Put down the boxed wine. Your favourite venues might be out of action right now, but it doesn’t mean your happy hour has to suffer. With a few well-chosen bottles of spirits, some imagination and a trip to the backyard, it’s possible to drink well without going out.
“[Right now] drinking is all about drinking better,” says bartender Matt Linklater, who typically mans the bar at Black Pearl in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.
Linklater is working from home right now, but often ends his days in lockdown with a vermouth on ice or a vermouth and soda. On the weekends he’s more likely to whip up a cocktail, or reach into the freezer for a batched Martini or Negroni.
“Every Friday I’ve been hosting a cocktail hour with my housemates,” he says. “It just breaks up the week. Last week was frozen Margaritas in the Nutribullet and the week before that was Cosmos. I don’t know what this week is going to be – maybe Mojitos because the weather is getting a little bit colder, so it’s the ultimate denial cocktail.”
We asked Linklater for his tips on setting up your home bar to prepare a range of easy-to-make cocktails – without shakers, strainers, muddlers, jiggers or any other tool that sounds like a Dickensian profession.
Your shopping list
“I always have four staples in my house,” says Linklater. “Gin is just super versatile. Whether you want something easy like a G&T, or something fancier like a Negroni, or a Martini. Tanqueray is a good choice because it’s got four botanicals, so it lends itself well to different types of drink.”
He also likes to have a sipping whisky handy “for late at night by the fire. Something usually from Ireland, so the smokier, peatier styles – like Caol Isla – the better.
Bottle three is an interesting vodka like Ketel One Citroen. “Probably a great excuse for more Cosmos,” says Linklater, “it’s use of lemon and lime plays perfectly.” And bottle four is Don Julio tequila – “because tequila is always fun,” he says. “I drink it on ice – smooth, peppery, textural – or use the Reposado in cocktails like a Tequila Espresso Martini or Old Fashioned.”
“At the Black Pearl during service, we generally batch everything,” says Linklater. “And I take that sensibility home as well.”
He finds batching makes the measurements more straightforward. “For example, Negronis are super simple,” he says. “[They’re] just three equal parts. It’s all ratio.”
A batch of Martinis – on the dryer side – is five parts gin to one part dry vermouth with a 30 per cent dilution (addition of ice). “I just leave that in the freezer and it’s ready to go whenever I am,” says Linklater.
He also has a sensible, potentially cost-saving tip for those trying at home for the first time: “Make sure you have all the ingredients before you start to batch, and add everything in cheapest to most expensive, just in case you mess it up.”
Mix it up
When mixing cocktails professionally, bartenders use a range of tools. Linklater says teacups are perfectly adequate measuring devices, and you can use tupperware as a makeshift cocktail shaker.
“You don’t need anything really,” says Linklater. “I have, in the past, shaken drinks in tupperware containers [and] protein shakers. Nutribullets are great, especially for frozen Margaritas. All you really need is a bottle to pre-dilute (add ice to) a Martini or a Manhattan and throw it straight in the freezer – then you don’t need any equipment at all.”
Another tip: “Use tablespoons and teaspoons in place of a measuring cup or a jigger that you’d have at the bar”.
If you feel like getting creative, Linklater recommends experimenting with flavours and garnishes, rather than spirits.
“[Trialling spirit combinations] can go really well but more often than not it goes very, very wrong,” says Linklater. “Even coming up with new drinks in the bar will generally take 10 to 20 attempts. We’re lucky we can allow for that. But if you’re at home, 10 or 20 attempts can be a whole bottle of gin you [didn’t really] enjoy.”
If you’re stuck for inspiration, look outside. In Australia, many residents have access to produce growing in the backyard, or community gardens and planter boxes.
“I have a lemon tree and a lime tree and my neighbour has an orange tree,” says Linklater. He says fruit can make a tasty addition to a drink, but citrus leaves and herbs are also aromatic add-ons. “There are fig trees in my neighbourhood, so fig leaves are amazing,” he says. “If you can just pick a couple of herbs – thyme or rosemary, mint, a little of coriander. Pepperberry leaf or the berry work really well.”
“If you’re going to use produce, just make sure it’s fresh and delicious,” he advises. “You can always mix up a classic cocktail with your favourite piece of produce. There’s really nothing wrong with chucking strawberry in a Negroni, for example.”
We asked Linklater for his batched Martini recipe.
Makes 5 serves. Approx. 2.2 standard drinks per serve.
300ml Tanqueray London Dry Gin
75ml dry vermouth
1½tsp white sugar
Good pinch of salt
Batch all ingredients into a clean bottle. Give it a good shake and keep in fridge. Half an hour before serving, place in freezer with your serving glasses. Garnish with an olive.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tanqueray London Dry Gin.