Cocktails Tips

5 Tips to Make the Perfect Cocktail

Making a cocktail is easy, all you need to do is choose a spirit, mix it with juice and hey presto! If only it were that simple. Who really wants to settle for a subpar cocktail when you could create something so spectacular the speakeasy bar in town will come knocking on your door for the recipe.

Master these five easy steps and you’ll be making mouth-watering cocktails like nobody’s business at your next dinner party.

1. Know Your Cocktail Glasses

Serving your cocktails in the appropriate glassware looks good of course, but the right glass for the right cocktail can make your drink much better.

There are three main types of glassware used for cocktails that should have a home in your glassware cabinet; stemmed, old fashioned and high-ball. Use a stemmed glass whenever you’re serving a shaken or stirred drink without ice as the stem lifts the bowl away from your hand which would otherwise warm the glass. Use an old fashioned glass for drinks built in the glass, usually directly over ice such as an amaretto sour. And use a high-ball glass when you’re sipping something cold and refreshing over lots of ice.

It’s fun to experiment with innovative glassware too. Recent trends have catapulted mini milk bottles and handled jars into the limelight as alternative ways to serve cocktails. If you want a cold cocktail make sure the glass is chilled by leaving it in the freezer as it will keep your cocktail colder for longer.

2. Ice Ice...

Ice deserves more than a little attention. It serves a dual purpose of chilling your drink and slightly diluting it to bring your ingredients into balance by softening the spirits and marrying the flavours.

Can you remember the last time you refreshed the ice in your freezer? Improve your own ice by chucking out anything older than a week and simply fill your ice trays with distilled water rather than tap. Tap water contains impurities and when the water freezers the impurities get stuck in little pockets, which makes a difference to your drink.

An ice machine gives you a steady stream of ice, perfect for your next party. Smaller models sit neatly on your countertop and are compact enough to store away until its next use. Keep it fresh by rotating the new and older cubed ice and avoid storing it in the freezer by smelly foods like fish and anything else pungent.

Ice cubes are good for almost any cocktail mixing, which is great because it’s probably the easiest ice to make in your own home. The bigger the ice cube, the better, as the drink will be colder with the least amount of dilution. Your drink should contain no more than 20% water, if the ice cubes are too small they will dilute quickly and you’ll encounter a ‘bruised’ or watered-down drink. 

Ever thought about infusing your ice? It’s a great way to add a new depth of flavour to your cocktail by simply freezing fresh ingredients in distilled water. Simply fill an ice cube tray half way with water and add thinly sliced fruit or herbs. Mint or basil work really well and so do strawberries, as the ice melts subtle flavours are released into your drink for an extra dimension of taste.

3. Mocktail or Cocktail?

When someone mentions cocktails you usually associate an array of alcohol and spirits, but you don’t need to miss out on the wonderful flavours of a classic cocktail just because you’re the designated driver.

It can be a challenge to inject soft drinks with the same amount of panache as their alcohol equivalents but it’s not impossible; all you need to do is balance flavours that complement each other. Apple juice pairs well with cinnamon or get creative with blood orange and chocolate, just make sure you taste test at each stage so you can adjust the flavours as you like.

If you’re making an alcoholic cocktail it’s important to measure everything with a jigger. A cocktail is 50ml of the base spirit, which is the equivalent of a double shot, plus a couple of other ingredients to jazz it up. Add alcohol to your cocktail at the last step, it’s easier to make things sweeter or sour than turn back the clock as a proper cocktail shouldn’t disguise the alcohol, nor should it be drowned in it.

But if you find you’ve overdone it with flavours there is a way you can resurrect your cocktail. Angus Tookey, senior writer at bar equipment specialists Beaumont TM, suggests that “Soda water and Champagne...are a great way to ‘lengthen’ a drink easing the overpowering strong flavours and helping to bring balance to the palette of flavours in the cocktail. The effervescence of Champagne provides a delightful ‘crispness’ to any mixed drink and also adds to the aesthetics of the drink, leaving it looking brighter and more vibrant and therefore more appealing.”

Not all spirits in the same category are interchangeable, whisky and gin don’t taste the same at all. Of course you can have your own taste preferences but you may lose the intended flavours of the drink. Experimentation however is fun and you can make a real night of it with friends working out which flavours work together.

4. Know When to Shake or Stir 

Cocktail recipes will tell you when to shake all your ingredients and when to stir them, but what does it actually mean for your drink? As a rule of thumb, you should shake cocktails when they include fruit juices, cream liqueurs, dairy or any other thick or flavourful mixtures. Shaking adds effervescence to your drink to lighten it up and add character. It ensures every ingredient is fully integrated into the finished drink’s flavour and breaks up ice which in turn dilutes the drink for a well-balanced cocktail.

To properly shake a cocktail add all your ingredients into the shaker and bring it above shoulder level, holding it parallel to the floor. Shake it vigorously for about 15 seconds until the outside of the shaker cup is cold and frosty.

Stir cocktails that are built with distilled or very light mixtures as stirring is a gentler technique for mixing cocktails and will delicately combine the cocktail’s ingredients with a perfect dilution of ice. If your cocktail includes gin or whiskey you need to gently mix it to avoid ‘bruising’ the spirit. Although, rules are meant to be broken and if you’re anything like James Bond you’ll like your martini shaken not stirred.

5. Add Mixers, Purees & Syrups  

Whether you’re going sweet or sour, there’s the right flavour mixer out there for you. Packet mixers give an intense flavour and are handy when you haven’t got time to make something from scratch while purees and syrups can be stored in your cupboards until their next use. You can always chuck in some fresh fruit, muddle mint or squeeze lemon juice into your cocktail, but make sure you use ingredients you understand and aim for no more than two or three a drink.

Nothing beats freshly squeezed lemon and lime and homemade simple syrup. Use a straw as a pipette to gradually add syrups and flavours to your cocktail without overpowering your drink. Each time you add a different flavour take a sip and make sure the flavours work well together.

Pick limes that are dark green, soft to the touch with smooth skin. Use the lime straight away rather than after 20-30 minutes because they become oxidised and get brown spots. Try not to store them in the fridge as it reduces its juices by up to 33%. 

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