There are a few simple techniques to learn when making cocktails at home or in most bars. The terrific cocktail revival has brought the focus back on many of these basic techniques but it has also brought an increased attention to precision and yes – showmanship. Don’t be intimidated! The goal is to make something delicious to drink and that is what we will do.
Building – When a recipe calls for the cocktail to “built” in the glass it simply means that everything will be done in the glass. Fill the chosen glass with ice (if required) and pour in the measured ingredients and give it a quick stir before serving.
Muddling – To extract maximum flavor from fresh ingredients such as fruit or herbs the recipe may call for muddling. Grab your trusty muddler and crush the ingredients. For herbs such as mint, go easy. The idea is not to beat the heck out of it rather you want to lightly break it to release the essential oils. Over muddling your herbs will result in a bitter taste. Big chunks of fruit like a pineapple wedge can take a bit more of a pounding. When muddling citrus fruits take care to not overwork the zest and pith as this too will result in an overly bitter drink.
Rim the Glass with Salt or Sugar – If the recipe also calls for a particular fruit or fruit juice feel free to wet the rim with the same fruit. Otherwise water will get the job done. Dip the moistened rim of the glass into a plate of shallow salt or sugar turning the glass slowly to apply the salt or sugar. I like to rim just half of the glass so that the person enjoying the cocktail has the option of sipping the cocktail free of the garnish as well. This technique is commonplace when making Margaritas or Sidecars.
Shaking – As a standard rule when a drink containing fruit juices, cream, or egg whites, it is necessary to shake the cocktail. Shaking is a great way to mix the cocktail while also chilling the drink and offering a proper dose of dilution. You want to add some vigor while shaking as a few gentle movements won’t achieve the desired result. Be sure to fill the shaker with ice to 1/2 full or 3/4 full if you are feeling confident. Get a good grip on the shaker and at about a 60 degree angle snap it back and forth while giving a slight up and down motion as well. Imagine that you are trying to crash the drink into the bottom of one end of the shaker and then back to the other. Go for a good count of 10 and then strain the drink into a prepared glass. NEVER – serve the drink on the ice used for shaking unless it is your desire to provide an overly diluted drink.
Stirring – As a standard rule, a drink containing only spirits will require stirring with ice in a mixing glass. Like shaking, stirring is a great way to mix the cocktail while also chilling the drink and offering a proper dose of dilution. Go slow at first – there are no style points, only flavor points when making drinks at home. Go for a good count of 10 to 20 and then strain the drink into a prepared glass.
Straining – The Cobbler style shaker (I highly recommend this for the home bartender) is a three-piece shaker that includes a straining lid with a cap. It’s a great design and it gets the job done. At your local, your bartender may be using a Boston shaker, which is mixing tin paired with a shaking glass. When used together these two pieces are very efficient but they do require a strainer. A Hawthorne type strainer (a flat disc with a fixed metal, coil spring) is most often the perfect tool for the job. If you have muddled yourself a good bit of debris then a simple mesh strainer will be your tool of choice.
Now get out there and make some cocktails!