Camper’s Rock Star Life

Camper English is the author of ‘How to Party Like a Rock Star – Even when You’re Poor as Dirt’ so who better to consult on money saving secrets and top mixology tips.

There’s this thing called a credit crunch going on, what’s your best piece of advice for our cocktail loving readers to save a bit of cash?
Not that I want our bartender friends to lose any income, but it’s a lot cheaper to drink at home. With all the information about cocktail history and proper preparation on the Internet, you can spend hours studying to make each cocktail. Then drinking becomes both a fun activity and a home craft project.

In your book, there’s a topic about how to chat up bar staff to get free drinks, what’s your secret?
In Party Like a Rock Star I have all sorts of crafty ways to flirt and sit in front of the bartender for a long time looking pathetic, but recently all my free drinks have come from just being interested- talking to the bartender about new spirits and drink variations. The next thing I know, there are three versions of a drink sitting in front of me that I’m sharing with the bartender. Enthusiasm takes you pretty far.

What basic bar tools do I need to party at home?
While you don’t really need to buy any specialized equipment for your home bar, the basic stuff is not very expensive and makes the difference between ‘drinking gin out of the bottle at home alone’ and ‘enjoying a sophisticated cocktail at happy hour.’ My basic tools are a shaking tin and mixing glass (Boston shaker), a strainer, a bar spoon, a hand citrus squeezer, a paring knife, a measuring jigger, a muddler, and a citrus zester. Plus a few mismatched pieces of glassware in different sizes from the thrift store.

And what spirits and mixers should I stock up on?

For spirits, buy what you drink! Then add liqueurs and other supplementary cocktail ingredients (vermouth, triple sec), as you need them. For mixers I try to never run out of soda water or tonic water, then usually have a basket of citrus. That may be easier and less expensive for me though, living in California.

Got any tips for making great cocktails?
Avoid the common mistakes people make at home: Buy small bottles of vermouth, keep them in the refrigerator, and make sure they don’t go off. Vermouth doesn’t last very long once it’s opened. Remember that ice is an ingredient; so keep it fresh and clean of freezer flavors. Follow recipes but vary them- most of the time the balance of sweet to sour is out of whack. Bring that into line and you’ll fix the drink.

How do I create a great atmosphere at my party?
To create a great atmosphere, create a great drink that matches the mood you want to set: a sophisticated martini, a social punch, or Jell-O shots. It’s surprising what you can control by what you serve.

Do you have parties yourself, and if so what kind of vibe do you create?
These days I tend to bring surprises to other peoples’ parties- a batch cocktail that gets everyone talking. I like to spread my cocktail geekery around.

What is your favourite gin cocktail?
Negroni, up.

What is your favourite gin brand?
I can’t say I have a favorite. I like so very, very many brands.

And how do you serve a G&T?
Americans have awful tonic with high fructose corn syrup as sweetener, so I obsess about buying boutique tonics like Fever Tree and Q Tonic. I like my G&Ts on the strong side- it helps me slow down and remember to enjoy the gin.

Where is your favourite bar?
In San Francisco I love Bourbon & Branch for the atmosphere. Because you can make a reservation it’s never crowded (and there is no membership fee). My favorite drink menu in San Francisco currently is at a bar/restaurant called Beretta, where most of the rum drinks are made with rhum agricole and they use about five different kinds of sweetening agents.

Any bars you really like in the UK?
I liked so many London bars for different reasons. Quo Vadis had a great bunch of people working the bar, I loved Montgomery Place even though it was empty when I went, and the drinks I had at Mahiki were terrific. You can never get a good drink at a nightclub in America.

Do you have a favourite bartender?
I have a favorite bartender for each style of drink!  

Describe your ideal night out.
Monday or Tuesday night when it’s not crowded, I arrive at happy hour and somehow party until closing (2AM here) through four or five bars with a group of bartenders on their nights off. This happens with alarming frequency.  

What inspired you to write Party Like a Rockstar?
The rest of the title: Even When You’re Poor as Dirt. I was living off my paltry unemployment check that only just covered my rent, but somehow I managed to go out five or six nights of the week and get wild. That’s when I realized I had a special skill I needed to share with the world.

Could you give our readers a fun money saving tip?
Make friends with bartenders.

Which drinks books do you enjoy?

Beyond recipe books, I like those books that put drink history in context like David Wondrich’s Imbibe, Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum, and Eric Felten’s How’s Your Drink. For humor, pick up Barbara Holland’s The Joy of Drinking.

What makes you happy at the moment?
I have to write a feature on all the new bars that have opened in San Francisco in the past year, which means I have to go visit all the ones I haven’t been to yet!

Has anyone ever told you that you have the most fabulous name ever?
You’re not my first.

Read Camper’s money saving tips at:

And his fabulous cocktail blog:

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