Imbibing in the time of COVID-19 comes with a little extra effort—a cocktail crafted in your kitchen, perhaps, and somehow even more beer runs than your college days. But dang do we need a drink. Drinking at a favorite local watering hole with friends, like back the good old days (which is to say, only a few months ago), seems a distant dream. And even as bars are allowed to reopen at partial capacity this week, it won’t be quite the same. So for now, let us help you bring some of those bar vibes home.
After all, we’ve all earned a cold one.
Muddling Around With Cocktail Kits
While many bars have been forced to shutter, others have jumped through hoops to save us from ourselves and bring us something crafted with care. These trailblazers are working within TABC guidelines, sticking to 375-milliliter bottles of booze and refraining from placing alcohol in non-manufacturer containers (so no cute Mason-jar batches). They have quickly perfected the portable art, sending us home with kits that have kept us sane and well watered during our quarantine. These are some of our favorites.
Justin Holt infuses whimsy into the Old Dragon cocktail kit, which includes Weller Special Reserve bourbon, a lemon, and a house syrup that balances deep, dark Okinawan rock sugar (kokuto) against the complexity of Sichuan peppercorn and orange bitters. The addition of hand-cut ice and some toy dragons means you can stage your own scene of Godzilla on ice, and imagine yourself in a basement bar in Tokyo.
$60; serves six.
The IPA Old Fashioned is essentially an inverted boilermaker, involving High West rye or Wild Turkey 101 alongside a syrup made of orange and Angostura bitters, citrus oil, Demerara sugar, and a Community IPA reduction (the alcohol is cooked off). The raspberry gimlet features a fresh raspberry reduction, Tito’s vodka, and plenty of lime, while a play on an ice pick utilizes blueberry-hibiscus iced tea. The spicy pineapple margarita comes with garnishes of candied habanero and dehydrated lime in the spirit of no waste.
$30–$60; serves seven.
To go with your brunch meal kit of pancakes or breakfast tacos ($30 each), you can add a basic Bloody Mary or michelada package with Julio’s Bloody Mary mix, lime wedges, olives, salt, and a six-pack of beer. Or try a more creative pairing with a grill meal kit of Kobe burgers or bone-in pork chops ($50–$60). In lieu of infusing the spirits, they juiced and created cordials for the strawberry and cucumber smashes. And they figured out how to create a transportable frozen Moscow Mule with ginger kombucha.
$30–$35; serves six.
At the Expo Park mezcaleria, they haven’t eased up on their small-batch agave focus. They have made sure we can still get our hands on La Gritona tequila (reuse the bottle made of recycled Coca-Cola bottles) and Rey Campero mezcal (made from both wild and cultivated agaves). Add full or half quarts of the house margarita mix, including seasonal variations like passion fruit-habanero. And pick it all up under their alley drive-thru’s fluttering, festive pennants.
$8–$15 for mix; $20–$45 for alcohol; servings vary.
Why does The Usual kit cost a hefty $90? The bottle of Casamigos tequila, of course. Unlike in non-quarantine scenarios, when you would just get one drink, now an order of “Give me the usual!” leads to a bottle of Casamigos, Topo Chico, and a quart of the salty-sweet house margarita mix. Less pricey options include the Avión margarita kit ($45), which comes with its own branded mixing glass, and seasonal frozen options ($35). Unfortunately, the massive tile bar is not available to go.
The cocktail kits here feel like they come from an apothecary, allowing you to customize your potion by checking the boxes for bitters, smoked maple syrup, or sweet vermouth. Bartender George Kaiho tried to stay as close as possible to the experience in the bar. In the martini, both the onion and the lemon peel that stuffs the olive are pickled in-house. The Earl’d Fashioned features maple syrup smoked with Earl Grey tea, and the Manhattan comes with ice cubes that have a high mineral content, providing a particular viscosity for a thick mouthfeel. Kaiho’s YouTube videos help you out. It’s a luxury to watch an expert make a drink. $40-$80; serves four to six. —Eve Hill-Agnus
4 Steps to Stocking Up Your Home Bar
Bar and Garden, a lovely bottle shop on Ross Avenue in Old East Dallas, is a haven of natural wines, special spirits, and bar accoutrements. So we asked Bar and Garden’s resident craft cocktail bartender Alex Rivera, a Certified Spirits Specialist (!) and Speed Rack competitor (!!), about must-have tools, spirits, and wine. When the time comes to punch up your bar cart, you’ll be ready.
- Never Be Without Your Bar Gizmos
First and foremost get yourself a jigger, which is both a unit of measurement (one and a half fluid ounces) and a bar tool. You’ve likely seen a bartender pull out this double-ended vessel, which can measure from one quarter to 2-ounce pours, though they can vary from jigger to jigger. Some are curvier in shape, known as the Leopold style, while the popular Japanese version is angular. Both help get the booze in the glass. What else you’ll want: a Hawthorne strainer, barspoon, mixing glass, and a set of shaking tins, all of which can be as low-frills or as fancy as you please.
