I’m excited to welcome my pal Amanda Fisher from EDIA Maps. We share a love for craft cocktails and I invited her back to the blog to talk about her home bar menu.
I started building my home bar when I co-hosted a 1960s-themed cocktail party with my friend and roommate at the time, Sarah. We had been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke, The Mar-Keys and Barney Kessel. After re-watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we were set on creating our own interpretation of the legendary party scene (minus the smoking hat!). We spent that winter researching more music and cocktails of the time, and finally we set up what was my first home bar at our “Cool Cats Club” party. A group of our friends rotated through to bartend, mixing up Manhattans, Grasshoppers and Slow Gin Fizzes from our cocktail menu. After that I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve had a cocktail menu at many parties and so has she. But this spring, my partner, Paul, and I decided to take it to a new level and develop a seasonal house menu that would be available anytime. We wanted something that could be a go-to when a friend dropped by and also an easy reference for ourselves, so when we wanted a drink, we wouldn’t have to flip through recipes, figuring out what we could make based on the ingredients we had in the house. We’d also noticed that when we made a round of the same drink for all our friends, we’d find out too late that one of them didn’t like gin… or whiskey, with their glass still full at the end of the night. We wanted everyone to have choices and to be comfortable asking for something they’d like.
We gave ourselves a few goals for this menu:
- Select a handful of favorite drinks that we loved enough to drink regularly,
- Include at least one cocktail featuring each of the basic liquors: whiskey, gin, rum and vodka,
- Use ingredients we could easily keep on-hand or prep every week or two,
- Pick drinks to go with the season.
We had just as much fun making the menu as we’ve had drinking from it. We used this assignment as a way to get creative with the home bar we had been building for years and ended up going well beyond the piles of cocktail recipes we had already collected or created. We mixed up new concoctions over a few weeks to “workshop” our ideas, infusing liquors and syrups; making spice, sugar and salt blends for rimmers, stockpiling all forms of ice, including crushed and infused; and juicing things we never thought we’d juice.
Both our spring and summer menus have been huge hits with our friends and have even inspired some of them to make their own menus. Really, what’s cooler than having your own cocktail bar right in your kitchen?!
Click through to see Amanda’s tips on crafting a home cocktail menu!
To craft your own house cocktail menu, use our goals above to guide you and pick at least three things to offer from the drink categories below.
Your Own Cocktail Creations
Use the things you already like as a springboard for making your own creations. This summer, we’ve really gotten into tiki, so we included a Bitter Mai Tai on the menu. Paul and I are also both beer-obsessed (We’re in the middle of creating The Great NC Beer Map with our map publishing company, EDIA), so that has shown up all over our menus, from a hopped sugar rim, to our Melon Baller with a hop-infused vodka made by Anchor Brewery and Distillery.
Include or Modify the Classics
The Old Fashioned, Dark and Stormy and Mint Julep are classics for a reason. Some people like to keep it simple, and some of your guests will appreciate something they know and trust. That’s not to say you can’t put your own spin on things, though. For your Old Fashioned, change out the type of bitters or the sugar (our favorite: coffee pecan bitters with maple syrup). For your Gin and Tonics, muddle in a little fruit or an herb or add a dash of bitters (our favorite: cucumber-lavender).
Recreate Bar Favorites
When we experience an amazing drink at a bar or restaurant, inevitably we try to recreate it at home, especially if it’s something we had when traveling that we can’t get again. For our spring menu, I recreated a delicious gin-based cocktail I had in Brooklyn that was super fresh and springy with muddled sugar snap peas and a lemongrass syrup. Even though you don’t have the drink recipe, you have the list of ingredients, so you can tinker a few times until you get it right… or at least come close.
Recipes from Other Sources
To make things easy, there’s no shame in skipping the home cocktail experiments altogether and including drinks from your favorite sources — blogs, books and magazines. Remember our Southern Islander Shrub — which we renamed the ‘Barbecue Bill’ for our menu — that was inspired by our NC BBQ map? Use that recipe, or any of the others found on Feast + West.
Go Beyond the Liquor
To accommodate the guests who don’t like liquor, include a local beer and/or wine, or even some nonalcoholic options. Maybe even feature something you picked up on your recent travels, which would be a great conversation starter. Paul is a homebrewer, so we included two of his beers on our current menu. We inspired some coffee-loving, homebrewing friends to create their own house drink menu, and they included a homebrewed imperial chocolate stout, a nitro cold brew and espresso with the beans aged in cognac barrels. (We requested a flight!) It’s all about the choices, not just the cocktails.
One last tip
Have fun with those final details, from the drink names to the paper it’s all printed on. There can be a personal story behind each of the names — what inspired the drink, a tie-in to an ingredient, a play on words. Choose fonts and paper that go with the season or with the theme you’ve created, or do like our friends, and go all digital on your iPad. Whatever you make, make it a reflection of you!