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5 Steps to Better Cocktails

Don't Forget the Basics

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Do you ever wonder why your cocktails don't taste like the pro's drinks? Sometimes it is the little things that can make the difference between a great cocktail, a mediocre one and one that gets spit into the sink. If you pay attention to the world's best bartenders you will notice that there are a few steps they take when making almost any cocktail that add that "WOW" factor to the drink. If you were to follow these five easy steps every time you shake or stir your favorite drinks you will soon find that the quality of your cocktails is improving.

1. Upgrade Your Liquor Cabinet

Gin Martini with Onions
James And James/Stockbyte/Getty Images
There is a significant difference between the distilled spirits on the top shelf and the bottom shelf of the liquor store. Your drinks will reflect the quality of their ingredients and, because liquor is typically the strongest ingredient in a drink, it is important to spend a little extra money on quality. A Martini made with a 5 dollar bottle of gin is going to be disappointing compared to one made with a 40 dollar bottle of gin. That doesn't mean that you have to spend a fortune every time you go to the liquor store. There are very good mid-range brands available that are perfect for "everyday" mixing that cost around $20-30 a bottle. This simple upgrade will start your cocktails off on the right foot.

2. Use Fresh Ingredients

Ginger Mary Cocktail - Sagatiba Pura Cachaca Rum
Photo Courtesy of: © Sagatiba Pura Cachaca Rum
Whenever possible choose fresh instead of canned or bottled ingredients for your cocktails. This primarily refers to fruit juices but can also be applied to other mixers such as using a soda siphon as opposed to buying bottled soda water or club soda and making your own simple syrup, sour mix or grenadine. With fruits the answer can be as simple as squeezing lemons, limes and oranges with a hand juicer or getting an electric juicer to make fresh apple, cranberry, pear or any other type of fresh fruit juice. Many of the bottled mixers will include unwanted additives that take away from the freshness of the cocktail.

3. Match the Drink and Glass Temperature

Pomegranate Margarita
Evan Skylar / Photolibrary / Getty Images
This seems like a simple, possibly unnecessary, step to mixing drinks but it makes a world of difference. When you are serving cold drinks, chilling the glass before pouring will keep the drink colder longer and the experience of drinking is better from beginning to end. This can be as simple as placing a glass in the freezer for a minute or pouring cold water or ice in the glass while you shake and dumping it out before the pour. The same theory applies to warm drinks. If you are making a Hot Toddy, warm up the glass before hand by pouring some hot water inside while you're preparing the ingredients. Nothing ruins a drink worse than getting to the bottom and a cold drink is warm or a warm drink is cold and this simple step can stop that.

4. Use Garnishes When Appropriate

Photo Credit: © Colleen Graham
Not every cocktail needs to be garnished but those that do call for a lemon, lime, orange or whatever depend on that addition for flavor and balance. Garnishes also complete the drink's presentation. For instance, a Gin and Tonic without the lime is missing that essential, subtle citrus and a Martini without the olives lacks the soft brine flavor that infuses the drink. Garnishes are important and even if their absence doesn't ruin the finished drink, it certainly is not enhancing it like it was designed to do.

5. Measure Everything

Bar Jigger - Measuring in a Bar - Bar Tools
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
The importance of measuring cocktail ingredients cannot be stressed enough if your desire is to create great tasting drinks consistently. Many people skip this step because it's time consuming or because they like the show of a free pour. Granted, many bartenders who work in busy establishments rarely touch a jigger, but they also pour a lot of drinks and know the timing needed to pour a shot. Measuring ensures that you are creating the cocktail in the way it was meant to be and an over or under pour of a single ingredient can throw off the delicate balance of a drink. Also, if you are drinking and mixing, your perception of measuring can be thrown off.

Chris Milligan has a great perspective on this theory and a fun story.

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