Tell a 20-something New Yorker that you’re spending the week eating in, and you’ll surely get some surprised responses; still, thanks to a new bloom of food-savvy home and community cooks (Cathy included), you probably won’t face blank stares. Tell a 20-something New Yorker that you’re no longer going to drink at bars or clubs, and you might have a harder time selling the idea that you haven’t completely receded from polite society.
Having been sober for twenty-two years of my life, I can say with confidence that there’s a world of socially contractual difference between missing a nice dinner out with friends and ditching the party afterward (or – even more to the point – showing up to the party but deciding not to drink). Not only is the bar tab of youth a more substantial drain on the metropolitan budget than food, for many it casts a deeper anchor in the currents of life.
Thankfully, the art of drinking in, which draws strength from its own coteries of home brewers, cocktail enthusiasts, beer geeks and Scotch guards, shares with the art of eating in a principle of higher standards – for the taste of alcohol, for it terms of service, for its sense of history and for the creativity and community that can foment inspiration in the simplest of forms. Add to this sense of pride in retaking booze the phenomenally low cost of imbibing at home, as well as the consideration that drinking well from your own liquor cabinet is much less demanding than eating well from your own kitchen, and you’ve got a comprehensive case for passing on that $50 night in a sweaty, crowded bar.
It’s definitely possible to eat sustainably and deliciously on a budget. Incorporating booze into that budget will allow you to further improve the quality of both endeavors – it’s because I don’t spend my Saturday night at a Manhattan bar that I don’t think twice about buying a high quality, sustainably farmed pork roast to cook for Tuesday’s dinner. This is softball coming from the mouth of a homebody, but for every dollar I save on drinking – which in my mind is more fun and more flavorful when done with friends in my living room – frees up a dollar for other forms of entertainment, including but not limited to fried chicken.
So, in terms of cash and culture, having friends over for cocktails was an integral part of my week of eating in. Investing in a few basic ingredients, almost all of which are nonperishable, will afford you a similar power. Since I’m a lover of whiskey, I offer here some basic knowledge and guidelines on how to make some outstanding cocktails with the classic American spirits: bourbon and rye.
Which whiskeys to mix?
While small batch distilleries are no joke, when it comes to filling your own liquor cabinet for the purpose of mixed drinks, you don’t need to shell out for weapons grade stock. Maker’s Mark is still the best all-purpose bourbon I’ve used – it’s fairly priced for its quality, its slightly sweet edge makes it perfect for whiskey drinks, and when all goes to Hell it’s great on its own.
Old Overholt ain’t so tremendous on its own, but gives you one mighty bang for your buck in whiskey cocktails. Sazerac is also a great value. If you’re going to be mixing your rye don’t do it with the nectar of higher shelf bottles.
-1 sugar cube or 1 tsp sugar or 1 oz. simple syrup
-Cocktail bitters to taste (at least 2 dashes)
-3 oz. bourbon or rye
Mix bitters and sugar well at bottom of glass. Add ice cube and bourbon. Stir to chill, then serve.
As you’ll see in today’s video, a good old fashioned is one of the most elegant drinks you can make, and it’s a lot easier than most bars make it seem. The simple combination of sugar, bitters and whiskey and straightforward process of mixing in the glass grants you complete control over every dimension of flavor. If you dislike sweetness, cut down on sugar. If you can’t take too much bitter, ease off on the bitters (or, better yet, experiment with different types of flavored bitters). If you’re a lightweight, pour less whiskey or boost the ice content. An old fashioned isn’t about stubborn proportions and long-held beliefs, it’s about simplicity, strength and good taste.
-1 oz. red vermouth
-3 oz. bourbon or rye
-Cocktail bitters to taste (at least 3-5 dashes)
Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Pour whiskey, vermouth and bitters into glass.
Stir to chill, strain into a chilled glass and serve.
The Manhattan is also a surprisingly simple drink, but offers subtle paths to failure. Namely: The inclusion of vermouth demands a stronger sense of balance to make sure everything plays nice. It also demands that whoever owns the vermouth does not leave it out on the shelf after opening; vermouth is one cocktail ingredient that is perishable, so buy the smallest bottle possible, refrigerate after opening and throw it out after a month. The rest is as printed: stir (don’t shake), don’t add or remove anything, and make sure to serve in a chilled glass, and you’ll be on your way.
-1/2 oz. dry vermouth
-1/2 oz. Amer Picon or Cointreau
-1 1/2 oz. rye
-Dash or two of maraschino liqueur
Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Pour rye, vermouth and liqueurs into glass. Stir to chill, strain into a chilled glass and serve.
The Brooklyn might be my favorite here – buying maraschino liqueur and cointreau might seem excessive steps for one who wants to keep things simple, but it was definitely a worthwhile investment in my house. Mix as you would in making a Manhattan and you’ll be experiencing this cocktail’s sweet, smooth and punchy character in no time.
Thanks to the natural properties of liquor, infusion is a simple process. Spices take well to gin; herbs, fruit and vegetables take well to vodka; and my favorite infusion, tea, takes extremely well to bourbon. Drop two bags of black tea into a mason jar of that wonderful stuff, let them steep for forty minutes or so, remove, and you’ll be left with the key ingredient in one of my favorite concoctions:
The Black Tea Manhattan
-3/4 oz. red vermouth
-3 oz. black tea-infused bourbon
-4 dashes Angostura bitters
-1 dash each coffee and cherry bitters, if present
Make a Manhattan. You should know how by now :]
-Yogurt with frozen berries and granola
-Red beans and toast
-Mixed greens with diced apple
-Braised lamb shanks with wine sauce
-Roasted beets and yukon gold potatoes
-Homemade blueberries-and-cream pie