Food & Drink

Cocktail Essentials Every Home Mixologist Should Know, According to the Pros

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The best mixologists have honed their skills over many years of mixing, shaking and serving up room after room. However, you don’t need a degree to be able to master all things spirits. Six mixologists were chosen by us to share their secrets of the trade, so that even novices can feel confident in their basic mixed drinks knowledge. How much alcohol is required to make cocktails? What about the best cocktail tools and must-know cocktails recipes? And what are the different types of cocktail glasses you can use to serve them? We have the answers. You are about to be the best home bartender in the area.

Essential Ingredients for Home Bars

You can’t make great dinner recipes without a pantry staple starter kit. Similarly, you won’t be able to make delicious mocktails or cocktails without the right ingredients. Below is a list of basic ingredients that you will need to mix drinks.

Liquor

What alcohols are required to make cocktails? You can stock up at your local liquor store, or online retailer, if you are looking to host guests or stock your bar cart with all the essential ingredients for cocktails. Says that you can often find high quality mixing spirits for as low as $40. There’s no need to mix $200 worth of whiskey in a Whiskey Sour, when $15 is enough.

  • Must-haves: Vodka, Gin, Whisky (bourbon or scotch), whiskey (bourbon or rye), Tequila (or mezcal), Rum, Brandy
  • The must-haves: Triple sec, dry and sweet vermouth; Aperol, St. Germaine, Amaretto Grand Marnier, Pernod

Bitters are a complex, alcohol-based ingredient that enhances the flavor of many cocktails. They can also be used to stir or shake many classic cocktails. And they last up to five years at room temperature. You can stockpile a variety bitters ($91 each, Amazon) because they last so long.

Mixers

Some essential cocktail mixers are also required.

  • Essentials: Tonic Water, ginger beer, club soda/sparkling, simple syrup (DIY by boiling then stirring equal parts water and Sugar in a saucepan until syrupy), limes, and lemons to juicing fresh (“A squeeze bottle might be good for whipping up fish dishes, but a freshly squeezed juice will make a margarita recipe a lot better
  • The must-haves: Orange juice, ginger ale and cranberry juice.

Garnishes

Even the most basic cocktails can be elevated with showy finishing touches. They also enhance flavors and add depth to the experience.

  • Must-haves: Limes and lemons, oranges for peeling and fresh herbs and spices (rosemary and basil, cinnamon sticks, cinnamon sticks), maraschino cherry, salt, sugar cubes and stuffed green olives
  • The must-haves: Pearl onion, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper and cream of coconut

Ice

We know that this seems like an obvious and common ingredient in cocktails. Ryan Mish, bar manager at The Graceful Ordinary, St. Charles, Illinois, believes that it can make a huge difference. Subpar ice is where most home mixologists fail, he believes.

“Ice made from an ice-maker or standard tray is more cloudy than ice from professional ice producers. This is due to impurities and gases getting trapped during freezing. Mish explains that ice that has been shaken or stirred will not break down as quickly and can easily over-dose your cocktail. This can be fixed by using large molds of ice [$8, Target]. Larger, more solid cubes will allow for a longer shake-time which will give your sours a nice foamy head and chill your stirred drinks without adding any water.

These are the Best Cocktail Tools You Can Add to Your Kit

The right bar tools are crucial to mix cocktails well. These bartending tools will help you perfect your cocktail recipes. Stocking your home bar doesn’t require you to spend a lot.

Rachel Becker, the lead bartender at Little Wild Rooftop Bar at the Ace Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, says, “Don’t get lost in the hype of aesthetics or pricier kit; just focus on quality essentials.”

  • Jigger: This small, hourglass-shaped double cup is made of metal and used to measure drinks ingredients. The one side contains a 1 1/2 ounce jigger and the other a pony (10, $55, Bed Bath & Beyond). A shot glass could be marked with the measurements.
  • Cocktail shaker These shakers are used for mixing the ingredients. There are two types: The Boston shaker requires a separate strainer such as a Hawthorne strainer or the standard shaker ($12 Walmart) which has a built in strainer.
  • Muddler: This cocktail muddler ($12 at Target) mixes ingredients to unleash their flavors. It can also be used to break down sugar cubes.
  • Long-handle, metal bar spoon: This is a tool for stirring cocktails ($17 at Bed Bath & Beyond). It can also be used as a muddler if needed.
  • Blender To make frozen drinks like margaritas and daiquiri, you will need a blender that can crush ice.

What Types of Cocktail Glasses Do You Need?

You will need some vessels to serve your cocktails before you can start mixing them. We love looking for beautiful, vintage barware in thrift and vintage stores. “No more solo cups for you! Becker states that every cocktail tastes and looks better when it is served in the right glassware.

This guide will help you choose the right cocktail glasses for you.

