No Experience Necessary: How COVID-19 Bred a Legion of Home Mixology Masters

Nine quarantined home-bar hobbyists share the tricks of their trade

August 12, 2020 9:30 am
home bar
A quarantine cocktail via NY Times editor / drinks hobbyist Dan Saltzstein
Dan Saltzstein/Instagram

“I don’t think I’ll go to a bar in the future. I can just make my own drinks from home and stay safe.”

That’s the (somewhat joking) thought of Julie Stewart-Binks, a sports broadcaster who, like many people, suddenly became a home-bar hobbyist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below, we chat with eight budding mixologists about their new or revived passion for cocktails. We purposely chose enthusiasts who had modest to no experience in the bar world — for them, these last six months have been a time to experiment, learn and drink. And drink better.

The knowledge each of the following people have accumulated is impressive, and we’ve also included their go-to resources if you’re interested in elevating your own home booze game. And if you do go the home bar route, you may never drink the same way again. As one of our new boozy experts put it, “When I go back to the bars, I’ll need every drink to be a double based on my heavy pours at home.” 

Lise Farynowski
Lise Farynowski
Lise Farynowski

Lise Farynowski
Day Job: Government Budget Analyst/Advisor

“Before, I knew a little about a lot of things. I knew a Daiquiri was made with rum and lime and sugar, but couldn’t have told you the proportions. There is no way in the world I could have told you what was in a Corpse Reviver #1 or #2 or #Blue. 

At the beginning of the pandemic I was living in France with my two children in the Haute Savoie region, about an hour’s drive from Voiron — the birthplace of Chartreuse. So I had a lot of that on hand in March when everything shut. My go-to drink became Chartreuese and tonic, which is divine.

I then started doing a series of online bartending courses (mainly through Ananas Academy); I also started “traveling and exploring” the world through rum. I made a Negroni variation with 18 yr old Flor de Cana, coffee bean infused Campari and Madeira. Now it’s my spouse’s go-to drink.”

Christopher Leland
Day Job: Blogger/Husband/Dad

“I’d read cocktail books and blogs for years, but so much of it was second-hand knowledge. I’d read about something, but not try it out unless we had a dinner party or were going out to dinner.

What I’ve been into the most is making my own ingredients. Spending more time gardening and being able to make my own syrups or infusions has been a fun way to put a twist on some tried and true recipes. I make a paloma that uses orange/grapefruit oleo sacchrum and a cobra pepper/ginger tincture that are both homemade.

I’ve been going to for the fundamentals. On Instagram my favorite cocktail accounts are @apartment_bartender, @arseniclace and @highproofpreacher. And I also like the Craft Cocktail Club on Facebook, put on by Chris and Julia Tunstall of A Bar Above.”

Roxane Williams
Bounce Williams
Roxane Williams

Roxane “Bounce” Williams
Day Job: Ghostwriter

“In my pre-pandemic life in the Bay Area, I didn’t mix many drinks at home since there’s no shortage of great bars. But at-home Zoom happy hours became a thing among my friend groups at the start of shelter-in-place. I also founded a Facebook group to share our cocktail creations.

Tequila is my go-to spirit, with Cuban rum (Havana Club 3 Años) as a close second for mojitos with mint from my own garden. Since the quarantine started, I’ve also fallen in love with bourbon, and I’m determined to find a way to enjoy mezcal. Since I have yet to find a mezcal cocktail I enjoy, I made up my own: the “Forbidden Flattery” contains grapefruit (“the forbidden fruit”) and fennel (which represented flattery in Shakespeare’s time). 

I tend to find inspiration for cocktails from what I’m growing in my garden or finding in my weekly CSA box. MasterClass has an excellent mixology class taught by Lynnette Marrero and Ryan Chetiyawardana. And Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology is an amazing read which shares a lot of cocktail history, too.”

Julie Stewart-Binks
Day Job: Sports broadcaster, Host of Drinks with Binks (FuboTV)

“Before this, I don’t think I’d ever made a cocktail in my life. It was light beer and rosé all day, but making cocktails overwhelmed me. But alas, the silver lining of a global pandemic is that it forced me out of my comfort zone. 

