Intro: Let's Make Cocktails
Hey Instructables, my name is Anton and I'm a professional cocktail-bartender living in the Danish capital Copenhagen and I would love to teach you how to "up your game", when it comes to cocktails.
In this instructable we are going to come to terms with bartending in general, and what is really important, when making delicious cocktails at home. Some of the things might seem excessive but trust me when I say that most professionals care about all these things. And in the end, I'll give you some of the recipes that I've made at private parties and at home.
You are going to learn the following:
1. Equipment - what equipment do you need in your home bar to make amazing cocktails!
2. Spirits - It's hard not to talk about this part of bartending, apologies if it gets too boring...
3. Citrus - and why using fresh fruit is SOOOO IMPORTANT!
4. Syrups & mixers - some you should buy and some you should hide away where no one finds it
5. Glasses - Glasses actually have a purpose, who knew?
6. Ice - I know it seems lame, but this is actually important
7. Recipes - 3 simple drinks you wanna know - if you know what I mean
Step 1: Equipment
So, what do you need at home to be able to make a drink so good, that you'll never go to a bar again and spend 15 euro (100 DKK or about 18 USD) on a sloppy blended strawberry daiquiry.
Some people go out and buy 'Bartending Kits' and tons of expensive equipment, but the truth is, that you barely even need a shaker, since basically any container that can be sealed shut and cleaned easily can be used instead. That being said I LOVE my shakers and getting a nice double-tin shaker is a must for any serious bartender (home bar or professional).
https://www.bar-equipment.com/en/ - good within EU, and actually sends to Denmark (Wuhuuu)
https://www.cocktailkingdom.com/ - Classic site but quite pricy - the quality is high though
Things you should have:
1. A working freezer - this is crucial guys. Ice is a part of almost all cocktails, and making your own, is by far the cheapest and best way to do it.
2. A working stove - being able to boil water or juice for syrups is essential in the preparation faze of a cocktail night.
3. Blender - Makes a lot of things easier, when making syrups and etc.
4. Strainer - Yes you need it!
5. Citrus press - any kind really, but the basic one works fine
6. A muddler - or anything that resembles it. Quite important if you want to make a mojito at some point.
7. A good knife (serrated when cutting citrus)
So, at this point you might look at the list and think, I do not need all those thinks to make a good Gin-Tonic, and that is true. Many classic drinks do not need a shaker or anything like it, but if you really want to impress someone it takes some work (not too much though). You might also be bummed that the expensive Japanese crystal mixing-glass you got for Christmas is not on the list, but we're doing basics here, so just relax.
Step 2: Spirits
So doing spirits I'm "Just" going to be talking about the most basic ones in the cocktail universe, since there are SOOO many off them. I'm not going to be giving out facts that you would be able to look up in Wikipedia. I'd rather give you some inside knowledge on what defines these spirits when you work with them.
Gin - Probably the most versatile spirit of all, and one of the most misunderstood. You often hear people say, that they don't like gin, because they don't like gin-tonics and dry martinis but serve them a raspberry-gin-fizz and they'll be asking for thirds in a matter of minutes.
Vodka - Very easy to work with, since it is not very flavorful. Best used with ginger or fresh fruit.
Rum - most well-known for mojito's and daiquiries, but lately this spirit has really made a name for itself, due to its vast variations.
Tequila - the world is in a huge tequila shortage and you probably don't understand why. Tequila traumas are common, but that is due to drinking shit tequila. A classic margarita made on a 100% blue agave tequila will rock your world.
Bourbon - Manhattans, Whiskey Sours and Old Fashion’s are all amazing cocktails! Compared to other styles of whiskey (and whisky), Bourbon is by far the most popular choice, when it comes to making cocktails, due to its smooth sweetness and vanilla notes.
Cognac - Many classic cocktails are made using cognac, but honestly it would not be my first choice for a home bar, since it is quite complex to work with.
Triplesec - probably one of the most underrated spirits, due to people not knowing how often this is paired with other spirits to make classic cocktails like a Lynchburg lemonade (Jack-D & Triplesec), a margarita (tequila & Triplesec) or a white lady (gin & triplesec) etc.
Bitters - that strange tiny bottle bartenders often have on the bar. Angostura being the most popular. Bitters are VERY important in some cocktails and having an angostura is SOOO important if you want to make good Old fashion's. Chocolate and orange bitters are also quite useful.
