Rank #1: How to Dry Shake a Cocktail - Ramos Gin Fizz
There are cocktails, such as the Ramos Gin Fizz, which include egg white in order to create a foamy head. Several drinks at the famous Pegu Club in New York make use of an egg white, and this is where the “dry-shake” began to be used as a more efficient way to add this foamy head to their drinks.
Typically, egg white drinks need to by shaken a lot longer, and a lot harder, in order to work up a good foam. Chad Solomon, one of the early bartenders at the Pegu Club, had injured his back, and was finding it difficult to properly shake up these drinks, especially using the large Kold-Draft ice cubes that they have. He came up with the idea of putting the spring of a hawthorne strainer into the shaker, without any ice, and shaking it up this way first, then removing the strainer, adding the ice, and shaking it up again to chill everything down. This became known as the “dry-shake”, and quickly spread to other bars in New York, and beyond.
The emulsification of an egg works best at room temperature. This is precisely the thought behind the dry-shake and not including any ice for the emulsification and foaming process. You still need to shake for a while, but it is a lot easier without the ice adding extra weight to the shaker.
Jun 15 2015
Rank #2: Nothing is Written in Stone - Bee’s Knees Cocktail with Lavender
It is important to understand that recipes aren’t written in stone. Within certain limits, you should feel free to make adjustments, modifications, and clarifications when necessary. The “original” recipe for the sidecar listed it as equal parts of cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, but rarely will you find it actually made that way today. It can also sometimes be necessary to change the measurement of an ingredient based on the products you are using. The flavor intensity of sweet vermouth can change sometimes dramatically from one producer to another. If you use the same measurements for your Manhattans, one vermouth might be great, but the other fairly unbalanced. You may also find sometimes that a recipe will call for a particular brand. Sometimes a branded drink recipe will be based on the mixologists fine-tuning of the recipe and listing the branded ingredients they feel work best (and/or what they specifically use in their bar to make the drink), as I do with the “Bee’s Knees” in listing Beefeater Gin. There are times however, when a mixologist is listing a particular brand in a recipe because the brand was involved somehow in the formulation or presentation of the recipe.
The process of fine-tuning a recipe can be a little time consuming. It typically will consist of mixing up the drink using several different ratios in order to attempt to “dial in” the overall recipe that you think works the best, and then you want to try several different brands in order to see how much of a difference it makes, and which one works the best here.
When you update/modify a recipe, there is a fine line you may find yourself walking in regard to how much of a modification you can make before you turn the drink into something “different”. My general rule of thumb is that if somebody intimately familiar with the “original” version were to order it, and felt the drink you served them was not quite what they ordered, then you went too far.
Re-examine some of your favorite recipes and try to see how to fine tune them by identifying the best brands to use, adjusting the ratios and perhaps identifying the garnish that sets it off perfectly.
Jun 15 2015
Rank #3: Know Your Cocktail’s History - The Martini
You might think that you have the recipe for a drink nailed, but if you don’t take the time to look into the history of the drink, you are probably doing a disservice to yourself, and your customers. While the full history of many drinks may be lost in the mists of time, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trail to follow which can help you watch a drink as it evolved over time, and this evolution can help you not only see the various forms the drink might have taken over time, but also gives you some fascinating cocktail talk to share.
The Martini is probably one of the most well-known drinks, and yet its true origin is unknown, or at least highly debated. Countless times I’ve seen articles which simply toss out there that the Martini was originally created in Martinez California (or in San Francisco). What they usually fail to tell you is that the drink they are referring to was the “Martinez” and not the “Martini”, and there is no proof at all (aside from name similarity) that the name “Martini” is just a bastardization of “Martinez”. There is in fact (to date) no actual story that tells us how the Martini first came about, or how it got its name. What we do know, is its recipe, and how it appeared in various books through history.
One of the first recipes going by the name “Martini” comes from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartenders Manual from 1888 (See Below)
May 06 2015
Rank #4: Cherries in Cocktails - A Proper Garnish for the Little Italy Cocktail
Maraschino cherries are a staple ingredient behind almost any bar. They are an extremely common garnish for a wide variety of cocktails, and if you look through the annals of historical cocktail books, you find cherries to have been a cocktail garnish for over a hundred years.
