Bar Technique

Photo courtesy of poul.iversen, some rights reserved.

Mixing drinks should always be a relaxed, sociable affair.  It is a chance to show off your knowledge and exquisite taste (much of which can be cribbed from this very site).  But amongst all of this, it is important to exude an air of quiet confidence, and to do this you need to know what you’re doing.

Glassware

You don’t need a wide-range of glasses of all different shapes and sizes.  If you want to aim for tradition and accuracy you will need eight different types of glass, but the vast majority of drinks are best served in one of the first three:

  • Martini glass – the classic v-shaped cocktail glass used for drinks that are served ‘straight up’ i.e. without ice.
  • Rocks glass – a short, sturdy tumbler used for drinks that are served ‘on the rocks’ or over ice.
  • Collins glass – a tall, straight glass used for long drinks that are served with ice and ‘lengthened’ with soda or juice.
  • Liqueur glass – a small, stemmed glass used for sniffing and then sipping a straight liqueur.
  • Sour glass – a smaller version of the martini glass used for serving sours.
  • Absinthe glass – an elegant goblet with or without a bulb used in the traditional preparation of Absinthe.
  • Coupette glass – a bulbous version of the martini glass most famously used for Margaritas.
  • Champagne flute – the traditional long, thin, stemmed glass used for champagne cocktails.
Whichever glass you use, do your best to ensure it is clean, dry and chilled.  If you have room in your fridge or freezer store a few glasses there.  If not, fill with ice and water before making your drink.  Either way, never pour a cold drink into a warm glass.  Colder is always better.

Ingredients

Buy the best you can afford.  There is no substitute for quality, and please do not think that it doesn’t matter if you use value gin as you’re going to be mixing it with three other ingredients.  The finished drink will hang on the quality of the worst ingredient, and no amount of Lillet Blanc will save a Martini made with value range gin.

Stick as closely to the recipe as possible.  Traditional recipes call for certain ingredients because they a proven to work.  Having said that, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Juice should be freshly squeezed where possible, and be aware that lower-strength ingredients will not keep as long as spirits.

Measuring

Use a measure.  Your favourite barman might impress his guests by free-pouring all the ingredients, but he has a lot more experience than you do, he knows how it should look in the mixing glass, and he knows how the drink should taste.  Using a measure will also help you keep track of your consumption as a 25ml shot of a standard spirit is roughly one unit of alcohol. Where I refer to ‘measures’ on this site I mean approx 30ml or 1 fluid ounce (with a large measure meaning double), but you can use what ever you like as long as you keep the proportions the same.  Once you have mastered the recipe, feel free to experiment.

Ice

Ice is vitally important.  It is easy to underestimate just how important ice is, but you must use fresh, clean ice for every drink.  Add ice to the mixing glass last to prevent it melting as you add the ingredients, and always fill the mixing glass or shaker to about 2/3 full.  This ensures the ice will not melt too quickly as you shake/stir, which means that you will not dilute the drink.  If you can use an ice machine that’s great, otherwise buy pre-bagged ice and use it liberally.

Photo courtesy of RLHyde, some rights reserved.

Shaking

Knowing when to shake and when to stir is one of the tricks you can use to impress your guests (although if they’re philistines they may be disappointed that you don’t shake every drink – it’s more fun, right?).  Shaking is reserved for drinks that include fruit juice, egg white, or thick, viscous ingredients such as conserves, and never those with carbonated ingredients (unless they’re added after)!

When shaking with a Boston Shaker (the two part glass and tin) pour the ingredients into the glass (for show) and then place the tin on top.  Ensure you have a tight seal between the two parts by giving the bottom of the tin a couple of sharp taps and then flip the whole lot over so the tin is on the bottom (a barman does this so that any spill goes over him and away from his customer).

Shake vigorously – to wake the drink up – for a slow count to twenty.  If your drink contains egg white follow this with a further ten second ‘dry shake’ (without ice) to ensure proper breakdown of the protein in the egg white and an improved texture/mouthfeel.  If you shake for longer, you’ll end up watering down the drink – a properly shaken drink should be no more than 25% melted ice.

To separate the shaker, place it tin down on the counter and hold it steady.  Rotate it so the join where the tin meets the glass is towards you and then hit this point on the tin with the heel of your hand.  If this doesn’t work, rotate a quarter turn and try again.  Keep rotating and hitting until the parts separate, but whatever you do, do not resort to whacking the shaker against the counter – that is not a good look, especially if it causes the glass to shatter.

Stirring

The stir is the correct procedure for most traditional cocktails, or at least the all-booze Manhattan, Martini types that don’t use anything lumpy like fruit juice or gloopy like egg white.  If you’re stirring a drink I would recommend pouring into the glass from your Boston shaker or a dedicated mixing glass as it gives your audience something to watch and marvel at.

