When looking for a definition of what is a cocktail you will find many, for example, the obvious one – an alcoholic mixed drink that contains two or more ingredients at least one of the ingredients must be a spirit; but in our opinion it is more than just a drink as we believe it comes down to one word after all which is art – the quality production expression of what is beautiful and any field using the skills or techniques; so creating or making a cocktail requires such a detail, such creativity and skills that are made to be enjoyed at a slower pace than other drinks.
Cocktails have been around for centuries, and it is true that a cocktail is often associated with some celebration, just like a cake is associated with a birthday and yes back in the days it was also associated with the wealthy but thanks to prohibition around the 1920s it all changed becoming even more popular, affordable and accessible to all classes of people, it’s amazing how things changed over the years and we can still create stunning drinks and still enjoy the classics using the best and the freshest ingredients available.
Recently cocktails have been increasing in popularity probably due to a whole new generation of cocktail bartenders (mixologists) who does their best in creating new cocktails and putting their stamp based on their personality or whatever sparks them such as the surrounding or personal experiences. After all the hole cocktail experience is a theatrical scene with the main character being talented mixology and the stage being the bar with drinks being designed around the customer criteria, it can become the real focal point for an evening out.
Although cocktails can be created with a minimum of good-quality ingredients, certain pieces of equipment are essential for even the most basic cocktails. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, and you may find that you already own some of the equipment you will need for an outstanding cocktail party. The key is to have everything ready in advance, just in case you need to do any last-minute shopping.
Shakers: The main piece of equipment is the shaker, there are two types: the Boston Shaker and the European Shaker. The Boston Shaker is two containers that are slightly conical in shape, and one of which is made from glass and the other is a tin made of stainless steel. The ingredients are added to one with lots of ice, then they are both pushed together forming a perfect seal and then safely shaken combining the ingredients. Once ready, the drink is poured from the stainless steel container using the hawthorn strainer or using a little more technique, you loosen the shaker and pour holding each part with each hand horizontal without letting the ice go through. It’s best not to mix more than two servings of a cocktail at a time.
Jigger: When it comes to making cocktails, a little more precision is required, so a set of this small measuring cup is another essential item.Often double-ended and sometimes shaped like an hourglass with the standard metric being 25ml, 35ml and 50ml. Many cocktails have exact measurements of alcohol, and any deviation will alter the final flavour, so it’s important to fallow the recipe exactly. You can also use the small lid of your European Shaker, or a shot glass, or even a small egg cup.
Bottle Pourer Spouts: Free-pouring is the method called to pour accurate measures by eye, a skill all good cocktail maker needs. These pourers are normally cork and chrome that fit in the bottle’s neck and provide a thin, constant stream of the liquid. They also help with the theatrical aspect of cocktail making – if that is something that appeals.
Strainer: A bar strainer or Hawthorn strainer is the perfect tool to prevent ice and other unwanted ingredients from being poured from the shaker or mixing glass into the serving glass. You could use a small sieve to achieve the same results, but the Hawthorn fits neatly over the Boston Shaker.
Also, a fine strainer or tea strainer is very useful, especially for drinks with lots of pulp or pips.
Bar Spoon: Bar spoons are just long-handled teaspoons, used for stirring tall glasses or occasionally for light muddling duties: bruising mint leaves or basil leaves, for instance, it can also be used for layering shooters, or for floats. The handle of the spoon is often twisted, which means it can be used to add small amounts of ingredients to drinks that need to sit on top or are delicate. The liquid is poured from the bottle onto the top of the spoon and then gradually and evenly makes its way down and around the handle until it reaches the surface of the drink itself.
Muddler: This is simply a miniature masher or rolling pin used for extracting the juice from fruits, crushing ingredients, such as herbs, spices and sugar in the base of a glass to release their flavour. You can also use a mortar and pestle or even the back of a spoon. They come in a few variables such as wooden, stainless steel and plastic.
Others: There is an endless list of little gizmos and accessories available to the cocktail aficionado, but you can make the most without having to invest hundreds of pounds in state-of-the-art tools, but if you plan on doing something extra, here’s a quick list: A good, sharp knife and a small chopping board are vital, a Mexican elbow (citrus juicer) or reamer, a canelle knife, a citrus zester, a blender for creamy cocktails and slushes. You will also require an ice bucket and a bar scoop – a wine cooler or a large plastic container and a serving spoon should do the trick. Cocktail equipment always makes an interesting birthday present ideas or stocking fillers, and there are some quirky little gadgets around that any drinks aficionado would be more than happy to receive.
