A lot of elements go into throwing a good party—good food, good music, and somebody behind the bar who knows the basics of cocktailing. If that’s your spot, and you learned everything you know about mixology from James Bond movies, Coyote Ugly, and Cocktail, you can start making better drinks immediately.
It’s fun to watch the professional bartenders appear to pour what looks like random quantities of spirits into glasses, but all is not as it appears. Those pours aren’t random. Those bottles are outfitted with speed-pour spouts that control and regular the flow of the booze. Everyone will forgive you for measuring out the spirits with a jigger—especially when they sample the final product.
Reconstituted fruit juice in those plastic squeeze bottles looks awful and tastes worse. Up your cocktailing ante big time with fresh lemons, limes, pineapple, grapefruit, and oranges. Pile up big bowls of fresh fruit on your bar for visual impact before you even start to squeeze, slice, and twist them into your cocktails for the win.
Ice survives being dumped into a shaker with your booze and mixers, but it gets really beat up after you rattle it around in there. Pouring the contents from the shaker directly into the glass means those shards and chips go in, too. They melt faster than pristine cubes, diluting your mixed masterpiece. There are a few exceptions to this cocktailing rule, but if the recipe says “strain,” do it.
With very few exceptions, mixed drinks need 30 seconds of shaking time to aerate and blend. Don’t rush it. Their taste buds will know it.
Yes, this really does matter. There’s a reason a certain type of glass is used for different drinks. But if you don’t have the will, the inclination, the coin, or the room to store a dozen Hurricane, Margarita, Martini, Zombie, or Collins glasses, stock up on the three basics: lowballs, highballs, and coupes will see you through the vast majority of beverages.
With apologies to 007, the British Secret agent ordered his martinis all wrong. Unless a drink includes juice or eggs, there’s no reason to shake it. Shaking drinks, martinis included, when you’re supposed to stir won’t result in the signature froth and texture that defines the perfect martini.
Who knows how many martinis have been ruined by a bad shot of spoiled vermouth. With a low ABV of 18 percent or less, vermouth isn’t hearty enough to hang in there at room temperature for more than a month. It won’t last much longer in the refrigerator, so don’t take a chance. When in doubt, throw it out.
Extremely cold temperatures are no friend to the volatile compounds in spirits like whisky. Only vodka, which is distilled to be pure and clean, can survive the deep freeze. In fact, freezing temps sometimes thicken the texture of the vodka for a smooth, velvety sip. But anything else? Nope.
What spices are to cooking, bitters are to mixology. You may have heard of Angostura Bitters, but why not try out Peychaud’s and Orange bitters for a new taste treat?
As with anything you cook, bake, or mix, little things mean a lot. When serving your drinks, try frosting your glasses for a really refreshing, upscale-looking cocktail—with or without the umbrella.
If you’re the go-to bartender at your home parties, remember: all the technical savvy and the flashiest flair in the world won’t serve you if you only make the same half a dozen drinks all the time. So get a few new recipes. Make a signature cocktail. Up your garnish game. Invest in some new barware. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to try something new!