IT’S ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE
Cocktail technique is not difficult, so it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that it’s not important. But following our instructions for how to and how long to stir, shake, muddle, garnish, and more will deliver consistently impressive, tantalizingly delicious results every time.
HIGHER-QUALITY INGREDIENTS MAKE HIGHER-QUALITY COCKTAILS.
Even though you are mixing spirits and liqueurs in cocktails rather than consuming them on their own, quality still matters, so purchase the best you can afford. We are not suggesting you buy a $100 bottle of single-malt Scotch to make the Highlander, but the lowest-end bottle from the bottom shelf is probably not going to make a great cocktail. Chambord is a wonderful berry-flavored liqueur, but it’s not inexpensive. In fact, making some of your own liqueurs and mixers gives you excellent quality control as well as cost savings. Tasters preferred our homemade Sweet Vermouth and Dry Vermouth to any store-bought version.
UNDERSTAND YOUR INGREDIENTS.
Spirits can be confusing. We’ve demystified the essentials for you, but given that the liquor store presents a vast world of choices, we recommend reading labels, doing some independent research, and not hesitating to talk with merchants about what flavors you like and what level of quality you can get for what you are willing or able to spend.
WATER IS AN INGREDIENT.
There are only a few recipes where it actually appears on an ingredient list, but water and its diluting effects are critical to nuanced, well-balanced cocktails. Typically water is incorporated into cocktails by shaking or stirring the ingredients along with ice. Additionally, some cocktails are then served on the rocks. In testing, we found that it was well worth the effort to pay attention to both the quality of water used to make cocktail ice and the technique of making the ice.
CHILL YOUR GLASSES IN THE FREEZER.
As mentioned, usually the water in a cocktail comes from melted ice, with the goal of the ice being to chill your drink as well as dilute it correctly. Chilling your serving glasses, which takes only a few minutes, ensures that all that frosty goodness you have created in the cocktail shaker or mixing glass will not be lost by pouring your carefully made cocktail into a room-temperature glass.
DOUBLE-STRAIN YOUR COCKTAILS (SOMETIMES).
It may seem fussy, but it is not. Whether a cocktail is shaken or stirred, it must be strained through either a built-in strainer (for a cobbler shaker) or a handheld strainer (for a Boston shaker). There are two situations when we recommend pouring your drink through a second, small conical strainer set over the serving glass. The first is for shaken cocktails served straight up (without ice); double-straining results in beautifully translucent cocktails with no floating ice shards. (An exception is straight-up cocktails containing egg whites, such as the Whiskey Sour, since double-straining deflates the desirable frothy foam that comes from shaking the egg white.) The other situation when we double-strain is for muddled cocktails; nobody wants to end up chewing on chunks of mint while trying to enjoy a Mojito.
ALWAYS MEASURE. NEVER EYEBALL.
For cocktails with a perfect balance of flavors every time, measure your ingredients. As little as ¼-ounce difference in lemon juice or Simple Syrup, for example, can make a significant difference in the outcome of your drink. This tip includes bitters! Traditionally in cocktail recipes, bitters are called for in imprecise “dashes” or “drops.” However, we learned in testing that the actual amount in a dash or drop can vary wildly depending on the diameter of the dropper, the size of the dasher, how much liquid is in the bottle, the size of the bottle, and even the force with which you wield the bottle. It is easy and consistent to drop or dash your bitters into a teaspoon measure before adding them to your cocktail. That is what we did, and that is what we recommend you do, too.
MEASURE IN OUNCES, NOT CUPS.
When cooking, we are all accustomed to measuring liquids in cup measures. However, greater precision is required for measuring the smaller amounts of liquids needed for cocktails. For the most consistent results, we developed our recipes using ounce measurements for liquid ingredients. Cocktail jiggers make it easy to measure this way. Imagine cocktail making as similar to baking: Just as weighing the ingredients used in baking recipes provides more precise measurements and results in better baked goods, measuring liquids in ounces results in well-made, balanced cocktails every time. (We do use teaspoon measurements for amounts less than ¼ ounce.)
THE GARNISH IS NOT AN AFTERTHOUGHT.
Garnishes do more than look pretty; they add a significant flavor and aroma component that properly completes your carefully made drink. We tested all of our recipes both with and without garnishes, making adjustments until each drink had the optimal garnish. Flavored rim salts and sugars, homemade cocktail cherries and cocktail onions.
CONSIDER THE NONALCOHOLIC COCKTAIL.
Calling them “mocktails” does them a disservice. Spirit-free cocktails should be as attractive, thoughtfully balanced, and indulgent as any carefully crafted alcoholic cocktail. We developed our original non-alcoholic cocktail recipes as meticulously as we did our spirited cocktails, with the hope that they become part of your regular cocktail rotation.