A bar in need
First published in Prestige Magazine (September edition).
I must confess upfront that I have an ulterior motive for this choice of topic – I’m renovating my house. And, inspired by that wildfire Heineken commercial, my wife and I have come to a nifty arrangement to attempt to avoid the conflicts that tend to accompany these residential makeovers: I get a bar, she gets a walk-in closet. Being the poetic fellow that I am (or at least that I like to think I am), I intend to see the whole matter through to its rightful conclusion. It is imperative to me thus that when the moment comes my friends outscream hers in tribute. This is only likely to happen if my bar is a replete with the necessary accoutrements…if it is impressive enough to move grown men to a spontaneous and volcanic show of emotion. Take heed then of my lead for a bar in need.
A bar can only be as good as what it serves. We’ll dispense with talk of wine and beer, save to say that they’re required. This is a spirits column – and, after a hard day in the trenches, when nothing but a stiff drink will do, this is where you’ll be glad that you focused your efforts.
Here is my three step cricket-derived guide to stocking a bar:
Fundamentals first. You need a command of the basic shots required to play all the orthodox deliveries. Whisky? Tick. Vodka, brandy, and rum? Tick, tick, tick. Gin? Of course old chap. Cognac? Mais oui monsieur. And let’s not forget tequila (por favor) and liqueur.
These are the big boys of hard tack, and they should all be represented. You should offer a choice of at least one brand in each category, preferably something that has been judiciously selected. The consummate host should also ideally offer guests an alternative for each to cater for varying tastes.
Develop depth. There’s a famous quote that goes like this (after I’ve bastardised it somewhat): “An educated host should keep everything of something, and something of everything”. We’ve covered the latter above, now for the former. Everyone has a standout shot, or a favoured part of the wicket. This should be developed and exploited – for both personal satisfaction and in order to accumulate runs more effectively. Like to pull? Learn to do it with a straight bat, a cross bat, forward, back, lofted and so forth.
My preference is for whisky, so my drinks’ cabinet (soon to be bar, hooray!) is whisky-heavy. But I have a friend who enjoys his gin, and I particularly look forward to the opportunity to sample London Dry, Sloe, Jenever, and others amongst the variety of styles and brands that he’s collected. This depth makes visits to your bar, for yourself and your invitees, so much more interesting and fulfilling.
Exotic elaboration. A good batsman is made great by the ability to produce the unexpected: shots like the reverse sweep, the switch hit, and the scoop. These are the cherries on the top – the extra efforts that allow you to excel, that can propel a team to victory, and that can provoke unabashed delight.
Looking for an unusual aperitif? Why not try pastis, or the similar ouzo and arak. A digestif that’ll stimulate after dinner conversation? Whip out a bottle of grappa, or a fine Armagnac.
So, can I now raise my bat and bask in adulation for my astounding strokeplay? One might think so, but perhaps celebration is premature. At this stage my wife – with her collection of shoes batting on well beyond a century – still has the wood over me. There’s a bit of work remaining to be done.
So you’ve now put together a suitably cultured collection. Imagine you’ve got them lined up on the back bar like a row of soldiers awaiting deployment (another metaphor you say?). Would a General with such a quality assortment of troops just send them out willy-nilly? Not a chance. He needs equipment and tactics, and so do you.
A bar’s most important accessories are its drinking vessels. Goblets, quaichs, and steins might be good for a laugh or a theme party, but for the most part this means glasses – they are generally the vehicles that will get your drink from A to B.
Ok, before we drop a bundle we need to ask ourselves: do glasses though actually make any difference to the flavour, and consequently (or not) the enjoyment, of what one is drinking? The short answer is yes: our perception of flavour can be psychosomatic. A good whisky for instance will – most of the time – taste better when drunk from a crystal tumbler than from a paper cup. So it’s really worthwhile to invest in some quality glassware. You’ll need tumblers, highballs and zombies to start, and specialist glasses depending on your “tactics” below.
You have the troops, and you have the equipment. Now what? Sometimes the engagement will be straightforward: neat, on the rocks, with water or a mixer, and maybe with a slice of lemon or lime. But sometimes you’ll need to do something a little bit special to carry the day. Enter the cocktail, and the science of mixology.
These are the world’s most popular cocktails (in no particular order): Mojito, Pina Colada, Cosmopolitan, Tequila Sunrise, Martini, Cuba Libre, Screwdriver, Margarita, and Daiquiri. Pick three (from this list or any other), and learn how to mix them. As I mentioned earlier this may require specialist glasses, and some other equipment as well. Martinis and margaritas should be drunk from glasses dedicated for the purpose – anything else, after all this effort, would be too inelegant to even contemplate. Shakers, glass rimmers, and muddlers may all be required…along with a supply of limes, olives, mint, salt, and various mixers.
So, there you have it, our home bar is complete – and impressive enough to claim the raucous approval of both our palates and our guests. Heineken, I may not be drinking your beer (all the time), but I hope to do you proud.