And then there are tons of liquors as well, like Amaretto, Baileys, curacao, Kahlua etc. Most liquors are crucial in the style of cocktail they put out to be a part of, but they are quite limited, so start out by buying spirits instead. Kahlua is the only one I'd recommend having, since coffee cocktails are quite amazing.
When buying spirits don't go too low and don't go too high. If you are using it for cocktails you want a medium-priced product of 15-20 euro (a little more for bourbon) and that is also why I recommend using Vodka, Gin and Bourbon as the first three spirits (recipes later). They often come in various levels of price, and they are easy to work with.
Step 3: Citrus
This is the part that makes no sence to people who are just getting into cocktails. Fresh citrus is CRUCIAL, when it comes to balancing a cocktail, and NO, supermarket sour-mix is in no way good enough! This is the key guys, acidity amplifies flavor just like sugar or salt, so using fresh citrus really takes your cocktails to another level. this is the difference between making a 10-euro whiskey sour and a 20-euro whiskey sour.
But then how much should you buy? - good you asked
1 Lemon = 5 cl of juice
1 Lime = 3 cl of juice
1 Orange = 10-15 cl depending on size
1 Pink Grape = 15-20 cl of juice
Lime and lemon can easily be pressed a day in advance or in the morning without ruining everything, but orange should always be pressed fresh, as it goes bad within 2 hours of being pressed. So if you are making screwdrivers (vodka & orange juice) with fresh orange juice, be sure to press it just before serving.
And it goes without saying that if you are using any kind of fruit juice in your cocktails (apart from tomatoes, they are strange), fresh is ALWAYS better. Your cocktail resembles your ingredients just like a dessert or fresh salat would.
WARNING: if you are doing a load of citrus by hand you should be wearing gloves. I once pressed more than a two hundred citrus-fruit by hand without gloves and when I woke up the following day I had done serious damage to my hands, not thinking about the acidity of lime – and lemon juice. Also, always wash your hands with soap afterwards, to remove any leftover acid
Step 4: Syrups & Mixers
This tiny little picture (yes, I'm also an artist) is in no way scientific, but it gives you a good idea of the following principle. One should always mix a quality spirit with the same quality mixer or syrup, since most of your drink will be that mixer and not the spirit itself. As a bartender, watching people mix 40-euro gin-bottles with 1-euro tonic makes me want to punch someone. IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE! Especially since spending just a tiny bit more on the mixer will get you that much further.
The other thing you should note is the quality of water. As a Scandinavian this is not a problem people often consider, since we have some of the best water in the world in our tabs (self-high-five), but if you live a place where the water quality is low, you should spend that extra money, making good clean ice since about 30% of your cocktail will be water, when the cocktail is done.
Talking syrups, there's a couple of things. Knowing how to make simple syrup is the first thing, and it is as simple as the name implies. Take 1 L of boiling water and mix it with 1,5 L white sugar (making simple syrup is religion, every cocktail book has a different recipe, but this one works), and stir till all the sugar is dissolved. Simple syrup is a part of almost any style of cocktail, and it is sooo easy to make, and it lasts for more than a week in your fridge, if you handle it with a sense of hygiene.
Second, making more crafty syrups or cordials is worth it. Buying roses grenadine or lime cordial seems almost criminal when you taste the real deal. It is tough work though, and that's why we'll only be covering a basic ginger-syrup in this instructable.
Step 5: Glasses
This is a part that you can easily skip, but if you want to
understand why certain glasses suit certain cocktails stay put.
This first thing one should consider is this. Is the drink served with ice or not. Drinks served over ice are normally served in highball (Collins) - or lowball (Old fashion) glasses. These glasses are more durable isolating the drink from the heat of your hand and they sit well in your hand, so that you can hold on to a fairly heavy drink containing between 2 to 3,33 cl of fluid. And you guessed it, that's why drinks that are not served over ice are served in a glass with a stem. It's to keep the heat from your hand from warming the drink (so hold on the stem, not by the coupe, please). So, if you do not have a martini glass use a wineglass etc.
Second the style of drink might call for a certain type of glass. Classic drinks where the alcohol and its aroma are a big part of the tasting should be served in a glass that amplifies the aromatic experience. A good example is the recent movement using Spanish coupes for gin tonics, so that you can really smell the aromatics of the gin.
