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Pro Tips for Making Cocktails

Cocktails are forever in fashion, although recipe trends may vary. The fun part is, anyone can make a good cocktail as long as they follow a great cocktail recipe (I especially like the cocktail recipes on videos over at Gourmandia) and know a few simple techniques.

 

To begin, equip your home bar with good, basic equipment. Each of these is vital to making a decent cocktail: a jigger to measure out the ingredients (even pros have a hard time eye-balling measurements for a cocktail), a bar spoon, a hawthorn strainer (for shaken drinks), a julep strainer (for stirred drinks), and a good quality shaker. Cobbler shakers are good for beginners, while Boston shakers are usually preferred among pros.

Next, think about ingredients. Buy at least medium-grade alcohol. This will improve your cocktails immensely. When using fruit juice, use the freshest you can find. Especially when using lime or lemon juice, squeeze it yourself. Bottled lemon and lime juice taste nothing like fresh-squeezed.

You might think ice is ice, but the wrong ice can ruin a drink. Only use ice that’s truly cold. The ice should not be melting and it shouldn’t have been in the freezer for more than a few weeks. It’s best not to store the ice next to foods, since it will absorb their flavor. Never reuse ice; toss it out after using it once.

To make your own sugar syrup, mix equal parts of sugar and water. Heat the mixture in a saucepan until the sugar is entirely dissolved. Allow it to cool before using. For sweeter drinks, you can double the amount of sugar.

Generally speaking, most cocktail ingredients should be used in this order: sugar, ice, liquor, mix, and carbonated soda.

Cocktails with difficult to blend ingredients should be shaken. When shaking a cocktail, use no fewer than three and no more than six medium-sized ice cubes. Don’t use crushed ice, because it will over-dilute the drink. Place the ice in the shaker and add other ingredients in the order of alcohol content (with the highest alcohol content going in first). Hold the cocktail shaker in both hands, in between your shoulders, and shake hard and horizontally for between 10 and 20 seconds, unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

Cocktails made only from liquids should be stirred. When stirring, use a glass or metal mixing rod (or “swizzle stick”). Use a mixing glass, then strain the cocktail into a serving glass. As with stirring, don’t use crushed ice. When you see water condensation on the outside of the glass, the cocktail is properly stirred.

Most cocktails should be served in chilled glasses because icy coldness helps the drink taste less alcoholic and – at least to most people – more palatable. In fact, be sure you don’t use such large glasses that by the time the drinker is finishing his or her drink, the cocktail is warm. Smaller glasses are best.

And if you’re tempted to think any glass will work, think again. The right glass enhances the cocktail’s flavor. Mixed drinks such as Long Island and gin and tonic should be served in tall, straight-sided glasses called “highballs.” Cocktails with juice generally should be served in tall, skinny Collins glasses that keep the cocktails colder longer. Coupette glasses, with a broad rim, are best for daiquiris and margaritas. Anything “on the rocks” goes in an “old-fashioned” or “rocks glass.” Martini glasses are suitable for any shaken and strained cocktail; their unique shape helps prevent the ingredients from separating.

Enjoy!

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