It’s 2020 in America, and there’s no place to drink but home.
Yes, some bars are still open. Some bartenders are still making great drinks. But many bars are closed. And even the ones that are open — well, who knows how long that will last? Sure, you can get a $16 takeout cocktail, but you’re probably not getting the full $16 cocktail experience.
This is the reality: You are your own bartender now. You may as well learn to be good at it.
That’s what this newsletter is about. It’s exclusively focused on helping you make delicious, high-quality cocktails on your own, in the comfort of your own home.
Many guides to making cocktail are, not surprisingly, written by bartenders. There’s nothing wrong with that, and many cocktail books are full of useful tips, techniques, and recipes. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I plan to recommend many of them for further reading.
But it means they are written by professionals who are in the business of making drinks not only to be consumed but to be sold, by people who live and breathe high-end booze. Many of them are full of recipes with expensive, hard-to-find ingredients, and custom concoctions that can be intimidating or difficult to make for novices, or even seasoned home bartenders. They don’t approach cocktails and cocktail-making like a home bartender.
I know, because I once was one of those novices.
A decade ago, I didn’t know rum from rye, a Negroni from a Moscow Mule. I couldn’t have made even the most basic Martini without Googling a recipe — and even then, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which recipes were worth making.
I am not a professional bartender, and I’m not trying to teach you to do what a professional bartender does.
What I am is a someone who makes really good cocktails at home. I learned to make those cocktails by reading a lot of books, buying a lot of bottles, and drinking — and making — an awful lot of drinks. Along the way, I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned some things. What I hope to do is help you avoid the former by sharing the latter.
I also went to a lot of bars, including some of the best cocktail bars in the country. I love those bars, and no amount of home bartending perfectionism will ever replace the pure experience of someplace like Dante, The Varnish, or The Columbia Room. Those places are perfect and magical, and I desperately hope they return to their full glory soon.
But in the meantime, if you just want to drink great drinks, you can learn to make them yourself. And here’s the other thing: Making those drinks yourself will cost you a lot less than going to a top-notch cocktail bar, at least on a per-drink basis. In many cases, that $16 cocktail will cost you just $2 or $3 if you make it at home.
Also, making cocktails at home is incredibly fun and rewarding.
Now, I won’t shy away from pricey bottles when I think they’re called for. Nor will I completely avoid complex, resource-intensive projects. But I’ll try to help you decide which bottles are worth the splurge, and whether batched drinks or custom ingredients that take a month or more to make (yes, really) are actually worth it.
I’ll also spend a fair amount of time discussing fundamentals: basic techniques and ingredients, recipe variations and theory, important bottles and classic drinks. I don’t just want to teach you how to make cocktails, but how to think about them.
Making cocktails is an art, and good bartenders often appear to be concocting liquid magic tricks. But making cocktails is also a kind of engineering exercise, with core principles and recurring structures that define virtually all classic and contemporary drinks. Cocktails aren’t just arbitrary recipes you follow. They are ideas and frameworks that vary and repeat, families and concepts as much as specific drinks and formulas. But of course, they are recipes too, and I’ll go over plenty of those along the way.