Cocktail "culture". The general revival of all things handmade, especially in the food world, has brought us this linguistic gem. It enters the hipster lexicon right alongside artisanal, farm-to-table, and single-bean origin, a signifier of accessible sophistication with the ability to inspire endless un-winnable arguments about doing it right. Ordering a beer at certain bars guarantees sloppy service from hirsute, inked barmen, convinced you are an unredeemable philistine.
I myself have always been more of a beer man. Beer is a little easier to comprehend, cheaper to get into, and requires no work. But it has fallen prey to the general tides of taste -- for the better, I agree -- and is now a treacherous minefield of choices. I have a few favorites, and beyond that, I fall back on my design education and pick the ones with the best labels. But even that tried-and-true method has come under attack, as label quality has become superlative across the craft beer world. What is a simple man to do?
In that haze of complication, I found myself searching for my misplaced minimalism. Ironically, cocktails can be a refuge for those fleeing complexity. They are defined as "a drink of two or more ingredients, one of them alcoholic." Perfect. But how to start (and stay simple)?
The lady and I inhabit a lovely, airy, high-ceilinged apartment that sacrifices storage for openness. Having recently acquired a massive, nine-quart Dutch oven, we were confronted with the end of our cabinet space. Our liquor collection, such as it was, lived in the inaccessible cabinet over the microwave with other rarely-used items. So, in a fit of ambition, I decided to build a bar cart. The resulting project (as they often do) consumed a number of nights and weekends, which led to a corresponding decline in frequency of posts to this blog.
Bar carts have, alongside cocktail "culture" enjoyed something of a renaissance. There's something nice about keeping the liquor visible, mobile, and organized. Mad Men, and Don Draper's resolute Old Fashioned, pushed the meme further into pop culture. The finest mid-century carts cost a mint in good condition. Others, still in production, look too good to even use. A half-dozen patents for such carts exist, though more practical than beautiful. And then there were those so ugly their very existence requires a stiff drink. I wanted something workmanlike, well-proportioned, and easy-to-use.
I started with some salvaged medium-growth Doug Fir that I rustled up in the basement of a building owned by my employer. Long-abandoned, there were a half-dozen 15-foot planks in the old, dormant boiler room, next to coal-fired furnaces. I rented the public workshop in the back of the Station North Tool Library for a day to plane, rip, size, dado, and rabbet. Then, I returned to the forlorn aforementioned basement and assembled the beast over a series of nights after work.
The shelves are snugly seated in mid-frame dadoes, then secured with a single screw. Braces, made of galvanized electrical conduit, keep glassware from sliding off shelves. Two gray casters, provide motion. I went with the "wheelbarrow" style, instead of four casters, for overall stability. It seems to work well. To move the cart, all that is needed is a slight shrug of the shoulders to raise the stationary side and free the casters to do their work. The galvanized bars keep everything in place. That said, now that it's found a place in the house, I don't expect it to move much. An X-brace of aluminum rods across the back and a few coats of heft brushing lacquer topped it all off.
Once finished, and enveloped in the haze of uncritical self-accomplishment, I mixed my first drink. A Negroni, for the lady, it did not go well. As it turns out, I am better at making carts than cocktails. I have since settled on a simpler toast, better suited to my design sense, taste for whiskey, and general appreciation for anachronism. The Old-Fashioned, explained here and here, contains sugar, bitters, and whiskey. I chose rye, which is both a throwback to America's whiskey past and a nice mid-point between the sweetness of bourbon and the bite of Irish. Stay tuned to my Instructables page in the next few weeks for a detailed step-by-step on the build, and, in the meantime, mix yourself something delicious. Cheers --