The Art of Making Perfect Cocktails
We’ve all tasted that perfect cocktail, once – the balance of ingredients and beautiful presentation that is exactly what we were in the mood for. The elusive perfect cocktail doesn’t have to be impossible to find.
At a recent Mixology 101 Class, I learned more about cocktails than I ever thought possible. First, a legendary cocktail begins with fresh ingredients, not the five-year-old bottle of vermouth sitting in the liquor cabinet. Cocktails are like food – fresh ingredients, attention to detail, and right proportions all contribute to creating perfection.
The class was taught at the Boothby Center for Beverage Arts by veteran bartender and the owner of Elixir, H Joseph Ehrmann. H imparted his vast knowledge of artisan cocktails and philosophy for making and enjoying a well-constructed drink. You might have missed this class, but there are a number classes taught each month for those curious about cocktails.
You need the right tools. Most bartenders use a “Boston Shaker” for mixing cocktails, not the fancy metal shakers seen in home bars. They recommend a OXO jigger to measure the ingredients, so it is perfect every time. You also need strainers, muddlers, zesters, juicers, and a stirring spoon. And there are a few rules for shaking versus stirring, more about that later.
Our first cocktail was the Martini, made from gin, vermouth, and orange bitters, stirred and served “up” with a lemon twist. Ice is really important in cocktail making, and getting the chill and dilution right can make the difference between an exceptional and average cocktail. We next advanced to the Manhattan, with bourbon, vermouth, angostura bitters, and an orange-peel garnish. This time we were told to shake the cocktail. This resulted in a slightly diluted version, with the garnish imparting the right amount of citrus to balance the flavors. An optional step was to flame the orange peel, a great trick for impressing friends.
When determining whether to shake or stir, it depends on how you prefer your drinks and the viscosity of the ingredients. If they have different viscosities, shaking helps them to mix – think oil and vinegar. Shaking also helps to chill the drink and dilutes it with the ice – all good things, if that is how you prefer your cocktail.
A classic Margarita (Tommy’s style) was our next task. We used fresh lime juice, blanco tequila, and cointreau, stirred and served over ice with a lime wedge. The recipe calls for 1.5 to 2 oz of tequila, so knowing whether you prefer it weak or strong is key. We learned to never scrimp on the triple sec ingredient, because quality ingredients matter.
The final cocktail was the Mojito. The most important thing is not to overpower the mint. After removing mint leaves from the stalk, they are placed in the glass and muddled gently to release the mint aroma. Next you add lime juice, simple syrup, rum, ice, and soda water, and stir to distribute the mint leaves. The result was the best mojito I have ever tasted, created by me! The entire class joined in a mojito toast to our instructor for helping us to create exceptional cocktails!
The class was empowering to learn not only the mechanics of a well-made drink, but how to order to my specifications in a bar, and how to prepare at home. When ordering a coffee beverage, we’ve learned to be very specific, not expecting the barista to know our coffee preferences. The same applies to ordering cocktails.
To build a library of cocktail references, here are some recommended books: The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale Degroff (a great survey of the contemporary bar; How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas (the classic cocktail bible); The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury; and Artisanal Cocktails by Scott Beattie, who teaches classes at Boothby.
Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktailhosts Cocktail Week, held for the past five years only in San Francisco. Artisan cocktails are featured, along with the bartenders that create them at a number of fun events lasting only a week in September. For cocktail lovers this is a not-to-be-missed week of parties. Read about last year’s Cocktail Week events.
Details: Click here to learn more about Cocktail Classes taught at the Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts in San Francisco.