We admit it. Researching this article was fun. Some might say enjoyable even. What it has left is a legacy of cocktail creations and a breadth of beverages that we had no idea even existed. Because here’s the secret: cocktails at home have got nothing to do with recipes.
Sure, in your local hipster bar or our favorite, the speakeasy with no name outside, you need to be served consistently. A Manhattan should have the right ratio of whiskey to vermouth, and a classic margarita needs the right quantity of lime. But at home that’s all different and as long as you have just a few of the right ingredients and you understand balance, anything is achievable and your friends are going to LOVE you!
Let’s start with balance. Overly sweet or puckeringly tart never works, so you’ll need a few different bitters and some simple syrups. Liquor.com’s fabulous article on The 12 Best Locally Made Bitters in the USA is a great starting point. Local, artisanal bitters are not the hipster beard of the cocktail world – they’re simply the best. Jack Rudy and Scrappy’s are particularly good and offer a great range of flavors, but you’ve also got to try Dram. Simple syrup is much easier and you should always have a homemade bottle in your arsenal (OK, it might be the easiest thing in the world to make, but just in case, here’s how).
So, you have your balancing agents. This really is the best thing since sliced bread and a whole lot more fun at 6pm on a weeknight. You add a few drops of bitters and a splash of simple syrup. How much is the fun part – experiment and find out how the balance changes as you do so. Of course, first of all you’ll need the alcohol and mixer, so what’s the best bet?
Always, always go for the best alcohol you can afford. From vodka to gin, and bourbon to tequila, it’s always a matter of cost. Some mixologists shun vodka, saying it has little flavor. We tend to agree. Vodka should be kept for a martini, perhaps a little dirty, with blue cheese olives. The best friends of cocktails are gin, tequila, whisk(e)y and rum. Add a healthy amount to a cocktail shaker, supplement with some fresh juices, add the bitters and syrup and hey presto, you have a cocktail, a la you. Yes, this is your creation so name it fast ‘cos there ain’t no way you’re gonna create exactly the same thing again.
You should definitely try a mixture of fruit juices, possibly even thrown in the blender with ice for that ‘alcoholic slushy’ variation and generally stay clear of adding soda (though soda water is ok). A good cocktail should be served in a cocktail glass or tumbler and remember a great trick – if it comes out a little too sharp, try a salt rim.