If we can’t go to the bars, we’ll bring the bars to you.
London may be on lockdown but that shouldn’t get in the way of a decent tipple, so we’ve gone to one of the best in the business – Salvatore Calabrese, global powerhouse, multi award-winning mixologist and officially one of the world’s best bartenders – to find out what the secret ingredients are to an at-home bar that feels as good as a sexy, lowlit cocktail den.
Salvatore usually heads up one of London’s chicest bars, Donovan’s at Brown’s Hotel which is without a doubt one of the capital’s coolest drinking dens, from the ’60s fashion photography adorning the walls the the mind-blowing cocktail list. If you’ve not been, make sure it’s on your post-lockdown list and make a note to order the ‘Sparkling Side Of The Moon,’ one of the most innovative cocktails in the world – it genuinely looks like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover when viewed from above.
In the meantime, here’s everything you need to turn a nook of your home into a cocktail bar-worthy drinking spot, from the essential tools to the spirits you need to stock. Plus, Salvatore’s three favourite, failsafe cocktails to make during lockdown.
1. Keep it simple
A good bar only needs a simple recipe: a good location, a strong and creative team and a cocktail menu to suit all tastes but that is playful at the same time. It’s got to have the best hospitality without it being soulless and I am proud to say we have all these at the Donovan Bar.
2. Start with the basics
There is a vast and incredible choice of spirits on the market today, but it’s important to decide on just a small but good selection of premium spirits – they are the canvas of any great cocktail.
For the ultimate at-home bar use the following as your checklist and build your selection up:
Plus, basic liqueurs such as
- Triple Sec
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3. It pays to go premium
Making a cocktail does not disguise a cheap product. I would always choose a premium spirit to provide a quality drink.
4. Keep your mixers as natural as possible
Try not to use flavoured, supermarket-bought mixers and get your favours to come naturally from the ingredients you use. Tonic water, soda, ginger ale and a good quality agave nectar will form the basis of your mixer collection.
5. Don’t forget your vermouths and bitters
Many cocktails are made with vermouth and bitters – historically they were the stars of the cocktails before we began using fresh ingredients – so they are very important to add to your at-home bar if you want a professional feel.
When it comes to vermouths, it’s good to have some that are both sweet and dry. For me, Campari is a must as my favourite cocktail is a Negroni, and there is no Negroni without Campari! A good selection of bitters such as the classic Angostura Bitter, Peychaud Bitter and orange bitter – these are the basics but the options these days are endless.
6. The key to any great drink is that the garnish must reflect the drink
Simple garnishes are my favourite – at the Donovan Bar, we elaborate with our garnishes as people are paying premium prices but at home, a simple twist of citrus or wedge of lemon, lime or orange or sprig of fresh mint is just perfect.
7. Invest in the right tools
- Cocktail shaker
- Mixing glass
- Bar spoon
- Spirit measure
All of these things can be improvised with standard kitchen equipment.
If you do not have a shaker, use a screw top jar or a jug with a lid.
If you don’t have a mixing glass, use a standard kitchen-measuring jug.
If you need to strain a cocktail use a fine kitchen strainer and the end of a rolling pin for muddling.
To measure, use a measuring spoon or jug and mark up a glass with the different measurements.
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8. Great cocktails need great glasses
For the ultimate at-home bar you will need:
- A classic cocktail glass or a coupe glass for any straight up drink such as a martini-style drink, a Manhattan or a White Lady.
- An Old Fashioned or rock glass for drinks such as a Negroni, an Old Fashioned or a Margarita on the rocks.
- A highball glass for any long drink such as a G&T, Gin Fizz, Mojito, Moscow Mule or Bloody Mary.
- Champagne flutes for champagne-based drinks such as a Bellini or a French 75 and all the classic champagne cocktails.
9. Don’t forget ice
At home, I have been making my own ice f cooled boiled water or water from a filter jug as I to avoid having any chlorine in the ice.
Make it in a shallow tray and break it into random lumps. Alternatively, there are lots of moulds you can buy if you’re after something a bit more style-led. You can also play around with adding citrus zest, herbs or berries to your ice mould to add some colour to a simple long drink such as a G&T.
Salvatore’s Top 3 At-Home Tips
- Plan ahead if you are entertaining.
- Use fresh ingredients wherever possible.
- It is all about simplicity – do not try to be too adventurous.
Salvatore’s Top 3 Cocktail Recipes
- 30ml Gin
- 30ml Campari
- 30ml Sweet Vermouth
- Build in a glass with ice.
- Garnish with a slice of orange.
- 50ml Gin
- 15ml Cointreau
- 15ml fresh lemon juice
- 1 bar spoons of fine shred orange marmalade
- Mix the marmalade with the other ingredients in the bottom of a shaker.
- Add ice and shake.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a few fine shreds of orange zest.
- 50ml tequila
- 25ml fresh lime juice
- 20ml agave nectar
- Pour all the ingredients into a shaker with ice
- Shake and pour the contents into an old-fashioned glass.
- Garnish with a wedge of lime.