E023 - How to Build a Proper Cocktail
This time on Across The Peak, Rich and I tell you how to build a proper cocktail to impress your friends, please a crowd, and seduce potential mates. We talk about travel to Iceland and Ireland, and Justin is forced to defend Death by Coconut.
Why You Should Know How to Make a cocktail
It is an impressive skill! Knowing how to make a good cocktail can impress your friends and potential mates, and please a crowd.
Making a cocktail is an art form! A cocktail blends ingredients into a cohesive whole that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Cocktails can be tailored to the mood or the weather!
You can keep the ingredients on hand and be able to take care of your friends at a moments’ notice! We love being able to offer our guests (even unexpected guests) a proper cocktail. It’s easy to keep the ingredients on-hand.
History of cocktails
Book Recommendation: And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. For a shorter read check out this article.
Cocktails have been around for a long time. The first occurrence of the word “cocktail” is its appearance in London’s Morning Post and Gazetteer on 20 March, 1798.
Cocktails became immensely popular in the Colonies for a variety of reasons, including swings the quality of available liquor. The wild variation in quality, as well as the propensity of some distillers to adulterate their products, led to the Bottled-in-Bond act of 1897. This made the federal government the guarantor of a liquor’s quality.
The term “cocktail” as we know it today was defined in 1806 when the Balance and Columbian Repository described it thusly: “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water, and bitters.”
Prohibition led to a huge cocktail renaissance. Because liquor had to be surreptitiously produced, quality wasn’t necessarily all it could be.
Disambiguation: Cocktail vs. Mixed Drink
The modern definition of a cocktail is a drink containing three or more ingredients. Typically those ingredients fall into a variety of categories including liquor, sweet (i.e. simple syrup), sour (i.e. citrus juice), and bitters.
Bitters is the backbone of many a good cocktail. Bitters bring botanical flavors to a cocktail. Though there are literally dozens of different flavors of bitters on the market, you really only need on: Angostura Bitters. This versatile bitters (the generalist of bitters, shall we say?) is perfect for whiskey and rum-based drinks. If you’re going to expand your bar a bit more, also consider Peychaud’s Bitters and perhaps Regan’s Orange Bitters. Beyond that, I wouldn’t bother.
A mixed drink is considered a liquor combined with a mixer like soda or fruit juice. Examples include a Jack and Coke or the excellent Dark ‘n Stormy, one of Justin’s all-time favorite drinks.
The Principles of Building a Decent Drink
Principle #1: Balance, balance, balance. A good cocktail should be a balance between ingredients. No single ingredient should call too much attention to itself or drown out other ingredients. A cocktail that is an excellent example of this is the Mojito. The Mojito consists of light rum, simply syrup, juice from a fresh lime wedge, and club soda. It is flavored with mint leaves. There are four ways to screw up a Mojito, and I’ve had it every wrong way you can make it:
Too watery/weak, when there is too much club soda relative to the other ingredients,
Too sour, from using too much lime juice,
Too sweet, from an too much simple syrup, and
Too strong, caused by using too much rum.
Mastering the ratios of a drink are critical to mastering the drink itself and being able to produce it reliably.
Principle #2: Use simple, clean ingredients! Our exemplar cocktail here is the classic Daiquiri. Too many Americans (way too many!) believe a Daiquiri is electric-red and comes out of a slushie machine at a Sandals resort. That is not the case! A Daiquiri is one of the simplest drinks you can make, and when made with simple, clean ingredients, one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.
A Daiquiri is nothing more than:
Fresh squeezed lime juice, and
That’s it. No bottles of “daiquiri mix” from the grocery store. No blender required. And certainly no slushie machine. Try a “frozen daiquiri” the next time you have a chance, then try one of these. The difference is nothing short of amazing.
The Daiquiri is also an excellent example of an entire class of drinks called “sour cocktails” that can all be made with three ingredients, consisting of a strong, sour, and sweet. Some other sour cocktails are:
Whiskey Sour: whiskey (strong), lemon juice (sour), sugar or simple syrup (sweet),
Sidecar: cognac (strong), lemon juice (sour), triple sec (i.e. Cointreau)(sweet)
Margarita: tequila (strong), lime juice (sour), and triple sec (i.e. Cointreau)(sweet)
Principle #3: Use the right equipment. Your bar doesn’t have to be fancy and have all the latest tools. The minimalist’s bar should have a handful of tools. As with most things, we favor quality over quantity when it comes to bar tools, so skip those all-in-one, 15-piece bar sets at Target. Get what you need for the drinks you make. Our bar has the following:
Whiskey ice trays. These aren’t the best if you’re making drinks that are meant to be shaken with ice. But if you like whiskey, these are for you! For best results we keep ours covered with aluminum foil. This prevents them from picking up food odors from the fridge. Also, be sure you’re using good water without heavy chlorine or fluoride taste.
Jigger. Every bar needs a jigger. It’s simple tool for measuring spirits and other cocktail ingredients.
Boston shaker. This is a simple stainless steel tumbler that fits over a pint glass, allowing you to shake drinks. There are fancier shakers out there (i.e. the three-piece units with a built-in strainer) but for my money, and my style of cocktails, the Boston shaker is the way to go.
Appropriate glassware. I think this article does a better job explaining glassware than I do, and I agree with their list of the glasses you need: Old Fashioned/rocks glasses, Martini glasses, and Collins/high ball glasses.
Principle #4: Develop a process and use the right process. Building an excellent cocktail shouldn’t be a fluke. You should refine your process and have it down cold.
Develop a reliable, repeatable process - above all, be consistent! We use recipe cards to record our cocktail recipes so we know exactly what, and how much of it, goes into a drink.
Read recipes and talk to others to find the recommend process for a given cocktail. For some drinks the order in which you add ingredients can be influence the final product.
Practice, practice, practice!
What you Need On Your Bar
You don’t need 50 bottles on your bar to start making excellent cocktails! When considering the following list, remember that quality is much more important than quantity. The following spirits should get you well on your way:
Bourbon; we LOVE Bulleit
Tequila; Ky is a big fan of Espolon
Vodka; we don’t really have a favorite or a good recommendation
Light Rum; we like Cruzan if buying cheap stuff. If buying expensive stuff, we get dark rum.
Dark Rum; we always keep Goslings Black Seal on hand, and occasionally well try and find a bottle of Thomas Tew
Book of the Week
And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis.