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Hong Kong bartenders weigh in on the essential bottles they always keep at home

Let’s be brutally honest: if you’re anything like us, even before this whole coronavirus debacle started, your arsenal of home bar ingredients was probably already in dire need of an overhaul.

So what better way to refresh the liquor cabinet in your apartment — with something other than half a bottle of something labelled ‘liqueur’ — than with insight from those who craft cocktails for a living? Without further ado, here are the best bottles to keep at home — according to four industry-leading Hong Kong bartenders.

“I’m a lazy home drinker and have never owned any fancy bar tools — so whatever I make at home has to be simple yet comforting. My go-to is what I’ve dubbed the ‘Lazy Martini’: a pre-batched gin martini, that’s already diluted in-bottle using still water and then kept in the freezer. A higher proportion of alcohol stops the mixture from becoming frozen and when this martini is poured straight into a glass, the liquid has a velvety texture that’s incredibly satisfying. These days, I’m really into Colombo gin, which is crafted in the UK and inspired by Sri Lankan botanicals. It’s earthy with a hint of spice: a really great choice if you’re someone who likes their martini bone-dry.

For my ‘Lazy’ recipe: I blend 500ml of Colombo directly into a bottle with about 200ml of still water, and drop a little orange zest in at the last moment as well. Transfer this to the freezer for at least four hours and serve straight up. If you like, garnish with a cheeky pearl onion or an olive. Salute!” — Lorenzo Antinori, Beverage Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong

HK$217 (approx)

“Making drinks at home is something that I often do and enjoy a lot. Bitters is the category of ingredient that I tend to use the most since it essentially functions as the salt and pepper of the cocktail world. I think a little goes a long way: just a few dashes help to add depth and accentuate a beverage’s underlying flavours. Of all the different brands and kinds of bitters available on the market, Angostura is still called upon in more cocktails than any other. I use it in a variety of beloved classics: from stronger staples such as the Manhattan to tiki tropics-inspired drinks. If you enjoy Angostura’s rich, herbaceous characteristics then I highly recommend you use when making a Trinidad Sour. The catch? Use a whole shot — you won’t regret it.” — Shelley Tai, Bartender, Quinary

“To say that I love tea is a gross understatement — it’s a beverage I can drink at literally any time of the day. Back home in India, it’s definitely our social beverage of choice whilst catching up for a tête-à-tête. Across the drinks industry, tea-driven cocktails are a growing trend; and as an ingredient, it brings an exciting new dimension of flavour to many existing recipes.
This brings me to Fauchon: an amazing producer of tea liqueur that’s made in Japan using the world’s finest Darjeeling. This ‘champagne of teas’ is grown on a small hill station in eastern India, and is world-renowned for its fantastic oolong-style depth of flavour — and a characteristic muscatel note that you won’t find anywhere else. One of the the best things about Fauchon is its versatility: not only can it be used to make great cocktails at home, it’s also a ready base for refreshing mixers like grapefruit tonic or the classic highball. You can even serve it over ice, which is a really fantastic way to parse out all that natural tea flavour! Me personally? I drizzle it over pancakes with a little maple syrup every time I want a particularly boozy dessert — it’s just that good.” — Devender Kumar, Bar Manager, 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo
HK$228 (approx)

“There are numerous spirits that I’d consider indispensable to my home bar. However, right now I’m in love with Curado’s tequila — a twist on the traditional Mexican spirit in which cooked agave is infused into a pre-distilled tequila that was made using the same kind of blue agave more commonly found in premium mezcal (the brand was able to do this thanks to some regulatory loopholes). Currently, there are three expressions of Curado: Blue agave, Espadin and Cupreata. All three are enjoyable when served neat, though drinkers who prefer a spicier tequila will gravitate towards Cupreata.

You can also use any of these to make a delicious margarita at home: simply take 45ml of your preferred expression; 15ml of Cointreau; and 25ml of freshly squeezed lime juice and add all of this into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously over ice until the shaker becomes cold then double-strain the contents into a glass rimmed with salt. Mind you, this is the exact same recipe we use at the bar.” — Jay Khan, Founder, Coa 

Randy Lai
Having worked in the Australian digital media landscape for over 5 years, Randy has extensive experience in men's specialist categories such as classic clothing, watches and spirits. He is partial to mid-century chronographs and a nice chianti.
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