Mixing it Up

Local liquor stores share advice for crafting cocktails at home

Making your own drinks, as it turns out, is a lot like dating — everyone has their own taste, what works well for some won’t be a good match for others — and if things aren’t working out, there’s always whiskey. 

At least, that is what Eugene Weekly gathered after speaking with local liquor store workers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to stay home, we’ve all had to learn to be our own bartenders. So we asked these liquor experts their advice on finding the right bottles for homemade cocktails. 

“If you can help me by explaining what you like in flavors, I can pretty much give you a set of products based on those flavors that you like, or even food,” says Mike Whitehorse, an employee at Creswell Liquor. 

The bottom line is that everyone likes and wants something different, Whitehorse says, and the goal at Creswell Liquor is to ensure that people leave with something that will meet their needs. Growing up, Whitehorse says his mom worked in the food and beverage industry, so he spent a lot of time in bars. Now in his mid-40s, Whitehorse has a wealth of knowledge and history of different liquors.

Wander into the store sandwiched in between a video store and a pizza place and he says he can offer various alcohols depending on what type of drink you want, whether it’s a classic cocktail or just something to mix with soda. Whiskey, he says, is something that most people in this area tend to go for.

“If you like something that mixes well with Coke, it’s always going to be Maker’s Mark,” Whitehorse says, describing the sweetness and heavy vanilla flavor. “If folks want to move away from that, I’ll say Bulleit bourbon.” 

He goes on to give other recommendations for types of whiskey depending on the person’s taste or comfort level. For rye he suggests Sazerac, because he says it goes with everything, and for St. Patrick’s Day he says go with sipping on Jameson. Whitehorse says any of the general suggestions he makes can be used for cocktails, mixed drinks, straight, neat or on the rocks.

“Not one of these is solely for one purpose. They are going to complement anything you do. The best whiskey in the world is the one we enjoy, however we enjoy it,” Whitehorse says.

Out in Creswell, Whitehorse says whiskey and tequila are popular and that people tend to mix their whiskey with soda. He says their store probably sells the largest amount of Coke Zero of any other store in Lane County.

 He understands that for those who are younger or are new to selecting higher quality alcohol, it can be overwhelming. But if someone explains what they’ve had and why they like it, he can recommend several different flavors, noting that expensive is not always the best.

Over at Downtown Liquor in Eugene on West 11th Avenue, store manager Ivan Lane says he’s seen a huge increase in home cocktail making. Generally, 40 percent of the store’s income comes through sales from bars, but since the pandemic, their business model has shifted. Now they are selling more niche liquors and high-end bottles over the counter, which give people the option of making fancier cocktails at home.

He says American whiskey and bourbon have remained popular over the last decade, but every person has their own idea of what would make a great home bar set-up.

“There really isn’t a category that’s not essential. There is a fanbase for everything,” Lane says, adding that some people are moving towards older, more traditional cocktails as well.

“A lot of folks are trying to perfect their Manhattan,” Lane says. “It’s kind of like the sourdough thing that happened last spring.” He notes that they also sell bar accessories, which has seen an increase in sales and also helps those trying to perfect their drink mixing. 

Downtown Liquor also sells local spirits, including brands like Thinking Tree Spirits, as well as a slew of mixers and beers.

Back in Creswell, Whitehorse explains that younger demographic (think new 21-year-olds) tend to like more fruity flavors and often stick with vodka. This opens a whole spectrum of options, he says, like peach or raspberry. And if you add pineapple and orange juice to any of those flavors, “You are going to have a wonderful time.”

Lane’s advice is that usually everyone has an idea of what they want, and once a category is named the discussion gets rolling.

Creswell Liquor Store is at 159 E. Oregon Avenue in Creswell and is open seven days a week from 11 am-7pm. Downtown Liquor is at 401 W. 11th Avenue in Eugene and is open from 11 am-8 pm Monday through Saturday; noon-6 pm on Sundays. They request that people respect store COVID-19 guidelines so that all guests and staff can commingle safely.