The common maraschino cherries we have today, however, bare little resemblance to the cherries bartenders in the 1800’s would have used. The original maraschino cherries were imported “Marasca” cherries, a dark sour cherry from Dalmatia (now Croatia). They were packed in a thick flavorful liqueur, and where considered a luxury treat. Soon cheaper imports sprang onto the market, trying to satisfy the American sweet tooth. These “imitation” maraschino cherries were sometimes made using questionable methods, and were usually artificially flavored in order to disguise either the lack of flavor in the resultant product, or the off-flavors which resulted from the processing. American cherries were deemed unacceptable for use since they had a softer texture which got even worse once the cherries were prepared. The Pure Food Act of 1906 paved the way to clean up the methods used for manufacturing consumables. This helped to eliminate much of the downright dangerous cherries on the market, but did nothing for the “imitators” of the real thing. In America, methods were developed to turn a “Royal Anne” cherry into a crude approximation of the maraschino cherry. Then in 1912, the FDA stepped in to clarify what it meant to be a “maraschino” cherry:
- “maraschino cherries” should be applied only to marasca cherries preserved in maraschino. This decision further described maraschino as a liqueur or cordial prepared by process of fermentation and distillation from the marasca cherry, a small variety of the European wild cherry indigenous to the Dalmatian Mountains. Products prepared from cherries of the Royal Anne type, artificially colored and flavored and put up in flavored sugar sirup might be labeled “Imitation Maraschino Cherries”
Today, non-marasca maraschino cherries are no longer required to refer to themselves as “imitation” but, once you’ve tried the real thing, you can clearly see there is no comparison. To help distinguish true marasca cherries from rest it has become common to pronounce real maraschino cherries as “mare-es-KEE-no”, as it was originally pronounced, and those neon red globes as “mare-a-CHEE-no”. For your cocktail use, the best cherries to look for are Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, while costing more than the supermarket variety, they are worth having on hand. You can thank the Pegu Club of New York for establishing the relationship with the Luxardo Company back in 2005 to bring these cherries into the US in bulk and then popularizing them amongst craft bartenders across the nation.
Apr 10 2015
Rank #5: Choose the Right Garnish - Bijou Cocktail
It can often be easy to overlook cocktail garnishes, especially when you are making drinks at home. But since the first “taste” somebody gets of a drink is through their eyes, a properly prepared garnish can make a big difference. Often, the garnish is also an important flavor ingredient, even if a very subtle one.
The lemon twist can be an excellent dual purpose garnish, providing both a bit of visual interest as well as adding citrus oils which can accentuate the drink. Including a wedge of the same citrus that went into the drink, as a garnish, can also be a useful tool for the customer. If the drink is slightly too sweet, the accompanying wedge can be squeezed into the drink to make it a little tarter.
Garnishing simply for the sake of garnishing however can sometimes get out of control. You don’t want to over garnish a drink so much that the guest feels like they have to fight through it to get to the drink, or that it is so precarious that the guest has to pluck it out of the drink and set it aside immediately.
- Robert Hess
Feb 27 2015
Rank #6: Pre-Chill Your Cocktail Glass - Rob Roy Cocktail
Have you ever gone to a bar, ordered a drink, and once you picked it up, the glass felt warm? Fine restaurants will typically pre-heat your plates before the meal you ordered is added to them. It only makes sense; if the plates were cold, then it would quickly suck the heat out of any food that was put onto it. It’s called Thermal Transfer. If Thermal Transfer can turn hot food cold, then it only makes sense that it can also turn cold drinks warm as well.
It takes very little effort to pre-chill your glass. The best bars will have specialized glass chillers so that their glassware starts its journey as cold as possible. Even if a glass chiller is more than you can muster, it is easy enough to simply add some ice and a little water to your cocktail glasses before you start mixing up the drink.
- Robert Hess
Feb 12 2015
Rank #7: Double Strain Your Cocktails - Old Cuban Cocktail
Anyone who mixes up a drink knows that an important step is straining the drink into the glass. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, some of them better than others. Every bartender should at least have a hawthorn strainer on hand which fits their mixing glasses and tins. In many cases however, it is also useful to have a small fine-mesh strainer on hand as well. A fine-mesh strainer comes in handy for when you want to “double-strain” your drinks.
Many people always double-strain a shaken cocktail as it will hold back any little ice-shards that result from hard shaking. Some people on the other hand like the little bits of ice that will dot the top of their drink. Double straining can also be used for keeping citrus pulp or pieces of muddle fruit or herbs out of the drink; you don’t want little green specks of mint on your teeth!
