Ahead of their upcoming Australian tour, we asked the cocktail gurus behind Dead Rabbit (as well as bartenders from the venues their popping up at) how to make the best of your liquor cabinet.
Jessica Friedman – Dead Rabbit
A good drink starts with the right ice. “It’s all about surface area: the larger the cube, the slower it’s going to melt. If you stir with shaved ice, your drink is going to be watery.” Keen home bartenders don’t have to carve their own ice, they can invest in large ice-cube trays like these. “Think of it as a stiletto: if you are mad at your boyfriend and you stepped on him with a stiletto, it’s going to hurt more than a sneaker- and that’s because of surface area. When a drink touches the surface area of a larger piece of ice, it’s a gentler blow.”
Friedman says the next step is making as many of your own ingredients as possible, this means avoiding pre-made mixers and supermarket juice. “It’s so easy to make your own simple syrup. At the bar we use a demerara syrup, a cane syrup and simple syrup. At home you can too, just make sure you use a recipe so your drinks are consistent.”
James Irvine – Beverage Director for the Swillhouse Group, which owns Baxter Inn and Shady Pines Saloon
Irvine’s top tip: refrigerate everything. “Ninety per cent of cocktails are best cold, so make sure you are only working with chilled ingredients – everything from your mixers to your spirits. Even keep glasses in the fridge or, one better, the freezer. This really elevates the profile of your cocktail.”
What else elevates the profile of your cocktail? “Quality spirits,” says the Sydney local. “You don’t have to use top-shelf spirits, but you should be spending around $40 a bottle.”
If you want to seriously up your game, Irvine recommends doing your research. A proud nerd, Irvine has an extensive library. His shelves include cocktail manuals from some of the industry’s best, including Dead Rabbit and Sydney’s Eau de Vie. Irvine says these manuals are a great way to learn about new recipes and different techniques. If you’re interested in history, pick up Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book from 1931 or Jerry Thomas’s 1862 Bar Tender’s Guide. “Thomas was really the first person to categorise drinks, he was the first cocktail pro.”
Ryan Lane – The Gresham
If you aren’t sure where to start, Lane recommends an iPhone app developed by the bartenders at New York’s legendary cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell. Available from the iTunes Store for $9.99, PDT is loaded with recipes for cocktails and offers advice on techniques and how to substitute ingredients you might not have access to. PDT even allows you to upload your own liquor cabinet’s inventory and, based on what’s in your cupboard, the app will generate a list of all of the recipes you have ingredients for.
“But remember, you can also just go to your local bar and talk to your bartender,” says Lane. “There isn’t the mystery around cocktails that there used to be. Your bartender will write down recipes for you and give you a shopping list; we do this all the time for customers at The Gresham.”
Once you are ready to get started, Lane is clear: “Don’t buy cheap, long-life juices. Squeeze your own. Fresh citrus and fresh juice make an enormous difference.”
Chris Hysted – Black Pearl
Taste matters, but presentation also goes a long way. “Invest in nice wine glasses,” says Chris Hysted. “There is something about holding nice glassware that feels good. It’s a little bit fancy and shows an extra level of care.”
If you feel want to have a go building your own drink, Hysted recommends advice from a pirate song: “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak”. “Sour could be lemon, lime or grapefruit, and sweet could be sugar, honey or flavoured syrup. Strong can be any spirit – I often use Ketel One Citron. And then the weak could be soda water, orange juice, tonic water – whatever. This recipe is about ratios, so it’s always balanced. It has never, ever, ever, ever failed me.”
You can make a single serve or use a punch bowl for a party. “Use a giant block of ice and let it slowly melt into the punch while you sit back and have a good time.”