04 summer bar spirits
CNN  — 

Are you missing your favorite watering hole? Perhaps a little bored with the usual glass of wine or can of beer?

Then it’s time to lift your spirits – with your own spirits.

You could follow the crowd and try an Aperol Spritz; the Italian wine-based cocktail drink is on the rise yet again.

“We have bottles [of Aperol] flying off the shelf here at alarming rates,” says Liz Nicholson, who operates Frankly, a boutique wine shop in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood.

Spirit sales have been up in general, Nicholson says, noting that tequila has also been a big seller recently.

Nicholson, who considers agave a must-have item, attributes the high movement of tequila to a longing for a spring break that never happened. People who missed their beach trip, their week on a tropical island are trying to recreate that feeling at home, Nicholson speculates.

That means margaritas, daiquiris, blender drinks and more.

Whatever your poison, there’s never been a better time to build out your bar at home. CNN Travel will help you get stocked up for summer:

Highballs for all

“When it comes to highballs, it can be any spirit,” says Julia Momose, Chicago-based service-industry veteran who co-owns Bar Kumiko, a cocktail bar that’s transitioned to pick up during the pandemic.

If you’re not in Chicago or you want to DIY but aren’t sure where to begin, Momose suggests the trusty highball. A drink served over ice, it’s traditionally two ingredients made in one glass. You need a spirit and a mixer – the garnish is optional.

There are, of course, more complicated highball variations, depending on your mood, skill level and on-hand ingredients, but the most basic highballs require next to no skill. A matter of personal taste and preference, they are nearly as low-effort as pouring a glass of wine or cracking open a cold beer.

Ready-made drinks from the Wandering Barman for when you don't want to do any heavy lifting.

Rum and coke (Momose likes to add a splash of cynar, an herbacious Italian bitter liqueur, to hers). Gin and tonic. Gin and sonic (a take on the classic that includes part tonic water and part soda – Momose says it came over from Japan and is just a bit softer and lighter than the traditional drink).

“It’s G &T season,” Nicholson confirms, adding that aperitifs are also really big now. There’s the aforementioned Aperol, used in the Aperol Spritz (Prosecco, Aperol, splash of soda water), but it’s not the only accessible way to stimulate the appetite at home.

Caperitif, a South African liquor, is great on its own, on the rocks or cut with a little soda. It’s Nicholson’s current go-to. “I’m sure you could play around with it,” Nicholson says, in support of the highball’s versatility.

If you’re working on stocking a home bar on a budget, the two-ingredient highball is proof it can be done.

Recipe for rum

Got rum?

“Bartenders love daiquiris,” says Nick Bennett, beverage director of two Manhattan establishments: Porchlight and Cedric’s, both a part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.

Bennett admits that daiquiris have gotten a bad rap outside the bartending industry, but insists it’s not only a bartender favorite but it’s also an easy cocktail to make at home.

His off-the-cuff version:

Three quarters of an ounce of simple syrup, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice and 2 ounces of a Cuban-style white rum and a pinch of salt shaken in a shaker full of ice and then strained into a cocktail glass and served up with a lime wedge.

Aperol and Campari are two aperitifs that offer a lot of mixing possibilities.

What if you don’t have white rum – can you still make the drink? Bennett says absolutely. “It tastes great with any rum.”

Bennett is embracing of substitutions in general when it comes to mixing at home.

Want to make a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned but all out of whiskey? Try it with rum. Want to make a Negroni but all out of gin? Try it with tequila or mezcal.

No orange bitters but dying to make an El Presidente (rum, dry vermouth, grenadine, orange bitters)? An orange peel muddled will do the trick, says Momose.

Trial and error

“Ice is critical,” says Momose, who has been teaching cocktail classes online, presumably including some ice education. Whether in a highball or used in a shaker to stir a Manhattan or a martini, the flavor of the ice imparts itself into the drink.

If you have the means and the access to a specialty ice creator, such as Quari in Chicago, Momose recommends it.

“That kind of purchase is amazing, and it’s well worth it, honestly, especially if you’re going to spend time getting really beautiful spirits and mixers.”

A Ginjo Highball enjoyed from the comfort of one's home.

Momose has tips for making better ice at home – a process called directional freezing is implemented – but ultimately concedes that “air bubbles aren’t the worst thing in the world.”

If you’re using regular ice trays, you can wrap them in plastic wrap to help keep the other flavors of your freezer from getting in.

But however you decide to deal with the ice situation, maybe more important than crystal clear, pure cubes is getting the dilution right.

For cocktails served up, the ice is still a very important component to the overall content, explains Bennett.

Bennett is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to volume versus weight of the liquids and getting it all just right, but much of his expertise may be of little interest to the home bartender trying to make a serviceable Manhattan or martini.

For the cocktail lover not trying to make a profession out of happy hour at home, trial and error works as well as understanding the weight and volume of water and how it plays a role in the final product.

Bennett is a fan of making batches of cocktails, whereas Nicholson is not above recommending high-quality mixers or even premade drinks.

“If you finish your workday and you’re like, ‘OK, I’m ready for a cocktail,’ all you have to do is crack [one of] them [open] and pour over ice.”

Gin, bourbon, rye, rum, agave. Campari, Cynar, Aperol. Angostura bitters or Peychaud’s. Fancy mixers or grocery store generic brands.

Blended drinks or a scotch served neat.

Your bar, your rules.