BYOB: Be Your Own Bartender

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by Andrew Coppolino

Becoming a better home bartender requires only a few basics – tools and techniques – and a bit of patience. Of course, bars and restaurants that offer newly legal take-away beverages and DIY drink kits for purchase help too.

Have the right tools: that means putting together a drawer or cupboard-shelf stocked with a variety of good quality glassware along with a shaker, mixing glass, a long-handled spoon for stirring, strainer and jigger (the wee little measuring vessel).

Make sure you’ve always got lots of ice too (if you’re a perfectionist, boil some water and pour it hot into your ice cube trays for clear ice).

Know what needs to be stirred and what needs to be shaken: a cocktail that is only beverage alcohol – and is designed to be a clear drink – should be stirred only. Unless you’re James Bond, and you want a Vesper Martini.

Stirring mixes the liquids, but it also chills and adds the right dilution. Shaking, on the other hand, is used as a technique when your cocktail includes egg whites and juices, perhaps for something like a Daiquiri. The physical shaking of the ingredients introduces air into the mix and produces the desired frothy result.

If all of that is too much for your level of interest, it’s still good background information to know for when you order cocktail kits from Waterloo Region restaurants. Having the right equipment will make home bartending more efficient and enjoyable.


Wildcraft Grill + Long Bar has a new “growler” program for purchasing beer, with refills at their many restaurant brands. They also offer “an irreverent take” on popular 1960s cocktail, the Moscow Mule; Wildcraft offers, instead “The Packhorse,” which includes Scotch, their vanilla-infused lemon juice, ginger beer and garnishes.  

Beer growlers and takeout drink kits lined up on the bar at Wildcraft Grill and Long Bar in Waterloo
Growlers anddrink kits available at Wildcraft (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)

Before you tuck into one of Swine and Vine’s charcuterie-boxes-to-go, sip a Mimosa or the Prohibition classic Bee’s Knees from their cocktails-to-go menu (wine and beer to-go too).

A bit of spice and an imagined hint of being somewhere warm – like Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican Riviera – when you can’t travel can find its substitute with some take-away tacos from Taco Farm and their DIY Margarita Kit.


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Grand Trunk Saloon will soon be releasing a series of cocktail kits that capture the essence of the Saloon, according to general manager Tara Robinson. That means “Coffee & Cigarettes” – the superb Grand Trunk classic – as well as rum, gin and tequila kits. “These kits will include everything the home bartender needs for two different cocktails with one base spirit, garnishes and ice, as well, if they choose that option,” Robinson says. Custom kits are also available for pre-order. “It’s a custom cocktail kit of their choosing. That’s something we really do best,” she says. 

Depending on your lockdown mood, you could try either the “Georgia Peach” with bourbon or “The Black Sabbath” with flavoured vodka kit from the popular cocktail bar White Rabbit in Waterloo. “These originals are recognizable to our customers and sell well because they are familiar,” says general manager Devon Campbell. There are four signature cocktails plus “Moscow Mule” and Sangria kits. “The Mort” is a collaboration with Leanne Amort who is at Loloan Lobby Bar (see below), just around the corner.


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With several cocktail kits for sale, Public Kitchen & Bar on Victoria Street in Kitchener has seen sustained growth in this product line. “The cocktail kits have sold incredibly well,” says co-owner Carly Blasutti. Visit Public’s Instagram for their online store with complete kits, including a pineapple “Dark and Stormy” and a Caesar. Unique is the “Lion’s Mane and Chaga” (both mushrooms) specialty coffee with Kahlua. The kits, with instructions, make between six and eight cocktails and include garnishes like dehydrated citrus “wheels.”

The subterranean speakeasy Sugar Run Rum Bar, “hidden” in downtown Kitchener near the Walper Hotel, sells bottled cocktails to-go Wednesday 5 p.m – 7 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. The selection rotates, but Matt Hewson’s “Thinking of You” is always available: oloroso sherry, two kinds of rum, bitters and house-made maple stout. $20 gets you your own flask and three full cocktails.


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Waterloo’s Proof Kitchen & Lounge has been experimenting general manager Laura Umbrio and staff have developed a few kits with instructions. For example, consider “Pining for the Fjords:” Woodford bourbon, house-made fennel and pink peppercorn syrup with a lemon-pineapple juice and unique celery bitters. An 8-oz bottle serves two drinks; a 16-oz bottle serves four.

A few blocks away, Red House Uptown offers several “Takeout Cocktails.” The Costa Rica-inspired “Chiliguaro” is a tomato juice-Cachaça sugar-cane spirit beverage with a host of Red House’s made-in-house ingredients like roasted red peppers, their spice blend and their lizano guajillo chile sauce.


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Also in Uptown Waterloo, Loloan Lobby Bar offers what are certain to be among the most unique seven cocktail kits in the area: that includes “Ingat Loloan Bali Kit” with gin, wild gunung honey, fresh kunyit, mint, tamarind and pomelo. Leanne Amort of Loloan oversees a number of roles in the bar and restaurant and says the cocktails aren’t complex to make. “These drinks require minimal assembly and highlight the grand lobby-bar cocktail experience that Loloan is all about,” she says. You can also check out their sister restaurant, Bhima’s Warung, for new Sangria Growlers.

Those Pizza Guys fire up delicious wood-fired pizza from their location in St. Jacobs – and they have cocktails-to-go, including “Bubble Bubble” (with vodka, Amaro Nonino, house-made Tahitian Treat syrup), “Avro Arrow” with Willibald gin and Aperol, and “Caribbean Sunset” (doesn’t that sound nice right about now?) featuring Mount Gay rum and Fernet-Branca.


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Tips from pro bartenders

Jason Ernst, Wildcraft
“I have a mint plant on my window ledge because I do trip over a mojito from time to time. But seriously, invest in solid tools. If you are going to make a cocktail to rival a pro, you need to have access to the pro tools.” He also recommends not ever letting your ice tray get empty. “You never know when friends will stop by,” he says (but let’s save that one for post-pandemic).

Tara Robinson, Grand Trunk Saloon and Grand Surf Lounge
“Whether making cocktails from scratch or with a kit, it’s important to understand dilution, the rate of ice melting in your drink. Make use of the king cube, a large square ice cube, in the completed cocktail, as the large size of the cube slows down the dilution as you are enjoying it.”  

Ainsley Szvitak, Redhouse Uptown
“One thing I will say that a lot of people do wrong is not following a recipe. By this I mean actually measuring the ingredients. One thing that is so important in restaurants and bars is consistency, there’s a reason that your second Margarita tasted like the first one.”  

Abbey Rush, Proof Kitchen + Lounge
“Give any cocktail a smokey element by using around ingredients in your kitchen. Use bay leaves from the spice rack and char them slightly. Invert your glass over the smoking bay leaves until the smoke fills the inside of the glass, then flip it back upright and pour your drink in.”


Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


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