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Desert Companion

Drinking: Home is Where the Buzz Is

If you’re on lockdown, might as well have some locktails. Here’s our tip sheet on the art of domestic drinking

It’s a bit of irony that the pandemic closed the bars and made many of us need a stiff drink at the same time. But humans — and especially Las Vegans — know how to adapt. Here are some tips on keeping your spirits up (literally) during the downtime.

Kits and Premix Pick-Me-Ups

Sparrow + Wolf ‘s Easy Peasy with Ketel One vodka and fresh mint. Photography by Sabin Orr

As takeout food has gone from pizza and drive-thru fare to multicourse gourmet dinners, beverage options have kept pace. Through its pantry, Sparrow + Wolf (sparrowandwolflv.com) offers two original cocktails to go, made right before you arrive and decanted into environmentally responsible packages. The Easy Peasy infuses Ketel One vodka with mint and snap peas; It’s Hot in the Dining Room is a rendition of a Caipirinha with Cachaça, passion fruit, and lime.

Along with a plethora of pasta, North Italia (northitalia.com) has a half-dozen kits and pre-mixed drinks that put flavorful twists on classic libations. There are mimosas and spritzers and red sangria; the Sicilian Margarita gets its name and flavor from Solerno blood orange liqueur and a splash of sangria, which add a sort of fruity, floral richness to the Gran Centenario Anejo, while the Milano Mule spikes vodka and ginger beer with aperol and lime. 

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North Italia’s Sicilian Margarita with Solerno blood orange liqueur

North Italia’s Sicilian Margarita with Solerno blood orange liqueur. Photography by Sabin Orr

Downtown’s Tacotarian (tacotarianlv.com) serves up margaritas to go with your elote or enchiladas. There are also margaritas in the mix at China Poblano’s to-go window (chinapoblano.com), which come in their own shaker. The Prickly Pear is given a light, citrusy touch with Milagro Silver tequila with grapefruit and lime; the watermelon version with mezcal and chile has a richer flavor that fits well with fall.

Canned & Bottled

Premixed cocktails have been around for decades, but they’ve come a long way from the bottles of Brass Monkey or Long Island Iced Tea I used to drink in Central Park during my misspent youth. Liquor store shelves are full of options that are more upscale-mixologist than well-drink-by-a-rookie-bartender, and they can add a bit of festivity to any picnic or outdoor cocktail hour.

10 Torr Distilling & Brewing (10torr.com) is a Reno company with several varieties of distilled spirits, but its collection of canned cocktails are bubbly refreshers perfect for warm weather. The vodka-spiked Lavender Lemonade combines subtle-yet-present flavors to make it something special either out of the can or on the rocks, and its Cucumber Cooler is like spa water with a buzz factor. Joia Spirit (joiaspirit.com) is another purveyor of fizzy lifting drinks — originally a gourmet soda company, it creates bubbly versions of classic cocktails. The Sparkling Greyhound’s grapefruit has hints of chamomile and cardamom, and the Gin Gimlet is touched with hibiscus and ginger. Fling Craft Cocktails (boulevard.com/fling) also makes a line of cocktails in cans covered with cute, kitschy art. The Mai Tai and Mojito make for especially pleasant sippers, even if they don’t quite carry as much octane as their regularly mixed versions. If it’s octane you’re looking for, consider Slow & Low’s Rock and Rye (drinkslowandlow.com), a complete Old Fashioned in a can, with carefully sourced honey, orange, bitters, and a pinch of rock candy.

If you want something a bit stronger both in taste and ABV percentage, a number of coffee-based cocktails on the market will help keep your day drink from slipping into naptime. Beagans 1806 Coffee & Cream (beagans1806.com) is like a Frappuccino’s evil twin — coffee and cream sweetness that disguises a vodka kick, but Cutwater’s Horchata Cold Brew Cocktails (cutwaterspirits.com) hit you with the vodka and cream liqueur up front before settling in with a little cinnamon buzz.

Unlike most companies dealing in the premixed market, On the Rocks (ontherockscocktails.com) uses a variety of brands in its cocktails. The Jalapeño Pineapple Margarita is made with Tres Generaciones Tequila — it’s sweet without being cloying and spicy without being hot, and slides easily from one to the other like any fine cocktail should. It also takes on the less-obvious Aviation, capturing the cocktail’s opalescent color and delicate flavor. Unscrew the cap, pour into a cup with ice, and any drive-in or driveway becomes your own swank speakeasy.

Mixing it Up at Home

Of course, if you want to do your own shaking and stirring, there’s no dearth of exotic bottles in the liquor store and elaborate recipes online. However, Keith Bracewell of Esther’s Kitchen (estherslv.com) has advice for aspiring mixologists. “Start simple. A simple daiquiri — light rum, fresh lime, and sugar — or an Old Fashioned, then you can start departing from those things. What can you add to give it a kick?”

Kat Kinsman, senior editor at Food & Wine, suggests a few bottles that can add a new flavor to old classics. “Domaine de Canton is a ginger liqueur. I pop it in anywhere as the sweet element where I otherwise might use Triple sec or Curaçao because it adds a little heat and is almost savory,” she says, adding, “Punt e Mes (vermouth) is unexpectedly versatile as an ingredient as a standalone. It’s got that almost amaro thing in its bitterness and just feels like it has an extra octave.”

But you don’t always need to buy a new bottle to add a kick. Alyssa Ocampo, manager at Sparrow + Wolf, suggests “making syrups at home. You probably have all of the stuff in your pantry. It’s sugar and water and you can add whatever flavors you have. If you have herbs that might go bad, throw some basil, some thyme in there. If you have vanilla, you can make a vanilla simple syrup.” She also suggests that bitters become a part of your home bar setup. “You can completely change the taste of a cocktail by adding bitters. The two everyone should have are an Angostura and an orange.”

Bracewell draws attention to another ingredient many overlook: The ice. “If your ice is made with tap water as opposed to purified water, that’s a really important detail I think a lot of people overlook.” He also encourages a lot of ice in the shaker. And don’t hesitate to go big. “If you have a spirit-driven cocktail with no juice or little juice, use a bigger cube. It will melt slowly and you’ll have less watery cocktail. If you have juice-driven cocktails, use smaller ice.” He also stresses the use of fresh juices. “Always have citrus in your house. If you’re going to make cocktails, you need to have limes, you need to have lemons, you need to have oranges.” Still, don’t let yourself get stressed out. If you make a mistake, just toss it in the sink and start over. “Experiment and have fun. There’s really no wrong way,” Ocampo says.

Meadow Gimlet

The addition of a little basil and blueberry goes a long way to turning the gimlet from something you sip to something you have to make sure you don’t gulp. You can adapt this recipe to other herb-berry combos, like rosemary and blackberry or lavender with strawberry.

3 oz. gin or vodka

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

3/4 oz. basil simple syrup (see below)

10-15 blueberries

 

Muddle blueberries with lime juice in shaker. Add gin/vodka, simple syrup and plenty of ice. Shake and strain into cocktail glass, garnish with several berries on a pick.

Basil Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 cup basil leaves

 

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for several minutes, then remove from heat and let steep for 30-45 minutes. Strain out basil leaves and store in a sealed glass container.

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