If you’re using a traditional bar spoon, remember that the twisted shaft is to help the stir.  With that in mind, hold the spoon between your thumb and forefinger and slide it down the inside of the glass to the bottom.  When you stir, the bowl of the spoon should rotate around the bottom of the glass, with the stem pushing the ice ahead.

Experiment with the most comfortable way to hold the spoon.  The most effective is to use a pull-push technique where the thumb and forefinger pull the spoon most of the way round the glass and the second finger pushes it the final stretch to complete a full rotation.  This will take a bit of practice, but helps ensure the drink glides slowly round the glass in a composed and elegant manner.  This is why you are stirring after all.  If you wanted to agitate the drink you would have opted to shake.

If you stir too fast you will likely lose booze and ice out of the glass, and add air bubbles to the mix.  This is the antithesis of the silky texture a stirred drink should have.

If you’re using large dense ice cubes (like a professional bar would have) then stir fifty times.  If your cubes aren’t that good (small, wet, melting) then stir thirty times to avoid too much dilution.

Photo courtesy of eltpics, some rights reserved.

Straining

Once you’ve shaken or stirred your drink to perfection you will need to artfully and yet nonchalantly transport it from the mixing glass to the serving glass.  To do this you will need to find a way to propel the drink into a clean cold glass but retain the ice as even drinks served ‘on the rocks’ should be served with fresh ice.  The hawthorne strainer is the ideal tool for this eventuality and will work with a mixing tin or glass (despite what an American bartender will mutter about julep strainers).

To use the strainer, place it springs down over the mixing glass and hold it in place with your first and second finger either side of the short handle.  Pour the drink in a slow and controlled manner, and consider a slight swirling motion for drinks served ‘up’ in a martini glass.  Finish with an exaggerated snap of the wrist as you pull the glass up and away from the serving glass and make confident eye contact with the drinker.

If your drink contains a lot of fruit you should consider double straining.  This involves using the hawthorne strainer as above, and pouring through a second fine strainer into the serving glass.  A tea strainer works great as the fine strainer and will pick up any pips, seeds or small pieces of ice.

Muddling

The muddler is a great tool which serves a number of uses from crushing ice, to rapping the knuckles of those punters who are reticent when it comes to settling their tab.

You should purchase a muddler of at least six inches, and choose one that is not stained or varnished as the paint will often chip off and end up in your mojitos.

When muddling consider what you are trying to achieve.  With citrus, the aim is to extract juice from the flesh and oil from the skin, so don’t hold back.  With mint and leaves you are looking to bruise and provoke the stems into releasing some of their flavour, so go gently.

Garnish

A proper garnish should be much more than a bedraggled afterthought used to distract your drinker from the haphazard manner in which you have made his drink.  The right garnish makes all the difference to the style, appearance, smell and taste of the drink, so plays a vital role in almost every part of the whole sensory experience (maybe not touch, unless you use a great long stem of mint and aim for the eye).

Twists are the optimal cocktail garnish as they provide an opportunity to show off and draw attention to the drink (or yourself), a great hit of intense flavour, a delicate swirl or pattern on the drink and a chance to chat at great length about all of these elements.  The idea behind a twist is to extract the oil from the skin of the fruit and leave it to linger on top of the drink to greet the nose of the drinker with a clean, crisp citrus smell that announces that the drink is fresh and delicious.  The citrus twist method is explained in an earlier post.

Olives for your Martinis should be small, cold and pitted.  Keep them in the fridge and add three to a Martini either on a stick or loose in the glass.

Cherries are commonly found in Manhattans and should really be home made as shop bought maraschino or glacé varieties do nothing for your drink.  Your homemade cherries should be stewed in a liqueur of your choice with some vanilla, spice and citrus peel.

Lemon and lime wedges aren’t used a great deal in cocktails, but should always be cut from tip to tip and into no more than six pieces.  After cutting, use the knife to flick off any pips.

Mint sprigs should be cut from the top two inches of the plant as these provide the youngest most attractive leaves.  The leaves on the three to four inches below are the ones that should be muddled in your drink.  Don’t skimp on a mint garnish, it should be bushy, and will benefit from a light slap on the back of your hand to flatten the leaves and entice out the fragrance for which it is being used.

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The Cosmopolitan

Photo courtesy of quinn.anya, some rights reserved.

The Cosmopolitan was introduced to a generation of young women as Carrie Bradshaw’s drink of choice, but before it found fame on the Upper East Side, it had its beginnings in the mid-1980s as a pretty pink (and easy-drinking) alternative to the Martini for those who wanted the glamour of drinking from a martini glass, but weren’t fans of the eponymous drink itself.  As a result, the “Cosmo” gets a lot of bad press among ‘serious’ cocktail writers who dismiss it as a cocktail for people who don’t like cocktails.

