Creating a mouthwatering new cocktail is a balance of creativity, ingredients and craftsmanship. However, even the most basic cocktail needs to start with a quality liquor. There’s a large difference in spirits, so don’t hold back. Budget alcohol usually doesn’t blend as well as more refined varieties.
Every cocktail recipe combines three main ingredients: alcohol, a sour ingredient like lemon, and a sweet ingredient such as a simple syrup or triple sec. The formula for achieving the perfect cocktail balance is 2:1:1. That’s two parts alcohol, one part sour, and one part sweet. When using similar spirits in your cocktail, use an equal amount of each. When combining spirits, the rule is 3 tbsp. of the weakest to 1 tbsp. of the strongest liquor. Freshness is another area where you shouldn’t skimp. Bottles of lemon juice are handy and pre-sliced fruit more convenient, but don’t give into temptation. Pick only the freshest ingredients. You’ll be amazed at the dramatic taste difference.
Another secret of top bartenders is the temperature of the glass. Put the glass in the freezer for 10-30 minutes…or if you’re in a rush, add some ice-cold soda to your cocktail glass while making the cocktail. When you’re ready to serve the cocktail, pour the soda into the sink and the glass will be ready. As with the alcohol, there are many different kinds of sodas — don’t choose the cheapest one when you’ve just bought a good liquor bottle. What’s more, most drinks contain herbs, fruits or both. For herbs, squeeze them just enough to smell the aroma, lest their oils give the drink a bitter aftertaste. Squeeze fruit 3-4 times to get the most of the juices out while keeping them intact and maximizing their full flavor.
Many new bartenders fall short when it comes to sugar and end up with drinks that aren’t sweet enough. An old trick is to place a straw in the drink, put your thumb on the end to create pressure and then pull it up from the drink to taste. You can add sugar slowly until it’s just right. To amp up the visual appeal, add a strawberry or orange slice at the top of the glass. You’re drink will be Insta-famous in no time.
Ice, Ice, Baby
While most of the attention is on the liquor, some think that ice may be the most important ingredient in a cocktail. We all know the clearer the ice the better. This affects taste. Plus, cloudy and impure ice has oxygen bubbles trapped in it and will melt faster, thus throwing off the science of the drink. Distilled water is essential for bar-quality home ice. But you’re not done there, the ice cube’s shape matters, too. Big ice cubes are best for Manhattan and Vieux Carre libations. Crushed, cracked or pebble ice is the way to go for Mint Juleps, tiki drinks and rum swizzles. Ice shards, cracked ice or Collins spears are ideal for highball-style drinks like Gin & Tonic or a Whiskey Soda.