Episode 176 – Smoke and Leaded Crystal

Now, a couple things bear explaining here. First off, according to a recent PUNCH article by Robert Simonson, the Elmo Cola was invented by bar consultant Tim Kirkland for the St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis. Second, there’s not what I would consider a true “formulation” for this drink because it’s something of a proprietary secret. So take my speculative recipe as a template and feel free to tweak it from there.

To prepare a batch of this drink, which is kinda the love child of a Rock & Rye and a cherry coke, you’ll want to infuse the bourbon with the vanilla beans for about 3 days to 1 week. You’ll notice we haven’t added the cherries yet, and that’s because they’ll lower the proof of the bourbon, making the vanilla extraction less effective, so be sure to do the beans first. Then do a slightly shorter extract on the cherries. I’d recommend about 48 hours, shaking periodically.

Apparently, the St. Elmo’s recipe uses both sweet and tart cherries from Michigan, but if that’s a little much for you to source, pick the kind that appeals most to YOUR palate and stick with that variety. Also, if the spirit moves you, you can always add a little bit of cherry juice to brighten, sweeten, and lengthen things.

Recently, a bottled version of the Elmo Cola base was launched in Indiana, and according to Simonson it’s bottled at 88 proof, which suggests that a fairly high proof Bourbon is used to extract the cherry and vanilla before then being diluted by the cherry juice, so I’d lean toward using a bonded bourbon for this project if at all possible.

When it comes time to serve your Elmo Cola, all you need to do is pour 2 ounces of the infused bourbon over ice, top with 4-6 oz of your favorite cola, then garnish with a brandied cherry and – if you’re feeling fancy – an expressed orange twist.

DIY Bar Cart Setups

This first question comes to us from our listener Robbie via Instagram, who messaged us saying:

“Hiya, great pod! Wondering if you can get more specific than the Bar Cart Foundations “hardware” episode about where to get a bar cart / sturdy surface under $500. So far I’ve started with an X-shaped keyboard stand with a spray painted piece of plywood on top and am looking for something a bit sturdier, maybe an affordable bar cart with a rustic-style look. Thanks!”

Well Robbie, I’m really glad you reached out because this is a great reminder that we can always go back and add to our foundations material. It’s been probably about 3 years since that episode launched, and I’ve sure learned a lot in that time, so let’s tackle this question.

When it comes to bar carts or what I’ll otherwise refer to as a bar cabinet or “dry bar,” you’ve got a number of great options out there, but you really need to be honest with yourself at the outset about how handy you intend on being with this project. If you’re pretty good with tools, there are a lot of REALLY cheap options for making a custom bar cart or dry bar. But, if you don’t have a good set of tools or much experience working with wood or metal, I’d recommend forking out the money to save yourself some aggravation.

In my experience, the best way to get a really nice bar cart for an affordable price is to keep your eyes peeled at antique stores. You could even call around to a bunch of them in your area and ask if they have any bar carts in stock. This approach is best for people who really enjoy the little chemical rush when you get a great deal on something, or conversely, for those folks out there who enjoy taking their time and enjoying the process of the hunt.

Personally, I sourced by Bar Cart from friend of the podcast Brandy here in DC, who loves to refurbish vintage furniture, but that was complete luck. I will say, though, that I was able to upgrade the wheels by purchasing some vintage-looking casters on Amazon for about $15, and I’ll have a link to those on the show notes page for this episode.

Speaking of wheels or casters, this brings us to an important question when it comes to sourcing a bar cart: do you really need to move it? Bar carts were initially designed for table-side service at restaurants, where the bartender would actually construction your drink right in front of you, but in most cases, home or apartment bar carts are relatively stationary, which means you might even pose the question: does your setup even need to be on wheels in the first place? Or, put differently, are wheels a practical or an aesthetic consideration?

Next, you’ll want to think about the materials you want your bar cart to be made of. Most of the cheaper ones out there are made of aluminum, particle board, or in some cases soft wood like pine or poplar. Expensive bar carts tend to employ sturdier or richer materials like brass, stainless steel, glass, and hardwood, but these materials really increase the price, so if money is your primary concern, you’re left with two options: source the materials and build it yourself, or settle for an attractive, but less luxurious pre-made bar cart.

Ultimately, judging by the tone of Robbie’s question, I have two big pieces of advice:

  1. First, get to know your ideal dimensions. If you plan on actually using your bar cart or bar cabinet for actually constructing your drinks, make sure it hits that sweet spot for you so that you’re not having to bend down to stir or pour your cocktails. To figure out what that optimal height is for you, take a tape measure and record the height of your favorite meal prep surface – in essence, the place in your home where you’d naturally make a cocktail if you didn’t have a bar cart. Armed with that knowledge, you can make smart choices that you won’t regret when you finally get the thing into your home. Also, if you’re planning to store bottles INSIDE your bar cart because keeping them out of sight is important to you, well…just make sure your bar cart has a cabinet large enough to accommodate even the tallest bottles you tend to keep around.

  2. Second, think outside the box when it comes to materials sourcing. There are some DIY bar cart builds out there that involve going to Lowe’s or Home Depot and picking up some wood and some paint and some screws and then following some pictures and instructions online. But I’d recommend trying to find a store that sells reclaimed wood or recycled materials, like a cross between a hardware store and an antique mall. There’s one near DC called Community Forklift (link in the show notes), and I’ve sourced some really cool wood for book shelves there, and I guarantee they have lots of stuff that’s just begging to be transformed into a bar cart.

Last thing here, Robbie – what if you imagined the look of your ideal bar cart in your mind. Ditch the keyboard stand altogether. What does it look like? Once you have a good picture, I’d simply ask: is there a more affordable piece of furniture that this bar cart resembles? And if there is, why not source that night stand or desk and simply install some wheels on it so that it becomes a bar cart? Could be as simple as that.

If Robbie or anyone else out there has the chance to flex those DIY muscles and make a cool bar cart, we hope you’ll take the chance to send us some pictures and share your process via Instagram, Facebook or Email.

Decanter Talk

Our next question – which is more of a general interest topic – comes courtesy of friend of the pod Greg in Kansas City. You may remember a giveaway of his cocktail artwork that we did a while back.

He recently reached out asking about sourcing affordable spirits decanters, which got me thinking that we’ve never really covered this subject outside of our Infinity Bottles interview with Chad Robinson, so I figured we’d cover some decanter basics in this episode.


Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake