DIY Drinks

Three local experts share handy tips and easy recipes for those who prefer to sip their coffee, juice or cocktail from the safety of home during the coronavirus pandemic

By Andy Viano
A mango, pineapple, spinach and coconut milk smoothie, pictured on August 10, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Whether an occasional indulgence or a staple of the routine, a trip to the counter for your favorite early morning, mid-day or after-hours drink could be counted on to brighten your day in addition to quenching your thirst.

These days, of course, nothing is quite so simple. The coronavirus pandemic is still part of everyday life, and businesses and customers alike have had to adapt to stay safe. That trip to the café for an early morning cup of joe is still possible in most parts, but between masking up and staying six feet apart, it’s a vastly different experience. And for those who have underlying health conditions, live with someone who does, or just want to play it safe and smart, journeying for a latte — or a fresh-squeezed juice or an after-work cocktail — isn’t the carefree endeavor it once was.

So in the age of COVID-19, we convened three of the Flathead Valley’s master drink-makers to help you build a professional-grade beverage without leaving the house, and share how their businesses are adjusting to keep customers safe, for those times when you do feel like donning your mask and letting the pros do the work for you.

Matthew Bussard, Uptown Hearth & Azul Coffee Bar

For the tastiest cup of coffee brewed right in your kitchen it’s all about the beans.

Bussard, the barista behind all the delicious drinks at Azul Coffee Bar inside Uptown Hearth on Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls, thinks its time you start thinking differently about the most important ingredient.

“View coffee like you view your bread and produce,” he says. “It’s a kitchen item that you don’t want to sit on the shelf for more than two to four weeks.”

Buying in small batches from local roasters is the ideal way to go, he adds, and as for the water, Bussard recommends boiling before adding it to your coffeemaker to make sure it gets hot enough, “a small step to make your morning home brew taste much better.”

For something a little different, Bussard suggests making a simple syrup — a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar, heated on the stove until the sugar dissolves — that can be flavored with vanilla, mint, hazelnut or caramel extracts to mix in. And if you happen to have an at-home espresso setup, try pouring a double shot over ice cream for an exquisite affogato.

Uptown Hearth, meanwhile, has reimagined its operation to serve customers during the pandemic and now offers expanded outdoor seating along with its full breakfast and lunch menu. Learn more at uptownhearth.com.

Madisen Cross, Huck’s Place Ginger Brew and Juice Bar

Keep the produce fresh and the smoothies frozen, Cross says, and there is a world of possibilities for making tasty juice blends at home.

Cross and co-owner Kyle Duty are in the midst of a move to a new location on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish, but while Huck’s Place is closed for the time being Cross shared some of her favorite blends that you can make at home. For starters, she recommends staying stocked up on longer-lasting fruits and vegetables to mix into a number of different juices, including the green apple, spinach, celery, lemon and ginger mix or a pineapple, orange, lemon, beet and carrot blend.

If something colder is more your thing, the frozen food section of your local grocery store has everything you need to put together a professional-tasting smoothie. Pineapple, spinach, mango and coconut milk is one good place to start.

Huck’s Place is planning a grand opening soon and the new location will offer bottled juices in addition to freshly made options, plus an expanded menu of smoothies, juice cleanses, homemade ginger brews and “some yummy treats and surprises.” Find Huck’s Place on Facebook, follow @Hucksplace406 on Instagram or call/text (406) 249-1329 for help with your at-home drinks.

Lauren Oscilowski, Spotted Bear Spirits

It’s not hard to whip up a gin and tonic or a vodka lemonade on a warm summer night, but certain evenings demand something more sophisticated.

For those nights, Oscilowski says you can open a world of possibilities by making a simple syrup (the same mix described in the coffee section), either unflavored or with a hint of raspberry, lavender or whatever else you have a taste for. And keeping some fresh citrus on hand — lemons and limes at least — is a great way to spice up something like a simple gin and tonic.

As for some inspiration when using your new ingredient, Oscilowski’s a fan of the paloma, which mixes two parts fresh squeezed grapefruit, one part lime juice, one part simple syrup and two parts tequila (or, say, Spotted Bear’s organic agave), topped with club soda. If you don’t want to keep fresh citrus on hand, Oscilowski recommends Simply Grapefruit or Simply Lime from your local grocer, although you’ll probably want to tone down or eliminate the simple syrup if you’re using those.

There is one other option, too, since Spotted Bear is now selling its mixers to go in a nod to our current coronavirus-related conditions. Stop by the tasting room in downtown Whitefish to grab all the ingredients needed for a few “plug-and-play” rounds of drinks. More information is available at spottedbearspirits.com.

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