If you’re a devotee of the cocktail, you’ll likely have discovered a home truth when entertaining privately: mixed drinks in the home never seem quite as good as those you get when you go out. This is the case no longer. We’re pleased to arm you with the necessary knowledge to mix up cracking drinks right out of your own kitchen, or bar.
Without further ado, here are the golden principles of home drink manufacture:
• Knowledge is power; researching recipes is essential
• Commitment to quality ingredients (all of them) is paramount
• Cocktail construction isn’t easy; it requires preparation and practice
• Ice is king
• The right kit for the job is crucial
One of the biggest mistakes made by home cocktailians is to mix whatever’s lying around gathering dust. This will too often reap the reward of weird, sweet drinks and type-two diabetes. Avoid this pain by buying a couple of good cocktail books or looking at reputable websites visited by bartenders – but be sure to avoid hack home-entertainment websites. A good recipe should be carefully adhered to once found.
Ever heard the adage that your dish is only as good as its worst ingredient? So it is with cocktails. Commit to your ingredients 100 per cent. No wilted mint. No lemon juice that’s more than half-an-hour old (after squeezing). Only use fresh raspberries, fresh organic eggs and so on.
Classy cocktails need to be shaken, stirred or built over ice. Kitsch cocktails? Okay, blend away, but use more sugar. Method is vital for a drink’s quality, and so is tasting for balance – no, not sipping; using the eye-dropper method with a straw works best. Be aware that shaking and stirring drinks requires much more ice than you’d expect. Shake hard, stir thoughtfully and look confident. The golden rule for drinks construction is this: if it tastes too watery, shake or stir the next one less; if it’s too strong, more.
One of the greatest keys to an awesome cocktail is ice. The smaller, and whiter it is the quicker your drinks will become watery messes; the larger, and clearer your ice is the longer they’ll stay fresh and balanced. The best tip is to stockpile ice frozen in trays at home for a party. Purchased bag ice is nasty stuff.
Lastly, you’ll need to get your hands on the right equipment for the job. A chopping board, paring knife, Boston shaker (two-part shaker), Hawthorn strainer, fine strainer, long bar spoon, citrus elbow and measuring jigger are all vital tools. These will help you prepare all your ingredients and produce beautiful cocktails.
It’s clear that this is a very large topic, and there are many pitfalls waiting for you. But if you dedicate yourself to liquor you’re passionate about, and highlight its quality with simple ingredients, excellent results will follow. As with all things, it requires just a dash of dedication.
Mix your own at home:
60mls preferred gin or vodka
10mls Noilly Prat (amount variable to taste, although it should be noted that French vermouth is dry)
Method: Stir the gin or vodka and the vermouth over plenty of ice to taste (ice quality will affect stirring time). Strain into a frozen cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive or a lemon twist.
50mls white rum
20mls fresh lime juice
15mls sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and tepid water stirred or shaken till clear)
6–8 large mint leaves
Method: Mix all ingredients well, but gently, with a spoon. Pack with ice and top with soda. Churn briefly and garnish with two big sprigs of mint.
50mls preferred gin
25mls lemon juice
15mls sugar syrup
Method: Shake quickly (about three seconds) with ice and strain over more ice in a tall glass. Charge with soda and garnish with a lemon wedge.