- Get Spirited Away
You may favor one alcohol over another, but for essential spirits Rivera recommends a good vodka like St. George All Purpose; a solid London Dry–style gin (Hayman’s is a good choice, though D Magazine’s resident gin nerd, Kathy Wise, loves Brooklyn gin for her gin and tonics); white rum such as El Dorado is always good to have on-hand; for whiskey, Rivera suggests Lose Republic rye, but customize to your own personal taste; and don’t underestimate the importance of brandy, says Rivera, “We love Brandy St. Louis, a solid inexpensive French options perfect for cocktails, [while] Founder is local [choice].” Other liqueurs, fortified wines, and bitters you’ll want for a well-rounded bar inventory: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (sweet vermouth used in classics like a Manhattan or negroni), Dolin Dry vermouth (this is your martini workhorse), Comoz blanc vermouth (an aromatized wine great for springtime drinking), an aperitivo like Cappelletti (though you may recognize its aperitivo brethren Campari and Aperol), Cardamaro (great for sipping on post-meal, or mixing into drinks for deep, rich flavor notes), and lastly, bitters (aromatic and orange will set you up just fine).
- Know Thy Wine
Rivera used to exclusively drink red wine “regardless of the occasion or meal,” but she’s since expanded her repertoire of wines. “About 15 years ago I had an aromatic, crisp white with a spicy dinner and realized I needed to branch out,” she says. Of course everyone’s preferences will be different, but setting that aside for a moment, here’s what Rivera suggests always having at the ready. “We currently love the Franz Etz Gruner Veltliner. It really pairs well with big, bold flavors in a variety of cuisines. I would also recommend an Italian Barbera. They are one of the most food-friendly options out there, and, when it’s warm outside, can stand up to a slight chill. Skin-contact whites or what is commonly referred to as “orange wine” is also great to have on-hand. I like DilaO from Georgia—an inexpensive and solid option.”
- Explore Your Personal Palate
When customers ask Rivera for guidance she grills them on a few key things to help her narrow down suggestions: What do you normally drink, and what are you doing? Asking yourself these questions can help you find your wine North Star, too. “Will you be sipping on a porch or enjoying with dinner or both? Really tannic or super bright (higher in acid) wine needs food to enhance the experience of both.”“When trying new wines or introducing my friends and family to new options, I like to buy three or four options that are less expensive. Keeping your per bottle cost low (you can find great options for $12 to $15) will allow you to try something new without being disappointed if it isn’t your thing. Also trying several at once allows you to comparatively taste, which is the best teacher of all time,” says Rivera. Yes, you can host a DIY tasting at home. “You can pick a theme, for example, try Cabernet Sauvignon from different regions or Italian whites or chillable reds… Just buy something you’ve never heard of and keep an open mind.” Also, always make a snack board: cheese, olives, nuts, crackers done!
Beer Runs in the Time of COVID
When you want to cut down those grocery trips, especially because needing a six-pack of brewskis isn’t considered an essential errand, off to the brewery you go. Besides, if it’s the uber local stuff you want to drink, your nearest grocery might not have all the goods. Going straight the beer-y source is best. Here are breweries with windows, pickups, and drive-thrus.
BrainDead Brewing The Deep Ellum favorite has a to-go window issuing comfort food takeout alongside barrel-aged bottles, 32-ounce crowlers (like, if a tall boy can and growler had a baby), and growlers of anything on tap, which of course rotates so consult the beer list to see the latest pilsners, IPAs, et cetera.
Pegasus City Brewery In the Design District, pick up six-packs of dark lager, “porch ale,” and other Pegasus staple beers. Merch, cupcakes, and even pasta are available. Order online, then drive on through. And, we should absolutely note, Pegasus has the sexiest Art Deco beer cans we’ve ever seen.
Peticolas Brewing Company This fellow Design District brewery has a drive-thru too. You can order online or consult the beer board for the available brews—the Thrilla in Brazilla IPA and the Come and Take It being a couple of recent favorites. Tasty tall boy four-packs to drink in the comfort of your own home? Yes, we’ll take it. Gladly.
Vector Brewing With an already bumpy origin story, if there’s anything folks behind this Lake Highlands brewery prove, it’s this: They will stop at nothing to bring you beer. We love to see it. Grab crowlers of dry-hopped India pale lager, imperial stout, or variety four pack. Throw in a bottle of wine (rosé or sauvignon blanc, perhaps) and, sure, get a bag of ice, too—they sell the good, pebble kind!