After a long night of muddling, mixing and shaking, it’s no wonder bartenders keep it easy when it comes time to fix a drink for themselves. We talked to a dozen top bartenders around the country to find out what fills their glass once the crowds go home.
“I never make complex cocktails at home. I don't have the space and don't want to make the mess. So I'll do simple one-and-ones. When it’s colder, I love making hot cocoa at home and add either a peated scotch like the Ardmore or Bowmore or an aged rum, like El Dorado 15-year-old. I also love spiking black tea with low-ABV spirits like Cynar or Pimm's. Occasionally, I'll pour a simple Japanese Highball with Toki and cheap bodega club soda.”
“We keep it super simple around the house—almost always just wine and bourbon. Cheap French rosé is perfect couch wine any time of year. Elijah Craig small-batch bourbon warms up the colder nights.”
"Water and tea. Currently, there's Miller High Life in the fridge, heaps of liquor bottles on a cart and bottles of wine on my kitchen table. There are even Martini and beer glasses in the freezer, and the chances of any of it being drunk within the walls of my home are slim to none."
“I prefer to drink Micheladas all day at home sitting outside paired with a hot grill full of food. This is really the only time you will ever see me drinking beer as well. I like to set up my own build station and be in full control over my ratios. I also enjoy making my own spice for rimming the glass.”
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"When I am laying in bed being lazy catching up on emails, I love to have a sugar-free blackberry tea with tequila. I also love, love, love, when I'm cooking, Budweiser Micheladas or a tequila with Campari, soda and lemon—nothing too fancy or complicated.”
“Making drinks at home is my time to really experiment. I love trying new combinations but would never ask a bartender to experiment for me. Bartenders don't have time for that! I also love working with infused syrups and honeys, so I can effectively do that at home and make great drinks that I won't find anywhere else. I also love to go the simple route. I love drinking mezcals and tequilas neat, so I can really appreciate their unique flavors, but a lot of these can only be found in places that specialize in that. My other love? Calvados, which you don't find in most bars.”
"Here’s a dirty little secret: Most bartenders, myself included, hardly ever drink cocktails during their downtime. When I'm looking to unwind, my happy place is a shot of mezcal and an ice-cold Pacifico chaser. It remains special to me, because that first sip is always a blast back to drinking beers and eating plates of fresh ceviche on the sun-drenched streets of Tulum with my wife—not a bad escape after a long shift."
“In the wintertime, I always have a tub of spiced butter in my fridge for Hot Buttered Rum. I like to use an aged rum and spice my butter with nutmeg, cinnamon, green cardamom, ginger and, of course, a ton of sugar. The gluttonous warmth of this butter- and sugar-packed libation is perfect for warming the soul and easing the mind on a cold, gloomy day. Hot Buttered Rum is not the easiest thing to make and is hard to find in many bars. It’s so yummy and so decadent, I only want to drink it curled up on my couch anyway.”
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“My father-in-law lives in upstate New York and brews his own beer. He started a homebrew club with his buddies called the Newark Valley Brewers Guild. When he comes to visit, he brings down cases of whatever beer he has been working on. He made a great version of a cream ale (think Genesee cream ale) not too long ago. I’d never order a cream ale at a bar, but that beer was delicious. I was drinking that beer for weeks.”
"Recently, I have been going to small local liquor stores and buying bottles that I do not recognize. I take them home and try to pair them with whatever I have around: cava, farmhouse ales, parsnips, mangoes, etc. I recently bought a bottle of pulque and had a whole cucumber with it. It sounds silly, but I learn a lot about the spirit itself and its relationship with simple flavors this way. I couldn't exactly do this when ordering at a bar, so I stick with doing it at home.”
“The drinks that I make for myself are usually simple—scotch on the rocks, wine or beer. I hardly ever make cocktails at home, even though my home bar is equipped for it. But if I’m making a cocktail, it’s going to be a classic like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or a Martini. I have trouble finding bartenders that know how to make drinks the way they were classically written, so I prefer to make my Old Fashioned or Manhattan at home.”
“Unless I'm experimenting with a few cocktail projects at home, I never would want to drink anything that takes longer to make than it does to drink. My go-to is single-malt scotch on a couple of cubes. I really enjoy Glenfiddich 15-year-old but also enjoy all the Glenmorangie single malts, in particular the Nectar D'Or Sauternes cask finish and the Quinta Ruban Port finish. I don't tend to drink this at bars because it can get very, very expensive when you’re paying $35 for a pour of scotch."