The Cosmopolitan is now usually listed as one of the ‘sours’ family of cocktails, alongside the Margarita (which replaces vodka with tequila), and the Kamikaze (which excludes the cranberry juice).  In many ways therefore, it is a useful gateway drink to a world of cocktail discovery, and it is certainly more popular in my house than a large number of ‘more serious’ drinks.

The other side to that coin is that the drink has started to become a victim of its own success.  In its celebrity champion’s own words:

Miranda: “Why did we ever stop drinking these?”

Carrie: “’Cos everyone else started.”

By the time Sex and the City had reached its peak, the Cosmopolitan was found on every basic cocktail menu around the world.  This spawned a world of below par Cosmos that suffered from the use of cheap ingredients, sour mix and an over-reliance on too much cranberry juice.

I was always taught that a Cosmopolitan should be mostly vodka, with considerably less triple sec and cranberry juice, and consequently follow a 2:1:1 ratio.  If you’re looking for something a little easier on the palate, don’t move further than a 1:1:1.5 ratio:

  1. Pour a large measure of vodka, a measure of cranberry juice and a measure of triple sec into a shaker of ice.
  2. Add the juice of half a lime and a dash or two of orange bitters.
  3. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a flamed twist of orange.
Citrus vodka works best if you have it, and a wedge of lime perched on the edge of the glass is also acceptable in place of the twist of orange but not nearly as much fun.

If you’re looking for a more grown up version of the Cosmpolitan, you could do worse than mix yourself a Xanadu Fancy – a drink that I discovered on the menu of the much lamented Raconteur Bar in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge neighbourhood:

  1. Add a large measure of vodka, a measure of aperol, orgeat, fresh lime juice and cranberry juice to a shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker 2/3 full of ice and shake hard for twenty seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass
  4. Garnish with a flamed twist of orange.

The Lemur Loosener

Photo courtesy of Eric F Savage, some rights reserved.

The Lemur is a Madagascan primate that enjoys a diet of apples, berries and, I’m told, the occasional celebratory bourbon.  Lemurs are very sociable, and a group of lemurs (is that really the best collective noun lemur-ologists can come up with?) can hold quite the birthday party.

I’ve never actually stopped to ask one, but I imagine that, when pressed, a lemur would enjoy the following concoction which I’ve decided to name the Lemur Loosener:

  1. Muddle two slices of apple in a shaker.
  2. Add a measure of bourbon, a measure of cranberry juice, a teaspoon of maple syrup and some ice.
  3. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  4. Add a twist of caramelised lemon oil and garnish with a slice of apple.
If you want more of an apple kick, add a measure of apple schnapps and, if you’re feeling especially experimental, frost the glass in cinnamon and sugar for some extra apple pie notes.

Champagne French Martini

Photo courtesy of StuartWebster, some rights reserved.

All celebrations are special, but for a really special celebration (perhaps a Princess’s birthday?) something quite exquisite is required. I’ve never really understood what makes a French Martini a Martini, because apart from the glass they are nothing alike, but the addition of Champagne certainly makes this French Martini even more French.

The ever-so simple but effective French-Martini.com explains that originally a French Martini was just a Martini made with a French vermouth, which makes literal sense, although apart from national pride (thank you, L’Académie Française!) perhaps doesn’t warrant the naming of a whole new drink.

As a result, therefore, we can only assume that the French Martini as we now know it was developed for those who cannot face the prospect of a genuine Martini just yet, but want to pretend they’re enjoying a distant relative of the drink enjoyed by those embodiments of suave, Humphrey Bogart and Mae West.

Of course the French Martini is a variant of the Martini in the loosest possible sense, as it contains neither of the ingredients of a traditional Martini, and unlike its namesake is fruity, crisp and super-sweet in equal measure.

To make a delectable celebratory version of this sweet treat proceed as follows:

  1. Add a measure of vanilla vodka, 2/3 measure of Chambord black raspberry liqueur and 1/2 measure of pineapple juice to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass (also works well in tea cups, jam jars and plant pots).
  3. Top up with Champagne and garnish with a raspberries.

The Martini

Where to begin with this the most personal, complex and contentious combination of two simple ingredients?

Well, the Martini is a straightforward mixture of gin and vermouth created in the nineteenth century, either as a variation of the Martinez (gin, vermouth, curacao and orange bitters), or the child of an Italian vermouth distillery or the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York (for an investigation, read Adam Elmegirab, here)

Whatever your preference, one thing remains the same; the glass, a classic martini glass of course, should be chilled to ice cold before you begin. After that, the world is your olive.

