Cocktails at home can be a messy, complicated and often hit and miss affair involving big serves and a very random selection of booze thrown together in any old measure. Now although I am a massive advocate of a wonderful quote from world rum ambassador and proud Jamaican, Ian Burrell who's mother used to claim "You don't measure a punch....you feel it" in a thick Jamaican accent. Unfortunatly this rule does not apply to all mixed drinks so i'm going to introduce to you how you can make cocktails at home and how best to make the most of what little equipment you may have.
1) Choosing your cocktails
If you expect to have perfect drinks right off the bat then you're going to be in for a shock because it just does not work out that way, regardless of the quality of your ingredients or recipe and it is important to understand that a cocktail is more than it's ingredients. With this in mind it is probaby best to make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew and get the hard practice in with some samples and hone that technique and more importantly perfect your balance and palate. A great way to start out in cocktails is to sample the forefathers, the cocktails that every other drink is derived from in some form or another and we refer to these early drinks the families. Some example of those early families are listed below, these are great drinks to get your teeth into and substitute ingredients, they are wonderfully customisable. I won't go into too much detail because I would like to touch on it later and part of the fun of cocktails is doing the learning.
Some of you may have been astute enough to spot that a family within cockails is called cocktail, although it may at first come across as strange it is infact one of the earliest families. Cocktail today has grown to be a broad term for all mixed drinks when in actual fact it is a descriptive term for a very particular group of mixed drinks including classics like The Martini, The Manhattan and The Old Fashioned etc
2) Choosing your booze
So first i should probably say that this is not always the order it is done in, I have been to a lot of parties where people have just thrown booze at me expecting me to make thingss taste magical. Often I am handed a bottle by a disgruntled party goer realising they fell for the flase economy trick and bought some cheap nasty booze and now wanted me to make it drinkable. This is something I will generally always oblige but it can be hard work, it can be a task you can avoid altogether by ensuring you utilise the right spirits and liqueurs in the first place. Now I am never going to say go out and spend your money on the best product available because as much as a bad spirit can spoil a drink, an ultra premium ingredient can be lost. My advice is to look at spirits between £16 and £35 to get your best values for money, stay tuned to future blogs for our go to products for the home cocktail bar.
An important thing to remember is that spirits and ingredients will react differently when combined with particular ingredients and what you may think you don't like may be down to how it was served rather than what the product is. A big one for us is how many people tell us they don't like gin, they swear blind it's disgusting and they will never like it, until we give them a gin drink that is. The thing with gin is that it is often served with tonic, a product that often contains high amounts of quinine which is a very bitter ingredient, and it is this that people most struggle with rather than the gin. Other reasons are down to drinking warm gin from the bottle out of the parents booze cupboard at a young age and have not gone back since, my opinion that to blame gin for your own silliness is a massive disservice to the fastest growing booze market in the world. I guess the bottom line is don't forget to experiment and try different things, what you might not appreciate today you may well love tomorrow. I had exactly this experience with Campari.
3) Your equipment
It probably goes without saying that not every house is a fully kitted out cocktail bar, though we definitely think this a shame. I have known many friends and customers come up to me extremely excited about their investments in cocktail equipment and asking my advice on other bits, though i'm certainly not saying you need to go out and spend on loads of equipment but there are definitely a few tools that you should be looking to invest in or upcycle.
A cocktail shaker
There are lots and lots of these shakers around and varying designs, styles and sizes and it can be incredibly confusing even for an experienced bartender. My first piece of advise is to try to avoid those cheap boxed cocktail sets with the classic style 3 piece shaker as these tend to be after your money rather than offering quality. Stick to cocktail supply websites. A shaker style seen in bars the world over is the tin and glass combo, very popular but due to the glass section it has a shelf life, can be heavy and is at times hard to seperate. Tigermilk's shaker of choice is a tin on tin varient found on the better supply sites.
Something I have utilised when people have surprised me with an opportunity for a busman's holiday. A really good option is a good quality coffee jar or kilner jar, anything sturdy enough and with an airtight seal will do the job.
Strainers are an important tool for any bartender as they keep the ice and fruit bits out of your drink and help keep consistency. There are 3 types of strainers used by a bartender, a hawthorne strainer to keep out the large pieces of fruit and ice, a fine strainer to help keep the little bit out to keep consistency and a julep strainer which was originally used to protect your mouth and teeth from ice when drinking a julep and has now been adapted to straining stirred drinks.
Tea strainers make good fine strainers but hawthorne strainers are tricky to replicate and may well be worth picking one up for a few pounds.
The key to balance is accurate measurement and you very rarely get accuracy by guessing, this is why it is important to have measuring devices. Any amount of different styles, sizes and colours from a very basic steel measure of 25ml one side and 12.5ml on the other to obscure measurements in a gold plated design. I would advise looking at picking up a 25ml nd 35ml measure if you wanted to look more cloesly at cocktails.
Small plastic shot glasses are obviously useful for accurate measuring and various spirits sometimes offer giveaway measures or come with lids and caps for the job.
A very important tool in a bartenders kit is his/her spoon, something often guarded with their life. A spoon has two main functions in stirring and measuring. Choosing your ideal spoon design is all down to personal preference and there are a lot to choose from!
An average bar spoon rocks out at 5ml volume, the same size as an average teaspoon
Your choice of glass is incredibly important but luckily for us the lovely people that design and make glassware have named most of them after the drinks we put in them! How wonderfully easy that makes it for us. Although a drink is a drink and can be drunk from any glass, the correct glass can make a drink much better! An example being that martini glasses and coupes are designed to allow aroma into your nose to exentuate flavours, always try to stick with specified glassware where possible.
3) Top websites for equipment, glassware, products and recipes
The Whisky Exchange
A london based company dedicated to good quality alcohol from large and small producers a like. A really good website for all your boozy needs.
Something a little more local, Drink Finder is based out of Constantine stores near Falmouth and they take great pride in bringing you good booze.
Master of Malt
This company based in Scotland really are fantastic, they sell their own bottled cocktails along with a great booze selection. They also offer 30ml samples of almost any product.
A wonderful bar supplies website specialising in quality glassware from affordable volume glassware to super premium hand made bespoke pieces.
A great referenee point for professionals and amateurs alike this is a great spot to recap on a recipe, learn some new ones or just browse through. So many cocktail directories are full of substandard drinks but Simon Difford is an important member of the industry has taken the time to collate well put together recipes.
Thank you for reading and I hope you have gathered at least a little bit of information for your home cocktailing. Please stay tuned for more home cocktail blogs and recipes as well as official training sessons later in the year.