Bar Staples

Don’t come home without ’em

By Tony Cross

I’d like to thank the editors for making this article an absolute breeze for me to write. When I learned the theme of September’s issue was Home & Garden, I couldn’t resist sharing what I keep in my personal liquor cabinet — my home bar staples. I may be biased, but I’d say it’s pretty gratifying when you get that quiet nod of approval from your guests when they inspect your liquor cabinet. Now, for those of you who are lacking in liquor, I assure you creating an impressive spread does not have to be a daunting process. Some couples or singles will throw “Stock the Bar” parties when they move into a new apartment or home, and that’s a great way to have a little liquor inventory on your hands. But what if you’re not moving anytime soon, or worse, your friends have lousy taste in spirits? This is an easily remedied problem. Here are some of my home essentials; if any of these are foreign to you, then give it a shot. Pun intended.

Orange Bitters

Let’s start with the smallest ingredient that will go into your cocktail. I’m talking about bitters: the salt and pepper of your drink. Admittedly, Angostura Aromatic bitters is the obvious choice to have on hand; there is none better. However, having the right blend of orange bitters can take your old-fashioned to the next level. I say “blend” because after taking notes from other bartending books years back, I’ve learned that I like my orange bitters as follows: equal parts Regan’s Orange and Angostura Orange Bitters. Gary Regan’s formula is more bitter and tastes more like an orange peel to me, while the Angostura has a sweet, almost candy-like aesthetic to it. Put them together, and you get, well, the best of both worlds. The next time you’re making an old-fashioned, add a few dashes (in combination with Angostura Aromatic bitters), and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

TOPO Organic Vodka

Disclaimer: Tito’s vodka isn’t bad. I’ve enjoyed it plenty. But it’s getting a bit cumbersome having to hear people maraud their two cents into conversations about how it’s “the best vodka out there.” Nonsense. If Tito’s was made in Turkey, and not Texas, no one would care about it. Don’t believe me? Try Chapel Hill’s own TOPO vodka side by side with the Lone Star State’s beloved spirit. What intrigued me on first taste was its touch of sweetness. (Is it from the “organic, soft red Carolina wheat” they use when distilling it? I don’t know. I asked TOPO spirit guide, Esteban, one night over a round of drinks, and in Tony fashion, forgot.) Anyhow, I firmly believe it trumps other vodkas on the market. Buy a bottle and try it for yourself. If anything, you’ll have supported a local distillery that graciously supports the community. I’ve always enjoyed TOPO vodka as follows:

The Wallsteen

Build in a rocks glass:

Large ice cube

2 ounces TOPO Vodka

2 ounces fresh-squeezed organic grapefruit juice

(That’s all. And boy, is it delicious.)

Campari

Ah, yes. I would have never imagined years ago that if Campari ran out in my quaint bachelor’s pad, I would mutter, or scream, depending on the day. As a matter of fact, one of my first bartending gigs was at a little restaurant, and they carried the Amaro. No one ever ordered it, and the bottle was always three-quarters full. That is, until one night when a lady stopped over to have a Campari and soda. She rambled about how she “only drinks Campari” and how “it’s so sophisticated,” and blah, blah, blah. I looked at her like she was hallucinating and stopped listening. But damn, she was right. My first time trying Campari was in a Negroni, and I thought, “This is awful!” Things change, and over time, so have my taste buds. Just as I’ve grown to love certain vegetables and herbs, I’ve changed my tune over certain types of beer, wine and spirits/liqueurs. Another reason that I probably stared at my first Negroni with disgust is because I made it and totally butchered the job. A few months later, it clicked. I had it before dinner, and it was the perfect complement. I was just discussing Amaro the other day with someone who said, “The older I get, the more bitter I like my flavors.” I couldn’t agree more. Lately, I’ve been making passionate love to the Boulevardier; think Negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin. It’s the bomb, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

Boulevardier

Build in a rocks glass:
Large ice cube

1 1/4 ounces rye whiskey (Wild Turkey for the win)

3/4 ounce Campari

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (please try Dopo Teatro Cocchi Vermouth, it’s bitter too)

Stir for 15 seconds, and then express lemon peel lemon oils over the glass before dropping the peel in. From my liquor cabinet to yours, cheers!

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

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