Going Behind The Curtain of Cocktail Bartending – Demystifying The World of Home Cocktails
I’ve been mastering my trade since for seventeen years, with cocktails sparking a passion in me. During my pursuit of knowledge and bar education, the industry evolved, and with it accessibility to everything a novice or master might need to replicate or create cocktail wonders.
At Candlelight Bar, we take pride in the fact that in this undertaking we use precise techniques, fresh fruit and juices, home-made syrups, liqueurs, bitters and infusions.
Theatrical and quirky, meticulously presented and with a degree of flamboyance, our cocktails are modern day alchemy and art, our art. That’s why people come far and wide for great drinks and a great experience, something we aim to deliver with every drink.
In a world of easy access to information, the internet has helped better educate people in all undertakings, allowing people to be open to new experiences and flavours. But cocktail replication is still a vestige that strikes fear into even the most adventurous souls.
But it doesn’t have to be so daunting. With a little knowledge and guidance, the level and quality of the home fare will be raised.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
Wise words to live by, bartenders of every grade and style hold these words true. Having the right equipment and prep is essential. You don’t have to spend a fortune on equipment, you just need a few essentials to get started.
Also plan out your purchases for the base ingredients and make your homemade ingredients with plenty of time so you can show off your skills guests.
The Shake Down
If you want to make the majority of the tasty cocktail recipes at home, then you’re going to need a shaker. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the choice of whether to shake or stir comes down to personal preference, but shaking is particularly good for combining drinks that contain fruit juices, syrups, egg or cream. Shaking with ice dilutes, chills, aerates all whilst combining the liquid and the classic whiskey sour is a perfect example.
Most professional bartenders use Boston shakers, whish consist of two cups, either both stainless steel or one glass and one larger stainless-steel cup. Home cocktail bartenders tend to lean towards buying 3-piece cobbler shakers that have built in strainers, but they can leak over time.
A simple two-piece Boston shaker and a hawthorn strainer will see you right. At a push, a thermos flask and a tea strainer can get the job done. If you plan to put cocktails into practice I recommend making a small investment. Shakers should be selected based on three key factors: functionality and performance, ease of use and last but not least, appearance (be wary of style over substance).
A good stirrer
The other way to create a cocktail is by stirring a drink in a mixing glass. Shaking or stirring can come down to personal taste, but drinks that consist mostly of alcohol and no juices or cream tend to react better to the controlled and gentle nature of stirring a drink with ice to achieve dilution and chill. The lack of shaking with ice results in no ice crystals breaking off.
The Martini, Manhattan, Old fashioned and Negroni are some of the drinks that you might find being stirred in your local cocktail watering hole. The other thing you need is a long-handled spoon, but at a push grab a sundae spoon. This allows you to stir the drink.
The most important thing to remember is that you don’t stir cocktails as if you were mixing a cake. That would only create a huge mess and splash sticky liquid all over the bar. Instead keep it slow and steady!
If you build it!
Another method for creating drinks is building. Exactly what is says on the tin, this is a drink constructed by adding all ingredients to the serving vessel with ice and stirring with cautious vigour to combine, or with the use of a carbonated mixer. One of the drinks from the Collins family of cocktails can be usually found to be built and topped with soda.
Getting all muddled
One of the most popular modern classic cocktails, is the mojito. As part of the recipe, one is required to muddle/press lime wedges to release the juice and essential oils in the zest along with those in the fresh mint (gently does it, over working the mint can extract negative flavours).
A rolling pin, muddler, flat part of a bar spoon, can all do the job, to literally press/crush/muddle whole fruits and herbs. Muddlers are easily found, I’ve always found a good wooden rolling pin the best fit for my needs.
Bits and pieces
Bartenders utilize two types of strainer, fine strainers (tea strainers) and Hawthorn strainers, along with their Boston shakers. Both easily sourced and essential to remove and control the particulates present in your mixes.
A hawthorn would hold back most heavy matter and ice, whilst the additional straining through a fine strainer will remove ice crystals and the smaller fruit matter. With the explosion of cocktails across the globe, both can be easily found.
