In the Spirit

The Bare Necessities

Keeping it simple keeps it delicious

By Tony Cross

Last month I confessed to being behind on a number of books that I had barely started or hadn’t opened at all. One of those books is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Yes, that’s right. It’s blasphemous to say that I adore the man, yet have not read his epic first book. Embarrassing, I know. Anyway, the book is amazing. One of the chapters, “How to Cook Like the Pros,” has Bourdain giving tips to those at home who want to cook well enough to amaze their next dinner party guests. Good stuff. He starts with tools: chef’s knife, other knives, plastic squeeze bottles, pots and pans, etc. He then moves on to ingredients: butter, stock, shallots and more. So, in this episode, I’m going to blatantly rip off Anthony. It’s OK, we share the same first name.

When it comes to making drinks, people always ask me questions like: “What’s your favorite drink to make? Do you really like egg whites in cocktails? What’s a good recipe?” (I get that one a lot.) Or: “How do you make your old-fashioneds?” and “Do you really like mezcal?” I usually respond to the last one with “no” and a grin on my face. One time, a married woman (claiming to be newly separated) actually messaged me on social media late on a Saturday night to find out what my favorite rye is. It’s Rittenhouse, but that’s not all she asked.

The point is, you only need a few tools, and a few ingredients to make a ton of delicious cocktails. And in no particular order, so let’s go.

Angostura Bitters

There are a ton of bitters on the market. They’re everywhere. And by all means, experiment and check them out. We’ve got Crude in Raleigh that makes great bitters, and lots of other companies in the U.S. that do a great job. But I’ve never lost it in my kitchen when I’ve run out of cardamom bitters. It’ll never happen. Angostura is the essential bitters that should always be stocked in your place. Plain and simple. Plus, it’s available everywhere, and it cures hiccups (doused on a lemon wedge). Just saying.

A Good Juicer

A durable, inexpensive, hand-held juicer is all you need when making drinks at home. I’ve talked to people who just “squeeze a little lime juice” into their shaker (I hope) when creating their own gimlets. Amazon has the Chef’n FreshForce model that is only $20, and durable as hell. Even if you’re hosting a 12-person cocktail party, this hand-held juicer is really convenient. Once you get the hang of it, you can juice 10 ounces in no time. Oh, and measure the stuff while you’re at it.

Jigger

Use a jigger that has a few measurements on it. You know, 1/4 , 1/2, 3/4 of an ounce. I prefer the Japanese style, but whatever is easiest for you. Cocktail Kingdom has a lot of fancy plated ones; to each their own. I have the original stainless steel, and they’ve lasted me for years. If you’re not measuring, stop reading here.

Sugar

If you’ve always got a half to a full cup of simple syrup in your fridge that hasn’t gone bad, good for you. You’re an alcoholic. Kidding. The rest of us probably have that “Oh, hell” moment when realizing that we’ve got everything for the drink ready except for said syrup. No worries, it only takes a minute to make, and that’s if you feel like making it. But syrup or no syrup, you should always have a small amount of demerara or cane sugar in the cabinet. It makes all the difference in the classics. Don’t believe me? Make a rich demerara syrup for your next daiquiri and tell me that the sugar doesn’t bring out the flavors in the top of the line rum you used. The color may not be Instagram-worthy, but who cares when you’ve made one of the best drinks in the world.

Vermouth

I can’t believe that almost every bar and restaurant in this town still has vermouth on the shelf. It’s rancid. Don’t be like most bars and restaurants in this town. Refrigerate, dammit. You’re only wasting your own hard-earned dollar and taste buds. Get a white and a red. You don’t need four of each, unless you’re using them before they spoil. Here, here! Dolin Dry for martinis and Carpano Antica for Manhattans. They’re also delicious over ice with a twist, too, ya know.

Spirit

I see a lot of articles online that read something like this: “The 8 Gins You Should Have at Home!” Really? Eight? No thanks. How about two or three? Plymouth for martinis and Beefeater’s for gin and tonics. “Hey, Tony! I can’t imagine how many whiskies you have at home!” I can. Three or four? Maybe? I love rye, so I usually have Old Overholt, Rittenhouse and/or Wild Turkey Rye. Whatever bourbon I can get my hands on that’s halfway decent from our ABC. Oh, and a good bottle of Scotch. Yeah, that’s about it. Aaaaand for the rest:

Agave: If you are really just into margaritas, get a blanco; I particularly enjoy Herradura. If sipping is your thing, grab a nice anejo. A bottle of Del Maguey anything wouldn’t hurt either.

Rum: One white rum and one funky. For me, it’s Cana Brava and Smith & Cross. Actually, I’m lying. I have more. But I’m a rum-whore. Can’t help it. But the former is a good start.

Vodka: This is easily the most debated. Probably because most people who boast about what vodka they love are full of it. Tito’s, you say? Yeah, sure. I don’t care. For me, it’s always a vehicle to a destination. Just don’t let that ride be a Ford Pinto.

Brandy: Rémy Martin. Damn good cognac.   PS

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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