Tax Day got you down? We feel your pain. There goes that $100 bottle of Scotch we’d been eyeing.
But there are indeed ways to drink like a high-roller without spending like one. We enlisted the help of Julie Reiner, master mixologist and owner of famed New York bars Flatiron Lounge and Clover Club, to share some dollar-pinching tips. Not only is she a pro at mixing fancy cocktails, but she’s also got know-how about cocktailing on a budget.
“The tools and out-there spirits a bartender uses, you don’t necessarily need at home,” Reiner says. Her motto: Start small then build up.
Reiner says there’s no need to stock up on a dozen expensive bottles right off the bat: “The best thing to do is build your bar one cocktail at a time. Figure out what kind of cocktail you like and go from there.”
If you like clear spirits, Reiner recommends Wodka Vodka (“it’s something like $10 a bottle”), Gordon’s Gin (“it’s not the best gin out there, but it makes a great drink”), Pueblo Viejo Tequila and El Dorado 3 Year Old Cask Aged White Rum. More of a whiskey fan? Try Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Evan Williams Bourbon (“it’s cheap, but it’s really tasty”) or White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky—all great options for the price.
Your home bar demands a great book. Reiner recommends Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail. “It’s a really great book for the home bartender,” she says. “You know all of the drinks Dale has in his book are going to taste great.” She also likes Esquire Drinks, cocktail historian David Wondrich’s guide to all things cocktail: “It’s a great read, and he’s such a funny writer.” One more read: Reiner will have her own home bartending book out next year.
Instead of spending dough on fancy liqueurs and other high-priced cocktail ingredients, try making your own. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, really. You probably already have many of the necessary ingredients lying around, and anything else you need will cost less than buying a name brand. A few easy starter projects: If you have cream, Irish whiskey and chocolate syrup, you’re well on your way to Irish cream. Have a dusty bottle of vodka? Make your own gin. Like things sweet? Try a liqueur. For a more intensive at-home project, you can assemble a batch of apple or pear bitters.
Unfortunately, posh barware from top shops like Cocktail Kingdom isn’t always a viable option. So if you want to buy a reasonably priced shaker, muddler or bar spoon, Reiner suggests visiting a restaurant supply store, which offers durable options at great prices. Need glassware? Try searching your local flea market. “You can find some really fantastic glassware in antique stores,” Reiner says. “You can get really cool era pieces—and not pay much.”
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.