Perfecting the Home Bar

by Charley Zimmerman

If you are a lover of cocktails hoping to re-create some of your favorites at home, you might find yourself lacking the proper tools. Most made-for-home bar products are a disaster, proving to be leaky, difficult to use, or just generally confusing.

If you want to get serious without breaking the bank, here are a few industry-recommended tools to make sure your next cocktail party is a hit. 

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JIGGERS

There is a secret that most bartenders don't want you to know.

Our cocktails don't taste good because of our fancy shaking techniques, or because we flame an orange just right over the drink. Our drinks taste good because we follow a recipe, and just like the home cook, we measure our ingredients. Hence, the almighty jigger. It is a mistake to think that a bartender who jiggers every drink is inexperienced; on the contrary, an experienced bartender with fast jiggering skills can make some of the best tasting and most accurate drinks. Additionally, knowing the formulae for balanced drinks makes a jigger-friendly bartender able to make off the cuff drinks that much better. Jiggers rule. 

Ready to buy? Have a look at the OXO Steel Double Jigger.

 

SHAKING TINS

Shaking tins are the bread and butter of cocktail making; without serious tins, you might as well just pour yourself a highball. Tin-on-tin sets are the only way to go for the even mildly serious home bartender. The Boston shaker (consisting of a metal tin and a pint glass) were primarily meant for bartenders who eye-ball their liquids instead of measuring -- and as we now know, measuring is the best way to go. Tin-on-tin sets last longer than glass, have less chance of shattering in your hand, and cool down faster than glass. 

Check out these Koriko weighted shaking tins.

 

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STRAINERS

After you've shaken the hell out of your cocktail, you need a way to separate it from all that ice. Hawthorne strainers have a metal spring fixed around the edge of the rim that acts as a type of sieve. The Hawthorne strainer can be quite the interactive tool: apply pressure and push against the spring, and you can limit how much ice/muddled fruit/etc passes through. Lighten up your pressure and pull back, and you can let more through, as you desire. Mesh conical strainers can be used in tandem with your Hawthorne strainer to make sure you catch everything. When you shake good and hard in your shaking tins, the ice inside is going to break up, leaving ice crystals in your cocktail. These crystals are not going to keep your drink cold very long; in fact, they will melt quickly and dilute your drink very fast. It's all a matter of taste and preference, though, so experiment and see what you prefer! 

I recommend the OXO Steel Cocktail Strainer and the Coco Strainer.

 

BAR SPOONS

Not all cocktails are made equally. Some things, like your classic Manhattans or Martinis, are better stirred -- not shaken. Again, this is a matter of taste and preference, however, there are a few guidelines. As a general rule, cocktails which contain fruit juices are shaken, and cocktails that consist of only alcohol are stirred. Have you ever put a bottle of vodka in the freezer? This is the consistence you are looking for from a stirred cocktail: an icy cold, velvety smooth drink. For this you will, of course, need a stirring spoon. Bar spoons have straight, long handles that are often threaded for better grip. Learning to stir properly can take some time, but there is one quick trick -- take your spoon, and hold it upside down!  Holding the spoon end and stirring with the handle requires less practice and is far easier. 

I recommend the stainless steel Teardrop bar spoon

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You can stir a cocktail in anything, as long as your spoon has a clear path. Keep your stir smooth and your ice undisturbed as possible to keep air from getting into the mix -- air creates bubbles which will ruin your velvety texture. You can find a variety of beautiful Japanese Yarai mixing glasses online, but they can be expensive and break easily (at least in the fast pace of a professional bar). 

There are a handful of other tools essential to the professional bartender, but these four essentials will turn your home bar from frustrating to, well, intoxicatingly easy.

Cheers! 

Charley Zimmerman
October 6, 2017

We're Beaming!

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We are so proud to have been recognized by The Chamber of Commerce of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel at their annual meeting this past Thursday.

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According to Chamber board member Michelle Moore Allen, "The President's Award recognizes individual or group effort which, through professional or civic deeds, has made a significant contribution to the high quality of life we enjoy in our communities, or the enhancement of community or regional assets.  This award recognizes accomplishment achieved through non-profit organizations, public sector activities, or business efforts."

Our team couldn't be more proud to be part of the community that has supported us so much!

Amari, Vermouths, and Quinquinas - Part 1 of 2

by Charley Zimmerman

Developing this year's cocktail list, the bar team at Old Vines turned to three categories of spirits that remain unfamiliar and misunderstood to the cocktail-consuming world: amaro, vermouth, and quinquina.

This month, we will take a look at each, to help break down the mystery of these deliciously nuanced spirits. 

AMARO

Amaro is a bittersweet, herbal liqueur that derives its name from the Italian word for "bitter." Amaro is made by infusing a neutral, distilled spirit with a mixture of herbs, roots, barks, spices, fruit peels, and botanicals. Amari can be composed of more common ingredients, such as cardamom, chamomile, cinnamon, citrus peel, fennel, ginger, and licorice, or they can contain less known ingredients like artichoke, bay laurel, cinchona, gentian root, saffron, quasi wood, and wormwood. 