The original Martini recipe (as far as I can tell) called for an equal mix of dry gin and dry vermouth, stirred gently and served with a single olive. Over time, the ratio of gin to vermouth has crept upwards, and passed two to three parts gin to one part vermouth in the 1940s (a Martini), five parts gin to one of vermouth in the 1960s (a Dry Martini) and up to eight parts gin to one part vermouth soon after that (an Extra Dry Martini).

The basic rule of thumb is that the greater the proportion of gin to vermouth, the “drier” the Martini – an old story claims that the driest Martini is made by pouring a large measure of gin and allowing “a sunbeam to pass through a sealed bottle of vermouth” and into the glass.

If I’m pouring myself a straight-forward Martini I will, by default, opt for a three:one ratio but it really is all down to personal preference:

  1. Chill your glass until it is frosty.
  2. Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Add the gin, then the dry vermouth and stir gentlyfor sixty seconds.
  4. Strain into the frosty martini glass and garnish with an olive or three (on a pick) or a twist of lemon peel if you prefer.

If you prefer a more complex drink add a sploosh of bitters (the more exotic the better), sweet vermouth, or an Islay whisky.

A Dirty Martini involves the soothing addition of a dash of olive brine, and a Gibson is a Dry Martini with a single pickled onion (a favourite of Roger Sterling).

The Vesper

Much Martini lore has evolved from James Bond’s supposed love of the drink. In Casino Royale, Bond even goes as far as to invent his own variation – The Vesper, named after the delectable Vesper Lynd.  The drink was actually created for Ian Fleming by his bar-tending friend Ivar Bryce. In the book, it is introduced thus:

Bond looked carefully at the barman. ‘A Dry Martini’ he said. ‘One in a deep champagne goblet…Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…’ –Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.

Purists claim that a Martini should always be stirred as shaking will ‘bruise the gin’ – perhaps Bond was confident in the resolve of his gin, but his Martinis, ordered throughout the books, sometimes vodka, sometimes gin, were always shaken, not stirred.

Aviation

Photo courtesy of ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved

My post on The Bitter Truth’s fantastic Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Set has already referred to the golden age of travel.  This drink is another that brings to mind images of the glory days of Pan Am and luxury air travel.

The Aviation was an ideal at-seat serve as you drift along at hundreds of miles an hour above the clouds with not a care in the world – a million miles away from the modern pile ’em high approach to air travel.  The origins of the Aviation are unknown, but it was first published in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, a 1916 guide to the drinks served in New York’s Hotel Wallick.

The Aviation is effectively a tune up of the Gin Sour (gin, lemon juice, sugar) with a sweetening hit of maraschino.  The traditional recipe went as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, the juice of half a lemon, a barspoon of maraschino and a barspoon of crème de violette to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry (or twist of lemon peel).

This recipe creates a delightfully sour drink with a hint of blue sky courtesy of the crème de violette.  However, my homebar is, as yet, lacking a bottle (it’s on the list) so I prefer the modern version which excludes the hard to find violet-brandy liqueur.

McKinley’s Delight

This week’s #MidweekManhattan variant is McKinley’s Delight, a fantastic adaptation that dates back to William McKinley’s successful run for the White House in 1896. While my knowledge of Mr McKinley extends only as far as the John Renbourn song, White House Blues, which I covered in a band at university, it appears that the story is that as McKinley’s rival, William Jennings Bryan, had a cocktail linked to his campaign (the Free Silver Fizz: gin, lime and soda water), McKinley had to have one too.

You see, back in the nineteenth century, cocktails had somewhat of a reputation as being aids to electioneering. The Balance and Colombian Repository had declared, when defining cocktail for the first time:

[A cocktail] is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

As a result, McKinley’s team (I assume) set to work to come up with their own signature drink. I have images of West Wing staffers busying themselves in Toby Ziegler’s office, or perhaps the Map Room, mixing and tasting furiously, trying to find a way to embody McKinley’s love of tariff reform in liquid form.

After this, all history records is that McKinley won the election, and, as far as I’m concerned, McKinley’s Delight is by far the superior drink of the two. Perhaps there’s a lesson here, and a return to candidate-endorsed drinks is the way to liven up future campaign trails?

Anyway, politicking aside, the recipe for the McKinley’s Delight is as follows:

  1. Pour a large measure of whiskey, a small measure of sweet vermouth, a teaspoon of maraschino and half a teaspoon of absinthe into a shaker with ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into a martini glass.

The only change to my standard Manhattan is the replacement of a dribble of bitters with a dribble of absinthe (or absinthe substitute in those dark days 1914-2000), but what a difference it makes!