Day 39 of lockdown. That’s 39 days since most of us have been to work. 39 days since we’ve sat down in a restaurant. And, perhaps most importantly, 39 long, arduous, unbearable days since we had a perfectly mixed Martini.
Okay, maybe that shouldn’t be our top priority. But we’re frankly getting tired of our own miserably mixed efforts on the cocktail front. The Old Fashioned without the bitters. The Moscow Mule without the lime juice. The Mojitos without the fresh mint leaves. God, what are we? Savages?
So we’ve tapped Cristian Silenzi for some advice. As the bartender of The Savoy’s American and Beaufort Bars — although not at the moment, obviously — the Italian knows a darn sight more about drinks than we do. And, as you can expect, he’s got one hell of a home bar. So, if you’re looking to better your own home bar, or turn your living room into a cocktail lounge, Silenzi has some words of wisdom…
Your bar needs a bar before it needs bottles
Currently, Silenzi lives in Islington’s appropriately Italian Terrazza I Principi residences. Both he and his fellow bartender flatmates dreamt big when they moved in back in February — and built their own home bar just weeks before lockdown was announced. Talk about timing. But how did they create such an impressive set-up on a shoestring budget?
“So we had the bar built in our previous house,” says Silenzi, “and we just restyled it to fit in our new home. And it actually looks like a proper bar, with a counter, shelves and all the equipment. We created and shaped the counter from wood and the shelves are made from wooden wine boxes. We even added lights, and cages to keep the bottles we care about most safe. This way, its functionality is improved — and we also painted the counter black to match the colour of our new living room!”
And your bottles should tell a story
So what was the first bottle Silenzi bought for his bar? “Campari, of course,” the Italian answers. We should have guessed. And, although the bartender and his flatmates have over 350 bottles in total, the bar isn’t big enough to house every syrup, spirit and liqueur they own.
“The most important bottles we have,” says Silenzi, “are probably the jeroboam of Campari that Angelo [Sparvoli, bartender at Kwānt London] won in a competition, the jeroboam of Belvedere from a big party of ours, and a bottle of Varnelli — a dry anise spirit from our region of Italy, Le Marche. We’ve even got a couple of empty ones, such as the magnum of Louis Roederer we opened when we won at the Tales of the Cocktail ‘Spirited Awards’.”
Silenzi adds that the bottles are only half of what makes a bar great. In addition to the alcohol, he reveals that his flatmates have amassed a wide range of glassware, from Tiki mugs to Champagne flutes. “The vessel,” he explains, “has a significant role. It valorises flavour and aroma, keeps the temperature right and makes the drink look appealing in appearance.”
So how can you better your own home bar during the lockdown?
“Keep it simple,” advises Silenzi. “A range of £15 to £25 per bottle is more than enough to begin with. Gins like Beefeater and Tanqueray are great products and make great cocktails. You don’t need a really rare bottle of whiskey to make a good drink.
“And freshness makes all the difference,” the bartender adds. “All the juices must be from actual fruit you’ve bought and squeezed. Cartons are not an option.”
The equipment used in his home bar, Silenzi continues, is not what you might expect. There are no decadent cocktail shakers or highly specialist tools here. “Most of the equipment we even have in actual bars nowadays are borrowed from other professions,” he says, “and it shows just how versatile tools can be.
“You can easily substitute purpose-made bar tools with regular utensils you can find in your kitchen,” he adds. “You can measure out your spirits using an espresso cup. You can wash out and shake your cocktails in the glass jar that once contained your green olives — if it’s big enough. You can use a pint glass as a mixing glass, or a chopstick as a stirrer. The only limit is your imagination!”
So what cocktails should you be attempting at home?
“There are so many books about so many drinks categories,” says Silenzi. “Tiki, classic, modern — you can find infinite sources of knowledge. But, as a bartender, I like to personalise my drinks. For instance, at home, usually I don’t garnish my drinks so they keep their original flavour.”
Below are three of Silenzi’s own personal recipes; twists on traditional serves the Italian likes to mix at his home bar:
For an at-home Espresso Martini, take 50ml of coffee made in a Moka Pot, and shake with 45ml VKA Vodka, 15ml Campari and 15ml Sugar Syrup. Double strain into a coupette glass.
To make a Campari Shakerato, shake 50ml Campari and 10ml Woodford Reserve Double Oak with 6 Mint Leaves. Double strain into a Nick & Nora glass.
A Trinidad Sour can be created by shaking 30ml Angostura Bitters, 30ml Monin Orgeat Syrup and 30ml Lime Juice, and straining into a sour glass.
More of a wine man? Here are the best reasonably priced bottles to invest in during lockdown…
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