Create amazing drinks by followed a measured approach. Sticking to the script can be essential. Ok so taste is subjective, but when some awesome bartender created the drink we know and love, they envisioned the recipe being stuck to.
Every home bartender should invest in a graduated measure, OXO brand, and good and respected kitchen wares producer make a plastic measure that has 5ml to 60ml, which will cover the bases for most cocktail recipes.
The Recipe for Success
Recipes for mixed drinks can come in a few different forms. Parts, liquid ounces, centilitres or millilitres. American cocktail books and bartenders utilize ozs, so 1oz is 29.57mls to be exact, so essentially one oz is 30ml/3cl as a rule of thumb. One litre is a 1000ml/100cl.
With parts you may come across a recipe for a Negroni that has 1-part gin, 1-part Campari and 1-part sweet vermouth, so depending on the country the amount can vary, but balance remains. In America, it would be 30ml/30ml/30ml, UK maybe 25ml/25ml/25ml and so on, or a drink may require 2-part gin, 1-part lemon juice and 1-part liquid sugar and 3 parts soda, which can be translated to a recipe consisting of 50ml of gin, 25ml lemon, 25ml sugar and 75ml soda.
Recipes can be the biggest stumbling block for most home bartenders, not understanding ratios can be greatest confusion.
Sweet and sour
Two of the most important building blocks of cocktails are citrus and sugar. Fresh lemon and lime juice are two of the key citrus fruits used in a plethora of cocktails, so invest in a citrus squeezer or squeeze by hand.
Powerful alcoholic flavours can benefit from being blended with something that can match their robust profile. Squeeze your citrus fresh and never use Jif lemon style concentrates. Good drinks deserve a bit of effort.
The other important building block is sugar. White granulated sugar adds sweetness but is not overly flavoursome. Demerara and muscovado bring caramel rich flavour and sweetness, so depending on what you want showcase in a drink, there are options.
Liquid sugar/sugar syrup is easier to breakdown in a drink than raw sugar and homemade sugar syrup can last up to 2 weeks in a sealed container in the fridge. Also, alternative sweeteners can be found in drinks and you can use liqueurs to balance sweetness. Drinks don’t have to be sickly sweet or super sour, balance is key.
Bartender, there’s an egg in my drink.
Pasteurized eggs, fresh eggs and pasteurized bottled egg white are all good options. Egg white adds froth, texture and is a dream in a whiskey sour. Balance is so important. I use a medium whole egg white which is roughly 30ml give or take. Use your measure as being accurate is important for successful replication of recipes.
Eggs are best mixed by shaking. To get the best froth with egg whites, it’s best to ‘dry shake’ aka. combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice. Then, add ice and shake the drink again. You will want to shake these drinks for at least 20 seconds, so the egg white has fully combined and aerated with the mix.
As taste is subjective, pick the drinks you love and find a reputable source for a recipe. There are some great cocktail books on the market like “The Curious Bartender by Tristan Stephenson” and “The 12 Bottle Bar: A Dozen Bottles, Hundreds of Cocktails by David Solmonson”.
Do still visit your favourite cocktail bars. Be inspired and in turn, use your newly found knowledge and challenge your bartender to create drinks to excite and push the boundaries.
My craft stems from an appreciation for the classics and my understanding of the ingredients I choose to use. I’m a great believer in that you can’t know where you’re going unless you embrace where you’ve come from. Practice, experiment and keep moving forward. But don’t forget to stop and look back from time to time.
Darren Geraghty, is the Bar Manager and cocktail specialist for Candlelight Bar @ Siam Thai Dundrum and Malahide and well-respected consultant, started his career in 2000 and has represented Ireland on the world cocktail stage and won numerous Irish titles.
At Candlelight Bar, he has built the brand and bar team, focusing on of high quality but reasonably priced drinks, excellent customer service and a distinctive splash of speakeasy styled flair and theatre. The award winning Candlelight Bar has secured two for the Irish Craft Cocktail Bar Awards Best in Leinster 2016 and 2017, RAI Best Cocktail Experience and Sky Bar Awards Best Restaurant Bar 2017.