As we head toward World Class Cocktail Week, we’ve been thinking about great drinks: not just their ingredients, but the preparation and inspiration that go into them. Right now, the best person to talk to about such matters is Charlie Ainsbury, bartender and co-owner of This Must Be The Place. Ainsbury is also the just-crowned 2016 World Class Australian Bartender of the Year – an accolade he also won in 2014. Here are his key – and easy – tips to lift your home-mixing game.
Measure your ingredients
A great cocktail – or even just a decent one – relies on the ingredients being balanced. “You wouldn’t eyeball a recipe for a soufflé or chocolate-chip cookies, so why do it for drinks?” says Ainsbury. You don’t need a fancy jigger (a bartender’s liquor measurer) or other bartending equipment. “A shot glass will work fine for single drinks,” Ainsbury says. “Use a measuring cup for larger drinks, such as punches or cocktail jugs.”
Cooks use seasonal produce to better their cooking, so there’s no reason the same approach wouldn’t work for bartenders. “We are blessed with produce in this country,” says Ainsbury. “Please, use it. Think seasonally and think locally.” The flavour (and availability) of in-season fruit and vegetables will always be superior, and this will translate to a better tasting cocktail. “Lemon juice comes from a lemon,” Ainsbury adds. “It doesn't come from that yellow squeeze bottle you find in the baking section of the supermarket.”
Invest in your home liquor cabinet
“If I opened up your home liquor cabinet,” says Ainsbury, “I bet I’d find a nearly-empty bottle of cheap tequila, several bottles of strange liqueurs and flavoured vodkas, a bottle of cream sherry most likely inherited from a relative, that yellow squeeze bottle of lemon juice, and a novelty plastic shaker. This will not do!”
You can make great cocktails with just a spirit, fresh citrus juice and sugar, but Ainsbury says it’s worth building a home liquor cabinet. Start by investing in good spirits (such as Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray gin, Don Julio tequila, Bulleit Bourbon or Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky), then add principal liqueurs and fortified wines. “It’s worth forking out the few extra bucks,” he says.
Keep it simple
You may be tempted to serve complicated cocktails at a party. Ainsbury’s advice? Don’t. “Stick to one or two recipes for the night, and make at least one of them a punch,” he says. “You want to be part of the party, not in the kitchen shaking drinks.”
Everyone’s palates are different, Ainsbury reminds us, so it’s okay to adjust a recipe if it’s not to you or your guests’ liking: “Remember, you can always add sugar, but you can’t take it away.”
One of the most important ingredients in a cocktail is good ice, but one of the most useful – and impressive – ingredients is big ice blocks. “Simply freeze a Tupperware container full of water the night before,” says Ainsbury. “You can even add whole blocks to a bowl of punch. Large blocks melt slower than the ice you get in bags from the petrol station, which means your cocktail will stay chilled, but not diluted, for longer.”
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.