I love whiskey sours, so I have been trying out different whiskeys (I love Proper 12 and Hudson Baby Bourbon). My friend and mixologist taught me how to make them with chickpeas, which was fascinating. I’m also learning how to make Negronis and White Russians. And yesterday I mixed Malibu with soda water and freshly squeezed lemon. I’m dubbing it the ‘Club Q’ special. I’ve been in mandatory quarantine since I crossed the U.S. border to Canada, so I’ve been finding ways to get creative.

Minibar Delivery is a great resource — their delivery is so quick! I also have this cool cocktail book that’s very Old Hollywood: Spirits in The City of Angels. I’ve also been more intentional with my social media and following Black bartenders and hobbyists including @jadeofalljades and @cocktailbandits.”

Liesl Mahoney
Day Job: Museum Educator

“Pre-pandemic, I knew what I liked to drink and didn’t like to drink however, I did not have much knowledge about what I was drinking. 

It started with making my own gin. I then barrel-aged white whiskey and oak-aged some tequila. Now I’m in the process of making limoncello, and I’m also really into making homemade, flavored simple syrups for cocktails. I also love using smoky mezcal or whiskey and then using smoked simple syrups or my smoke gun to add even more of that flavor. 

Shaker and Spoon has been an awesome resource for me — once a month they send the ingredients to create three different cocktails that really expand your thinking on what can go into a craft cocktail.”

Jon Cecil
Day Job: Hotel General Manager

“Being from Kentucky, I’ve been collecting bourbon since 2008. But I’ve never had what I felt was a truly fitting display for the collection. This downtime allowed me time at home on the weekends to be able to build the speakeasy I’d been dreaming of for the last 10 years. 

I built what I call The Card Catalog — in that card catalog is an individual card for every single bourbon in my collection, on which I stamp the date and guests can sign and include their tasting notes or write their special occasion.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the ambiance and the environment of the speakeasy will impact the creativity of myself and my friends when making cocktails. It really feels like we are walking into a different time period.”

Douglas Yee
Day Job: Team Lead at a trading firm

“I was certainly what you’d call a ‘seasoned drinker,’ but in order to stay seasoned during quarantine, I had to learn to make good drinks myself.

I’ve been drinking a lot of Japanese highballs and stirred drinks with amaro. Ultimately, I think I’ve been getting more into the craft of making drinks rather than something with a ton of pyrotechnics. Even with the simplest cocktails there’s always some technique to improve: stirring, dilution, viscosity, balance.

I think home bartenders should start with Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book. On the ‘gram, a lot of bartenders doing amazing things right now: @camerontendsbar, @amesly_p, @steakbonestacey, @jbls7 and @cautionfallingnoodles.”

Richard Garcia home bar
Richard Garcia’s home bar
Richard Garcia

Richard Garcia
Day Job: Self Employed (IT / Software)

“Before this, I knew a bit about the various rums, but not a great deal about anything else. Definitely nothing meaningful about cocktails, aside from how to drink them. Then I was invited to join a rum-related WhatsApp, which just happened to have some top-notch cocktail makers in it.

Now I’ve been getting into drinks that I’d never heard of before (Lillet, Crème de Peche, Pimento Dram, etc.) and making my own syrups for cocktails. I’ve made at least 50 distinct cocktails in the last four months.  

I’ve really enjoyed watching @how2drink. For cocktails I’ve largely been using Difford’s Guide for reference, and the Smuggler’s Cove book for finding new things to try. There are some great recipes at The Rum Barrel, too.”

Dan Saltzstein
Day Job: Deputy Editor, Special Sections, The New York Times

“Before the pandemic, I had actually cut down on the home cocktails, mainly because of time and energy. Then, when the pandemic hit, we decamped from Queens to Connecticut and I could start on a drink as soon as I finished work. And so I started posting to the #quarantinecocktail hashtag on Instagram.

Now, I’ve been slowly bulking up my home bar, and — sorry for the pun — mixing in spirits I simply didn’t have before: genever, for example, or sherry. And I’ve been making more home syrups.

My go-to resources have definitely been The PDT Cocktail Book and Death and Co. The PDT app is also great, as is Robert Simonson’s Modern Classics (and, to a lesser degree, Bartender). has an amazing wealth of recipes from bars and restaurants around the country.”


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