  • Glass of Vodka/Schnaps (1 to 4 ounces).: chilled vodka, Schnapps
  • Old-fashioned glass (8-10 ounces): Bloody mary, old-fashioned
  • Cordial/liqueur glass (up to 4 ounces).
  • Highball glass (8-10 oz): highball, Rum Punch, and other tall drinks
  • Sour glass (6 ounces). Whiskey sour
  • Margarita glass (6-8 oz): margarita, daiquiri
  • Cocktail/martini glass (4-6 ounces).
  • Collins glass (10 to 12 ounces): Tom Collins, fuzzy navel, screwdriver cocktail
  • Champagne flute (6-8 ounces) and coupe glass (5-7 ounces). Champagne, mimosas and other champagne cocktails

Mixed Drink Recipes Everybody Should Know

Consider your initial mixed drink experiments, rather than the final, as the pre-test. It is okay, and even recommended that you seek out and learn from other people.

Barbatsis states that a common mistake by home bartenders is to try to make their own drinks instead of following recipes. You will regret making your own drinks if you don’t understand the flavor ratios and just make them right away. Ask your bartender to recommend a cocktail book and then follow the instructions.

Sasha Petraske’s Regarding cocktails is his favorite. You can also search online for additional resources, says Zachary West, bar leader at White Limozeen at the Graduate Hotel in Nashville. “Follow cocktail Instagram accounts, such as @cocktails_for_you. For at-home tutorials, you can follow cocktail Instagram pages like @cocktails_for_you. If you are willing to search for it, there is plenty of information online about cocktails.

Mish believes that everyone should begin with the “popular classics” when they are interested in basic mixed drinks. Understanding the proven-to-be-safe recipes is key to finding balance. He says that he tries to understand not only what goes into a drink, but also why these ingredients are there and what purpose they serve. This approach makes you a more flexible bartender and allows you to create ‘on-the-fly’ drinks in a variety of festive settings.

According to mixologists, these are the essential ingredients for a cocktail.

  1. Old Fashioned (1 sugar cube with 3 dashes bitters and splash of club soda; 2 ounces brown spirit).
  2. Martini (4 parts spirit, 1 Part fortified wine).
  3. Daiquiri (3 parts rum, 2 parts lime, 1 part sugar)
  4. Margarita: 3 parts tequila and 2 parts triple sec. 1 part lime juice
  5. Spritz: 1 part aperitif, 2 portions sparkling wine, splash of club soda
  6. Sour (1 part sweet, 1 portion sour, 2 part spirit)
  7. Fizz (1 part sweet, 1 portion sour, 2 part spirit, splash of club soda).

Get bonus cocktail tips from the pros

We had the opportunity to meet so many spirits experts at “happy hour”, and couldn’t resist asking for their final tips on making cocktails. Remember these things as you shake and stir.

  • Take stock. Becker states that hosting is only possible if you have a well-organized and prepared bar. When mixing drinks for friends, preparation is key. Before I host, I make sure my bar is stocked with everything I need. I always have my ingredients, sugars, spirits, tools and garnishes ready for me.
  • Set the scene. Mish prefers to concentrate on “mise en place,” which means “everything in its place” in French. Your glassware should always be at hand and ready for use. He suggests that you prepare your juices, syrups and garnishes with your jigger and spirit uncapped. Preparation and consideration are key to achieving the best mixology results in your home.
  • Taste test. Becker says that you should taste your drinks before you serve them to others, just as a chef would. You can try a small straw to catch some liquid and then drop it onto your tongue. Too sweet? You can add a bit more citrus or bitters. Too strong? You can add some simple syrup or bitters to make it more balanced. She explains that it’s all about balance in the mix of ingredients.
  • Be creative. Be open to new ideas before you commit to a particular blend. Daisy Clark is the bar manager at Hearth and Hill, Park City, Utah. You should choose your spirit and flavor wisely. “With whiskey, maybe you can use orange juice or brown sugar, cinnamon and honey. These flavors are rich, deep and complex. You can mix vodka or tequila. These spirits are more versatile, and can be paired with many flavors, including lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple, jalapeno and grapefruit. Do you prefer gin? You can pair it with sparkling water and fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, and thyme. Mish says to make the most of the season. Mish says that the fresher the ingredients are, the better the cocktail. So head over to the produce section and take a look around. Think outside the box. Seek out things that you haven’t tried before or seen others do. You might be able to find something that will complement your favorite dish. It doesn’t matter if it sounds delicious, but it might be worth trying.
  • Be aware of when to shake and stir. Peter Muntyan is the lead bartender at Prime + Proper, Detroit, Michigan. He suggests that you leave the mixture for 12 seconds, or for 30 rotations, then shake it hard for 12 seconds.

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