It’s tough being a beginner and it never helps when you’re impatient like me. As fellow Cocktail Novices we’re afflicted by dubious information, the subjectivity of taste and a limited ability to practice. Certainly throwing yourself into “research” would help, but that’s not always an option…
But fear not! This post will get you a shove up the learning curve by avoiding countless nights of trial and error. Follow these tips and your cocktails will be head and shoulder above your fellow beginners. Guaranteed.
The The KISS Principle
applies to a wide range of processes, including home bartending. When you’re learning to make cocktails at home “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
To me this means a few things:
- Start With a Basic Set of Spirits (Preferably Those You Enjoy)
- Experiment With Uncomplicated Recipes
- Learn Fundamental Techniques
Basic Bar Tools
You don’t need a full set of barware or glasses to make great cocktails out of the gate, but there are a few critical tools. These are inexpensive, so don’t be a chump and get one of each:
Graduated Shot Glass – You are not Tom Cruise in Cocktail, nor are you a professional bartender. To make a good cocktail you need to measure the ingredients and this one item is a critical for every beginner. Contributor Ryan Barlow pronounces his love of The Graduated Shot Glass here.
Cocktail Shaker – Whether you’re shaking or stirring a drink, a Cocktail Shaker is a required piece of equipment. They’re durable and allow you to make multiple drinks quickly. Here’s our Cocktail Shaker Guide for your reading enjoyment.
Bar Spoon – Yes, you could probably manage with a teaspoon or a chopstick to stir drinks but have a little self-respect. For $4 the bar spoon is a wonder tool. You can get the lowdown here: Barware Basics: Bar Spoons.
A big part of creating a delicious cocktail is minimizing dilution… So chill your glassware rookie! If you’re interested, I performed an awesome experiment which will show you how to do it with minimal effort in The Lazy Man’s Guide to Chilling Glassware
Don’t Refrigerate Fruit
I debated about whether this one belongs on the list, because it’s more focused on bartending technique versus the quality of the end result. In short refrigerated fruit produce 1/3 less juice. So if it’s Margarita
Night or you’re poppin’ out a ton of Whiskey
Sours, you may want to make it easy on yourself by bringing your fruit to room temperature.
Freshly Squeeze Juice
Hopefully this won’t come as a shock to you, but fresh juice tastes better. Ideally juice should be squeezed to order since it starts to degrade within about 30 minutes. Now I’ll admit that it’s unlikely that most people have a fresh Pineapple and a juicer
lying around to birth a Mai Tai, but do your best.
Freshness doesn’t only mean fruit, it means everything. You can’t tell me that cola from a week old 2 liter bottle of Coke tastes as good as a freshly opened can… If you can, have your palate checked. So have fresh mixers like cola, tonic and soda on-hand in a single-serving size to do your cocktails justice.
Use the Right Ice
Regular freezer ice
stinks for cocktails (literally & figuratively) so a little effort in advance can create a vastly superior drink. There are many different ways to improve cocktail ice, but here are a couple basics I’ve just started doing myself:
- Use Filtered Water – Tap Water Can Taste Pretty Crappy
- Boil the Water & Let Cool Before Freezing – This Minimizes Dissolved Air & Minerals That Make Ice Cloudy
- Store the Ice is a Sealed Bag – Freezers Can Impart Bad Flavors. Protect your cubes!
To be clear, this is the Cliff’s Notes version on cocktail ice basics. While Rachel already covered 3 Types of Cocktail Ice we’re working on a bigger guide.
Simply put, dilution is the enemy. So after chilling a cocktail serve it over fresh ice to maintain the desired flavor.
Keeping Vermouth… Forever
Guilty as charged. Vermouth
is considered an aromatized wine
, so it doesn’t have a higher alcohol content that enables a long shelf life. The rule of thumb is that it’ll last 30 days after opening. So unless you’re a total lush, you should probably buy a 375 ml bottle to keep it fresh . Also, keep it refrigerated.
You can’t consistently create great drinks without properly measuring the ingredients. Sure you may be able to eyeball a Gin
and Tonic, but failure to take the time to measure your ingredients will keep you in the bush league indefinitely.
The proper way to mix a cocktail depends on the ingredients and there always seems to be a big debate about it. To keep it simple, shaken cocktails generally include thick, flavorful components while stirred cocktails include distilled spirits or very light mixers. I know that this is an incomplete explanation, but just by thinking of the mixing method you’re likely to dramatically improve your cocktails.
We all need to start somewhere and learning the basics can be tough. Apply these 11 tips to make better cocktails and your drinks will instantly improve. Guaranteed.