And then there's the part where you decide on a glass because it looks good. If the cocktail looks good, you will be more likely to like the taste as well. Think about it like this, how would you feel if you payed 20 euro for a gin tonic served in a plastic cup from IKEA.
Step 6: Ice - the More You Know
We are getting to the bitter end guys (and girls)!
I've had this discussion with a lot of people, why do ice matter? It matters because bad ice dilutes your drink more than good ice and knowing what drinks should go with what ice is important. It's not random that a mojito is served with crushed ice, and it's definitely not random that crystal ice for whiskey is becoming increasingly more common around the world.
A little physics, Ice cools the drink doing two things.
1. increasing in temperature. Everything below 0 degrees is ice, and crystal ice can easily have a -20 degrees Celsius core, so when you pour whiskey over it, it might increase in temperature, but it wouldn't change state from solid to liquid, cooling the drink without diluting it.
2. Changing from solid to liquid. This is the part we care about when we dilute our drinks on purpose, shaking, stirring or churning. We want the drink to decrease in temperature, but we also want it to contain a certain amount of water, so that it tastes good.
The next time you are served a bottle of Cola with a glass full of ice, don't be angry. It actually dilutes the cola less, when there's more ice (SCIENCE).
Therefore, when you do host a cocktail party with your best friends, remember to freeze a block of ice (in a plastic box or something) and ice-cube bags. Use the cubes to dilute your drink and cut out some bigger pieces of ice using a breadknife (or an icepick if you have one).
Step 7: Recipes
So, I’m going to teach you three cocktails:
1: Moscow mule, made with homemade ginger syrup.
2: Raspberry Gin fizz
3: Whiskey Sour
The Moscow mule is a classic vodka cocktail made from ginger beer, lime juice and vodka. We are going to use fresh ginger and soda instead of a commercial ginger beer.
The Ginger syrup:
first clean 200 grams of fresh ginger using a teaspoon. You don’t need to remove all the peel, just the bad spots, and then wash the rest. Combine the 200 grams of ginger with 200 ml boiling water and 200 grams white sugar in a blender. Blend and press through a strainer, using the backside of a spoon or a spatula.
Combine 5 cl vodka, 3-4 cl ginger syrup and 2 cl lime juice in a glass over ice. Combine with a spoon and add soda and a fresh lime on top.
pro-tip: This drink is all about balancing the spicy ginger with the right acidity, and serving on good cold ice.
Raspberry Gin fizz:
basically we are just adding some fresh raspberries to a Tom Collins, making it nice and fruity.
Add 2 raspberries to a shaker or easy shut container and muddle them.
Combine 5 cl gin, 3 cl simple syrup, 2-3 cl lemon juice in the shaker and add ice-cubes.
Shake it hard and strain over ice. Top with soda.
Pro-tip: if you don’t have raspberries play around. Gin is very easy to combine with most fruits and berries. Just remember to balance the acidity right.
A sour-styled cocktail containing fresh eggwhite. Don’t be scared, this is normal. If you live in a country with salmonella outbreaks be cautious, and if necessary leave it. Don’t add pasteurized egg-whites since they wouldn’t have the same effect at all.
Combine 5 cl bourbon, 3 cl lemon juice, 2,5 cl simple syrup, 2 dashes angostura bitter and an egg-white to a shaker. Shake first without ice to emulsify the egg-white. Shake then with ice, really getting in to it. Serve over ice with an orange zest or bitters on top.
Pro-tip: adding a certain type of bitter changes this drink drastically. I personally love chocolate-bitters, but orange bitters are also extremely popular.
Step 8: Warnings
Just putting it out there.
Cocktails still contain a high amount of alcohol even though they might not taste like it. So don’t drink and drive. Don’t drink while pregnant and remember to stay in control. Drink better not more!
Remember to take care if pressing citrus and remember that salmonella is a thing in some countries.
Step 9: Thank You for Reading
If you made it this far and didn’t learn anything new, then I’m sure you’ve read as many bartending books as I have and maybe more. But if you learned something new and thought to yourself that bartending and cocktails might be your spring project, well then write a comment. I’d love to answer questions on more recipes and pro-tips, and if people want to, I’d love to make more guides, that might be more recipe specific.
But for now, go home and think about if you really want to be drinking sad gin-tonics and rum-and-cokes for the rest of your life. There is a whole new world waiting, and it might start in your own kitchen.