Not all Amari are exclusively bitter. Some can be rather sweet upfront, with a pleasant underlying bitterness, while some can be so bitter as to taste almost medicinal -- and although that may sound disagreeable, it would fit with Amari's history. Created in monasteries and abbeys throughout ancient Italy, Amari was believed to have restorative properties, and was thought to even have protection against evil or plagues. Considering their range of ingredients, this thinking doesn't seem too outlandish (at least, the medicinal part). Amari is typically served as a digestivo, an after dinner drink. With its low alcohol content, a small amount is believed to have medicinal benefits in aiding digestion after a large meal. While there may not be any exact science to back that up, it's worth taking a shot. 

Amari varies widely in its range of styles, and there are hundreds of different kinds out there. Here at Old Vines we have five favorites that we keep on hand at all times. Ranging from sweetest to most bitter, they are:

Montenegro Amaro: The most palatable of the Amaro we stock, Montenegro is characterized by the sweetness of tangerine, held up by coriander, vanilla, and cinnamon. While sweet at first, the lingering finish is balanced by bitterness and botanicals. Montenegro is definitely a staff favorite. 

Cardamaro Amaro: The only wine-based Amaro available in the States, Cardamaro, despite it's name, is not a cardamom-flavored Amaro. Instead, it gets it's Moscato-based flavor comes from the cardoon, a relative of the artichoke, and blessed thistle. It is light, herbaceous, and comparable to some styles of sweet vermouth. As such, here at Old Vines, we often swap sweet vermouth for Cardamaro (see the New Vingroni). 

Averna Amaro: the original recipe for Averna can be traced back centuries to the Benedictine Friars of ancient Sicily, where it was used as an herbal tonic. Averna has an outstanding spicy citrues characteristic, with a prominent menthol aroma. It's a well-balanced Amaro, with a caramel sweetness, a menthol freshness, and a lingering bitterness. 

Cynar: Produced by the Campari group, Cynar ("chee-nar") is a mix of thirteen different plants and herbs, the most unique of which being the Artichoke. Noticeably darker in hue, Cynar has a resolute, aggressive bitterness that makes it a more appropriate substitute for Campari in certain cocktails. 

Fernet Branca: Named after the "fernet" style of amaro, Fernet Branca is sharply bitter, syrupy in texture, and not for the faint of heart. Fernet Branca boasts more than 40 different herbs and spices, among the known are aloe, gentian root, rhubarb, gum myyrg, red cinchona bark, and saffron. The closely-guarded recipe hasn't changed since it was created in Milan in 1845. 

Amari are an incredible group of spirits, and though their far-ranging tastes make it hard to believe they are all related, they all share a common backbone: bitterness. And while "bitter" is not the flavor profile most people seek in their drinks, the world of Amaro begs to be explored. You might find you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

Charley Zimmerman
May 18, 2017

Finding Inspiration in Düsseldorf

by Charley Zimmerman

Old Vines owners Rick and Jon have just returned from their trip to Germany, where they attended the 2017 Euroshop. Held in Düsseldorf, an international business and financial hub, Euroshop is a trade fair for the retail industry that has been running for the past fifty-one years. A mixture of design and vendor showcases, the fair holds sixteen halls of innovation in interior and architectural design, including lighting, display technology, point-of-purchase technology, and furniture and restaurant equipment. Euroshop is an opportunity for industry leaders around the world to show their imagination and vision for the future of retail, while showcasing products that are available today. 

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How does this relate to Old Vines?

A recurring theme of Euroshop is enabling retailers and restaurants to connect emotionally and digitally with their customers in order to create the best possible experience. "Kind of like theater," says Jon Ellms, because both the trade fair and Old Vines aim to create a guest experience that is unique, exciting, and sophisticated.

"Euroshop is about improving the customer experience, which is a particular challenge for large businesses like hotels and restaurant chains," says Ellms. "Being a small restaurant, that isn't exactly our challenge -- however, it's still a great spot to get inspired and bring back a few great ideas to make Old Vines even better for our customers." Euroshop is, simply put, design and innovation for the sake of design and innovation; reason to be inspired and creative back here in our own sphere. It is a reminder that there are amazing, creative minds all over the globe; it is our inspiration to keep evolving. 

Congratulations, Sam Cote!

Our own Sam Cote has passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course Examination! 

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The Court of Master Sommelier, Americas Introductory Course & Examination is the first of four required steps to become a Master Sommelier. 

The intent of the introductory course is to provide wine and hospitality professionals with a thorough review of the world of wines and spirits at the highest professional standards.

Candidates receive an intensive review by a team of Master Sommeliers on wine and spirits knowledge, proper wine service, and deductive tasting.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 to promote excellence in hotel and restaurant beverage service. Though its members worldwide come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they share a proven mastery of the art, science, and history that informs a sommelier's work. Read more here.

Sam and his colleagues work hard to create a great experience for our guests, and we couldn't be more proud of what they do!

Orbitz Viewfinder: Escaping the crowds in prime vacation destinations

Our friends at Orbits offer some advice on how to escape the crowds in prime vacation destinations.

We're proud to have made the list!

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Dubbed “the place to be all year,” K’port offers indoor and outdoor activities in spades. Summer is the high season, however, so wait for fall when you can enjoy the beach during warm days and stay toasty by firelight on brisk evenings. Seek out Southern Maine Kayak for guided tours or equipment rentals, and see how the season changes the trees every autumnal shade. Meet the locals and dine like family at Alisson’s Restaurant & Pub. For rare wines and craft cocktails in an inviting atmosphere, Old Vines Wine Bar has you covered.