In the Spirit

Rainy Day Cocktails

Always seem to know when it’s time to call

By Tony Cross

As I’m writing this, our state is going into a mandatory stay-at-home lockdown for folks who do not fall into the criteria of jobs considered “essential.” If you work at a grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store or even a bank, you can go to work if you choose. A lot of other folks must stay home.

This is the hardest column I’ve ever had to write. All of my friends in the restaurant/bar business are clinging to hope that this passes soon; most of them know it will not. I’m at a loss for words.

To say that these past weeks have been devastating would be a huge understatement and, in a way, somewhat disrespectful to those who have had their world flipped upside down. With that being said, a lot of people are staying home, which is good. Be responsible. A lot of you are stuck inside with your significant others. I feel for you, too. Hopefully, by the time you read this, we’ll no longer be hiding from a virus. But, just in case we are, here are some cocktails to make at home, while we’re trying to stay sane and keep hope alive.

I’m going to pick two spirits this month (bourbon and agave) and give a drink recommendation for each. If we’re still asked to stay at home a month from now, I’ll pick two more, rinse and repeat. So get out your jiggers, measuring spoons — whatever you’ve got — and try to have fun together, before you claw each other’s eyes out. As for me, all I can say is, “Cheers to being single!”

Bourbon

Besides drinking whiskey neat, there are myriad things that you can mix up at home, but for now we’ll stick with a classic. For those of you who come back to read this mess month after month, I know that I’m reposting this, but we may have some new friends tuning in.

Old-Fashioned

The definitive cocktail, right? Spirit, sugar, bitters and water. There ya go. Personally, I prefer a rye whiskey, but when you’re stuck at home, you play with the hand you’ve been dealt. By the way, I’ve been told that our local ABC stores are essential, so I guess things could be worse. Here’s how I build an old-fashioned when I’m home. I take my rocks glass and add a quarter-ounce of a rich demerara syrup. (To make that I stir together two parts demerara sugar and one-part water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.) After the syrup, I add three dashes of Angostura bitters, one dash of Regan’s orange bitters, and one dash of Angostura orange bitters. Why two different orange bitters? Because I’m complex. No. Because the Regan’s is dry and the Ango is sweet. Together they bring an orange balance. If you are tuning in for the first time, I completely understand that now is the time you turn the page and read something else. No offense taken.

Add two ounces of whichever whiskey you’ve got on hand and give it all a quick stir. Next is ice. I use a large cube and stir for 50 or so revolutions, until the glass is chilled, and you feel the drink has been properly diluted. Remember, water is an ingredient, so make sure you stir. Then I’ll take a swath of orange and lemon peels, expressing oils over the drink, and put them in my cocktail. If you feel it looks good enough to drink, then do it.

Agave

It’s warming up. My favorite time of year is here, and it’s almost literally the only thing I’m smiling about these days. Margarita season is upon us. If you’re new to this column, first thing’s first: no store-bought mix. Ever. Take it out of your mind. It doesn’t exist. Here’s how to make a somewhat-decent ‘Rita from scratch. Grab a cocktail shaker. If you don’t have one, maybe you have a protein shaker. Not ideal, but who cares; you want a margarita, right? Add 3/4 to an ounce of fresh lime juice (you’ll need to squeeze your own) into the shaker. Take a rich simple syrup (refer to the old-fashioned recipe to make it yourself, but use white or cane sugar instead), adding a quarter or half-ounce to the shaker. If you like your margarita a bit sweeter, opt for the half-ounce. Add roughly a half-ounce of Cointreau (orange liqueur). If you only have triple sec, that will do. If you have none of the above, that’s OK, too. I’ll give you an alternative in a few.

Now comes the tequila. You’ll want a blanco tequila — it’s clear and unaged; light and crisp; perfect for margaritas. If you have a reposado, that will most definitely work as well. If you only have an añejo, I wouldn’t dare. Pour two ounces of the tequila into the shaker. Before you add ice, make sure you have your drinkware ready. If you’re having it on the rocks, make sure your glass is packed with ice. If you’d like to have a salted rim, take a lime wedge, and rim it around the glass. I recommend only rimming half of the glass; that way you can switch back and forth from a salted sip to a non-salted sip. If you’re having your drink straight up, make sure your coupe or martini glass has been in your freezer while you’ve been preparing it. Now add a lot of ice to your mixing vessel, seal it, and shake the hell out of it until it’s nice and frosty (if you’re actually using the protein shaker, you bro-shake it hard for about 10-15 seconds). Strain your margarita over ice or in your coupe. If you didn’t have an orange liqueur to add, you can take the peel of an orange, and spray the oils over the cocktail like we did with the old-fashioned. You can also add a lime wedge on the glass for a garnish, but I usually drink mine instantly and forget.

Stay well everyone.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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