While not a critical step in preparing great cocktails, double straining is a technique that can help take your cocktails to a finer level of quality.
To demonstrate the double straining technique, I chose to make a Old Cuban Cocktail, first created by Pegu Club owner, Audrey Saunders.
- Robert Hess
Jan 29 2015
Rank #8: Learn the Foundational Cocktail Recipes - Trident Cocktail
I think there is probably nothing more important for making truly great cocktails than understanding the “Foundational” cocktail recipes. By taking the time to master those cocktails which represent the basic and classical foundations, you will not only better understand all of the other cocktails which are based on them, but you will be better prepared to experiment with creating your own recipes.
In any culinary school, one of the first things that will be drummed into the students are the classic recipes. In French cooking school specifically, students are carefully taught the foundational sauces. Once you understand these sauces, you can then add additional herbs, spices and other appropriate flavorings to tailor the sauce to the specific needs of the moment.
The cocktail world is no different. The classic cocktails can often be thought of in the same light as the foundational sauces of French cuisine. The recipes I will typically encourage people to master are Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Manhattan, Martini, Whiskey Sour, Sidecar, Margarita, Daiquiri, Negroni, Bloody Mary, and Mai Tai. Even in this list, we have drinks which are based upon one another. The Whiskey Sour, Sidecar, Margarita, and Daiquiri are all very close variations of one another, with the Mai Tai being closely related. So even here, understanding how one of these cocktails is just a slightly different expression of another, and how the flavor profile changes due to those differences, goes a long way in better understanding that style of cocktail in general.
- Robert Hess
Jan 22 2015
Rank #9: Measuring is Important - Floridita Cocktail
There are two distinct camps that bartenders often segment themselves into, those that free-pour and those that measure. Personally, I am a strong proponent of measuring. I feel that the only mildly valid argument against it, is that measuring takes a little longer, and so in a very busy bar it might slow things down. While it is possible to train yourself to be fairly accurate at the free-pour, it is also possible to train yourself to be fast enough at using a jigger that it doesn’t matter. I have no intention of settling this debate here, but I do feel it is valuable to emphasize the importance of properly measuring your ingredients. For some drinks, the proper measure is more important than others. One-Quarter of an ounce is not a very big measure, and it can be easy to accidentally over or under pour by that much when mixing drinks. Drinks such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Martini are such that being off a little bit may not be very noticeable, but when mixing drinks with tart citrus, or intense ingredients like Chartreuse, that 1/4 ounce can make a big difference.
I think many bartenders see it as a rite of passage to feel they are skilled enough to free-pour, while others see it as a sign of how serious they take their craft that they carefully measure everything. Feel free to make up your own decision on this issue, but hopefully you realize that whether you free-pour or jigger, being sure you get the precise measure is important for making great cocktails.
Jan 15 2015
Rank #10: Not All Recipes Are Good Recipes - Cosmopolitan Cocktail
Just because you see it in print, doesn’t mean it is a good recipe. Similarly to when good recipes can result in bad drinks, the flip side of that is when a recipe is just flat-out bad to begin with.
One thing that is important for any bartender (or consumer) to realize, is that not all recipes are “good” recipes. This problem is only exacerbated by the plethora of cocktail books that have come out on recent years. Often in an attempt to differentiate themselves, they go to great lengths to try to publish recipes that other books haven’t used. This can sometimes mean they are either dredging up long forgotten recipes that should never have existed in the first place, or trying to create new recipes through what often appears to be little more than a random recipe generator.
There are several ways that recipes can go bad. The typical bad recipe will start with a failure to understand the fundamentals the make for a good cocktail. There are several facets to this, which include: using quality ingredients, proper proportions of ingredients, proper usage of ingredients, and proper methodologies of making the drink. All of these are due to trying to create a new cocktail recipe before you should. Next there is just being downright sloppy with how a recipe is communicated, and leaving too much up to the imagination of the reader. And probably the biggest reason for bad recipes out there, is that many times the creator is more interested in making a drink that is “good enough” to get somebody drunk on, and not “great enough” for somebody to enjoy.
NOTE: In this video, when describing the “original” Cosmopolitan, I forget to mention the defining ingredient of the drink, the cranberry juice!
NOTE #2: And if you are interested in a “random recipe generator”, you’ll get a kick out of The Mixilator by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. It attempts to randomly produce cocktail recipes (and names!) by loosely using the cocktail structures described by David Embury in his book “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”.
Jan 08 2015