time to be a little adventurous. Try some craft spirits out. You’ll probably find something you like. And please, let’s stop it with this unicorn ridiculousness.