So, I like great cocktails, I bet anyone who drinks them does too. Sadly, cocktails at bars can be hit or miss, usually miss. My first experiences were in college bars, frankly cocktails are typically awful at that age. Way too strong, made with poor ingredients, and what is best described as a transient skill level. I’m not saying I didn’t drink them, I did and often way too many, but they were not very good.
Often, we graduate to the overly sweet resort style cocktails. These are industrial concoctions where a sugary flavored syrup and spirits are combined in a blender with ice to form a slushy where for a few dollars more they will “float” a high-octane spirit like 151 rum on top. Then typically an entire fruit salad is stuck on the side under a parasol, with a long straw. Truth be told, I adore these things when I’m in the mood, but honestly, they are not very good cocktails. They are sort of like the difference between a milkshake and a fresh pressed juice. Each has its place, but beyond the fact they are served in a glass they are not really the same.
Balance Skill & Quality in Great Cocktails
Really great cocktails are about balance, skill, and quality. If you think about it that is parable for life, and certainly for cooking. About 6 months ago my beautiful wife, daughter, and I went to Manhattan, and ended up at a high-end bar called “Death & Co”. I fell in love, this was cocktail heaven. My wife purchased their second recipe book for me called the “Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions” when we got home. I learned I knew almost nothing about making a fantastic cocktail. The great news is it is not very hard to make great ones. I just needed an honest guide and practice. One caveat about this book; it is written by skilled bartenders for skilled bartenders. They have ingredients we mere mortals may never make, but it is very informative.
Your Happy Hour – Gaining Great Cocktail Experience
So, the family has been subject to a nearly nightly cocktail happy hour. Because I have some skill in the kitchen, and understand the basic physics, chemistry, and symmetry of cooking, great cocktails came easily. Yes, several were tossed in the sink, it’s the nature of learning. More than a lousy drink, my biggest issue was amassing the ingredients and tools of a professional bar. It takes a while to build up a home bar. Booze ain’t cheap, and nor are bitters. I’m still not all the way there, but I’m getting closer. Experimentation and invention are based on logically changing ingredients and knowing what they will do to the balance. The key is having the actual ingredient.
As luck would have it, last week business took me back to NYC and my wife came along. Manhattan is permeated with stellar cocktail bars on nearly every corner, it’s a New York thing. Because I was working on my skill at home and discovering this craft anew, I was keen to watch and learn. We went to quite a few great bars and it was so helpful in my journey, not my wallet.
I began to wonder how a bar can charge so much for a simple drink like a Manhattan? Even in my town in southwest Florida a decent cocktail can garner north of $15, in Manhattan it can be double. The first answer may be the quality of the base spirit, but having made a bunch of cocktails, that is not the case. Bars rarely make cocktails with a $300 spirits, people just don’t pay $50 for a highball very often. My make price on an excellent cocktail is almost always less than $5. I learned the answer is the same as that of a high-end restaurant, skill and quality.
Below are the three areas I recommend cocktail aficionado should start, the remainder we can fashion along the way.
Great Cocktails need great snacks. Try these proven recipes to wow family and freinds. Bruschetta | Simple Italian Taste and Awesome | or what every coktail party needs Roasted Almonds, Cayenne and Sea Salt | Moorish | and of course Warm Olives | A Taste You will Never Forget!