Making your own cocktails is fun and rewarding! So is curating a home bar. I love playing around with different spirits/flavors and think you will, too. Get started today with these 10 tips:
1) "Get by with a little help from *your* friends ....” It may be a good idea to start off making drinks for your roomies, significant other, and/or friends/family. Having a seasoned drinker taste your creations will help with recipe creation, proportions, and it's beneficial to have someone help you drink all that alcohol!
2) Don't be afraid to mix spirit categories! I know, I used to think of drinks such as zombies and Long Island iced teas when I thought of mixing spirits - but it actually works well for craft cocktails, too. Some of the most renowned cocktail bars use this method to create complexity and depth in their drinks. The Vieux Carre cocktail is a great intro into mixing spirit types. It has equal parts rye whiskey and cognac, and its other ingredients include: sweet vermouth, Benedictine Liqueur, and Angostura and Peychauds bitters. Simply delicious.
3) Infusions are a creative and inexpensive way to add flavor to the spirits you already have in your bar. I recently infused Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with cinnamon bark - so good! Try your own! Cranberry infused Vodka, perchance? Rosemary and thyme infused gin? Yass! Hmmmm…the possibilities are endless! Do it, do it, DO IT! :)
4) Attend local tastings, preferably free ones given by fine spirits shops. I was able to taste a wide variety of spirits by attending tastings at a high end spirits shop here in D.C. Every "Thirsty Thursday" they had as many as 5 different spirits from various categories (mezcal, rye whiskey, liqueurs, cognac, vermouth) and attending those tastings served as a glorious crash course in drinking well. I'd usually buy a bottle to support the shop (and my drinking!) - and eventually amassed my own little home bar. Please get out and taste all you can! What a fun and inexpensive way to develop your palate!
5) Try egg whites. In craft cocktail creation - egg whites are your friend! Believe me - I cringed at first too! What the world?! Raw egg whites in my DRINK?! It hadn't dawned on me that I adore egg nog - which has whole eggs in it (cocktails with whole eggs are called "flips"). Now, I'm now a believer. Egg whites add body, texture, and foamy flair to cocktails. Try adding an egg white to a classic Whiskey Sour. I think you'll like it! Use pasteurized eggs if you are concerned about food bourne germs such as salmonella.
6) Play around with seasonal flavors. With the Holidays approaching, there are certain flavors and foods we naturally crave. Pumpkin, cranberries, and nutmeg come to mind when I think of Autumn/Winter. Add some spice to your seasonal cocktails by grating fresh nutmeg on an old fashioned, or try making fancy ice cubes with cranberries in them (which can become an after drink treat once melted). Also, try the aforementioned infusion methods. Have fun with it all!
7) Stock your bar with some cocktail heavy-hitters. I would recommend starting with bottles of: Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, Cognac, and Gin. I prefer small batch whenever possible, but small batch is not necessarily always superior. Next, buy some sweet vermouth and a bottle of Campari (if you like bitter, that is). Lastly- get a bottle of bitters. With these ingredients alone, cocktails you can make include: 1) Manhattan, 2) Old fashioned, 3) Negroni, and 4) Boulevardier. That's a repertoire of 4 drinks for a modest investment in your home bar. Look at you. A home bartender, already... Oh yeah, oh yeah!
8) Experiment! Listen - I have made some bad drinks during my home bartending journey! Odd flavor combinations, too sweet, weird mouth feel - I've been there - guys! However, that's all a part of the process. Eventually - you'll be so attuned to what works well together, proportion size, and possible creative tweaks to classic cocktails - you'll be able to hit the mark (almost) every time. Play :)
9) Buy local at times and visit the producers. It feels great to support local craft spirit producers here in D.C. Meeting the amazing, passionate people in your local spirits industry can bring a warm sentimentality to your drinking experience. I believe it makes the product and the experience more personal - all while supporting local small businesses. Score!
10) Create homemade syrups. I love using homemade syrup in my cocktails. The most common is simple syrup (sugar and h20 heated until it's a syrup consistency), of course - which is classic. Well, how about adding some fruit in there? Or an herb(s)? Wow / throw some fresh ginger in the pan -viola! - now you have ginger simple syrup. Being active on Instagram - I enjoy seeing how folks create interesting simple syrups. Sage simple, blueberry simple, thyme simple, cinnamon bark (pictured below) simple syrup - there's no end to what you can create with sugar+water+wild card ingredient. One caveat, though, depending on the ingredient being added; you may want to add more delicate fruits/herbs post heat, and allow to steep. E.g. I would heat my simple simple syrup (sugar and water) and add an herb like thyme after. Try it out and you'll develop a feel for what you want heated, and not. Also - a great cheat for making flavorful drinks with syrups is to use your favorite maple syrup in a classic cocktail such as an old fashioned. Same goes for creating honey simple syrup. Thirsty yet? Yum yum yum!!!
I hope you all enjoyed reading these tips. Happy drinking - you amazing, drink slinging, mixing-it-up home bartenders, you!
Spirits/Cocktails/Bar enthusiast who celebrates/promotes better side of drinking. I create cocktail recipes at home and take artsy fartsy photographs of my drinks @sip.ponder.repeat on Instagram.