I’m sure most people heard of the popular expression that people eat with their eyes; not so different when it comes to cocktails. Hugely important to the success of any cocktail is the right choice of glass. Serve a Martini in a highball glass or a Negroni in a Martini glass, and you will see what I mean. It just doesn’t work. Glasses is a vital part of the making to have the cocktail to be attractively served. Part of the appeal of the cocktail is the aesthetics, and while you may spend ages lovingly preparing and mixing a drink, following the recipe to the letter and adding a beautifully crafted decoration if you serve it in an inappropriate glass or a cheap plastic cup, all your hard work will be wasted. Cocktails should look good as well as taste great, so at the very least you will need the following glasses to cover the basic drinks that you might want to prepare:
Old-fashioned: Also known as rocks, lowball or tumbler is required for simply mixed spirits or short drinks – this glass is usually wide and low with a heavy base.
Highball: Also called collins glass is slimmer and taller, and this is used for long drinks.
Flute: These are delicate glasses with long stems and a slim body that helps to keep the bubbles intact.
Martini: Known as the classic cocktail glass this can be used to serve few number of drinks, including the Gin or Vodka Martini. They have sloping sides that form a “V” shape and a long stem. They are designed this way so that there is minimum contact between your hand and the actual glass, to avoid warming the drink. If you’re planning a party, you should invest in a set of these.
Shot Glasses: This will be required if you plan on serving shots.
It’s a good idea to have more glasses than you think you’ll need, as inevitable a couple will break or get left on a bookshelf or tucked under a table and forgotten.
You don’t need any special skills to make cocktails and to begin with there are just two simple rules to remember: make sure you have all the correct ingredients to hand before you start, and secondly, following the recipe carefully. You shouldn’t go too far wrong with the most basic drinks, and once you begin to get a little more confident, you can try experimenting with more complicated recipes involving layering or setting drinks alight! If you do want to hone your skills as a cocktail mixologist, there are numerous techniques that can be practised to give your mixing skills a bit of flair and make the whole experience more enjoyable for you and your guests.
Chilling: For absolute perfection, you should chill spirits, mixers and most important serving glasses in the refrigerator or freezer for an hour or so before you start preparing drinks. You’ll often see this done in bars, not just for cocktails but lagers as well, and it really will make a difference to the finished drink if the glass is icy cold. However, it’s not always possible to find room for glasses, and you should never put a fine crystal in the refrigerator or freezer. As an alternative, fill glasses with cracked ice, stir well, then tip out the ice and any water before pouring in the cocktail.
Shaking: A good technique to perfect early on in your cocktail career is shaking. Not only will your energetic display impress your guests, but it is essential for authentic-tasting cocktails. Whether you’re using a Boston or European shaker, it’s important to shake that drink like your life depend on it. The aim of shaking a cocktail is to make sure that the drink you are planning to serve is both cold and thoroughly mixed. It can also introduce air into the drink, which can give a slightly frothy texture to some cocktails, especially cream-based drinks. Shaking for about 10-15 seconds is enough time to dissolve sugar into the spirit as well.
Muddling: Muddling involves crushing fruits (like watermelon) to break them up and release the flavour, herbs (usually mint) and sometimes sugar together to create a flavoursome residue. Drinks like the Caipirinha, cane sugar and lime quarters are muddled together before the Cachaça is added.
Stirring: If a drink requires stirring, then stir as gentle as you can using a bar spoon, you don’t want the ice to crack and break, as this will only water down and subsequently dilute the drink. You also don’t want too much air incorporated into the drink by stirring too vigorously.
Layering: This is a technique often used to make shots, usually consist of liqueurs as they float better. Use the back of the spoon to gently pour each ingredient into the glass, one after the other, without it breaking the surface of the ingredient below. There should be a very definite layer to each ingredient.
Some cocktails are decorated for decoration’s sake, while for others the decoration is a vital part of the flavour (the olive in a Martini is one example of this). Decoration can range from a simple twist of lime to a complicated assemblage of fruits pieces on a toothpick, but all add something extra to the finished drink.
The point of garnish is to enhance the drink, not to overwhelm it. As with food, the idea is both to please the eye and give the palate an idea of what to expect. Why chefs ever thought that a scratchy sprig of parsley made their creation more attractive is difficult to understand; similar, a moribund lemon slice or a gratuitous cherry adds nothing to a drink.
Use your imagination too; if you are making a drink with elderflower liqueur or cordial, for example, and you have elderflower in the garden, then use them, or perhaps try a fresh bay leaf in a Martini. Cocktail bars do not, as a rule, have herbs or fruits garden, so make the most of your advantage and personalise your drinks.
When a recipe calls for, say, a dozen raspberries, make sure you save the best examples to top the drink; similarly, mint bashed Mojito does not have to be of pristine quality, but the sprig on top should be fresh and bright green.
Here are a few of the decorations:
Frosting: This is where the rim of the glass is dipped first in water or egg white, or moistened with the juice of a lemon or lime, and then into a flavouring, to decorate it. The most famous example is the Margarita, which is dipped in salt, but for other drinks, the rim might be dipped in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, or desiccated coconut. It all depends on the ingredients of the drink.
Fruit Wedges: Lemon and lime are the most popular decorations and are used in many drinks. They can either be simply dropped into the finished drink, or you can squeeze a little juice into the glass and then drop the wedge into the drink. Alternatively, for a real citrus zing, wipe the wedge around the rim of the glass first. Other fruit, such as pineapples or mangos, can be cut into small wedge shapes, cut halfway through with a sharp knife, and positioned over the edge of the glass.
Citrus Zest Spirals and Twists: Spirals can be made from lemons, limes or oranges adding a dash of colour to the cocktail. You need to carefully peel a long piece of zest from the fruit using a parer or a small sharp knife. Once you have a suitable length, wrap it around a straw and hold it for a few minutes. As the moisture begins to dry, the zest will keep its twisty shape, and you can balance it over the edge of a glass. It’s a good idea to try and make a few of these citrus spirals in advance.
Twists are similar to a spiral, but you start by cutting a wider piece of citrus zest. You use a vegetable peeler for this and again, balance on the side of the glass or rest briefly over the drink and squeeze to realise the oil, before dropping the twist in the drink. You could also try tying them in bows or knots and then arrange them over the drink.
Cherries and Olives: These are threaded onto toothpicks and balanced over the side of the glass, but if you’re feeling creative, you can try making your mini fruit kebabs to decorate your drinks. Virtually any type of fruit is attractive.
Ice: Just as anyone learning to cook needs to understand what heat does to food, so any aspiring cocktail-maker needs to know how ice affects drinks. Ice is vital both for making and serving cocktails, and it can make a huge difference to the success of a drink, you really can’t have enough of it. It is ideal to prepare plenty in advance or, better still, buy a couple of large bags of ice to keep in the freezer. A good tip for storing the ice in the freezer is to squirt with soda water to stop the cubes from sticking together. Ice is used in most cocktails as a means of chilling the ingredients while they’re being shaken or stirred, and it is also used to chill the actual glass while the drink is being prepared. Crushed ice is also required in a number of drinks and, although you can buy a little gadget that will do all the hard work for you, alternately to crush the ice, put ice cubes in a strong plastic bag and hit with the smooth side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin, a clean tea towel and a rolling pin will have the similar effect. Nowadays you might be able to find crushed ice in a few of the popular supermarkets.
Sugar syrup: Even fine caster sugar often fails to dissolve completely in the brief time that a cocktail is shaken or stirred, so it is better to use syrup de gomme (sugar syrup) when sweetening drinks. To make this at home, it is really simple, for every two measures of caster sugar use one measure of boiling water, for example, for 250gr of caster sugar use 125gr of water so always cut the measure into the half. It can be done using a saucepan bringing to the boil over a low heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved or you can use a kettle to boil the water then using the exactly measures for both add the sugar and the boiling water into a stainless still container, such as a wine cooler and use a bar spoon to stir until dissolved. After leaving to cool down, store in a sterilised jar or bottle in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Feel free to use brown sugar (demerara sugar) if you can as it will give an extra taste.