It’s a new year, with lots of bright new opportunities for absolutely blowing something. And while we can’t help you reconsider that ironic Trump tattoo or drunkenly adopting seven cats, we can help you fix the mistakes you’ve been making behind your home bar.
Here are just a few quick fixes to some common mixing mistakes.
You’re Shaking When You Should Be Stirring
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We all wanna look like Tom Cruise from Cocktail at least once in our lives. But as tempting as it is to shake a cocktail like you mean it, shaking isn’t appropriate for everything. The basic guidelines: if a cocktail contains citrus or fruit juice, dairy, or egg white, it’s meant to be shaken (Pisco Sour, Margarita, Mai Tai, etc.). The reasoning here is pretty basic—shaking ingredients with ice is a much more violent and effective way to integrate components so you end up with a lovely, luscious finished product.
Stirring is meant for spirits-forward cocktails, with only a few additions (think Manhattan, Martini, Negroni, Sazerac, etc.). Unlike shaking, stirring only contributes a little bit of dilution to the drink, so stirred drinks are often stronger, and more viscous on the tongue. Stirring’s definitely a gentler way to integrate elements. So if you still need to look TC cool, try the dance from the end of Tropic Thunder.
You’re Stirring Too Briefly, or Too Violently
You finally switched to (properly) stirring that Manhattan. Except you just dunked a big spoon in, swung it around the drink like a golfer gone wild, and started chugging. The proper way to stir is, well, for a while, with some bartenders insisting they’ll take 30 turns around the rim of the glass with the bar spoon before it’s done. Oh, and that’s another thing—you don’t want to stir through the cocktail, but around it, with the arm of the bar spoon hugging the rim of your stirring glass. Also, use a bar spoon, or a thin-necked, tiny-bowled spoon.
You’re Eyeballing Ingredients
This may look cool, but it works better for trained professionals, and maybe witches. (Actually, come to think of it, you rarely see a witch making a brew without a recipe book: “Wait, was that one eyeball of newt, or two? Shoot.”) No reason to eyeball ingredients—bartenders, don’t even do it. Unless of course they’re just pumping Sour Mix into your Long Island Iced Tea (and we’ll talk about that below). Use a recipe, and use a jigger and proper measuring tools. They’re cheap, they look steam punk cool, and they’ll keep everyone from overdosing on vermouth in that batch of Mad Men Marathon Martinis.
You’re Using Sour Mix
Or any mixers. No shame to the kick ass college parties of yesteryear, when some of us made the mistake of switching between blender Margaritas and White Russians (it was rough), but mixers shouldn’t be in your cabinet anymore. They’re full of sugar and artificial ingredients, kind of like liquid sour gummy candy. But more importantly, they’ll make your semi-decent or decent booze taste worse. Imagine “infusing” quality bourbon with Sour Patch Kids. As gratifying as any shortcut is, you’ll end up with a lesser product. Kind of like letting your friend give you a haircut.
Your Muddling is Muddled
“Muddling” is the process of crushing a flavoring ingredient—fruit, mint, etc.—on the bottom of a mixing glass to release aromatics and prepare the ingredient for integration into the drink. (When you make a Mojito, you start by muddling mint and sugar.) But there are a few risks in muddling: using an unsturdy glass (anything too thin and you’ll end up with glass shards, no alcohol, and likely some cuts); using the wrong muddler (you can use the end of a wooden spoon, just nothing that’ll severely bruise the leaves, e.g. sharp-edged); and, yeah, too severely bruising the leaves—and this goes especially for herbs, which contain chlorophyll in addition to all those tasty aromatic oils. If you had a rough day at work, or someone didn’t “Spoiler Alert” before gushing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, let someone else muddle. You go cool down and wait for your much-deserved cocktail.
You’re Subbing with Insane Ingredients
A huge part—and yes, kind of huge annoyance—about making cocktails is assembling all the ingredients. Beyond expensive booze, there’s often some fruit or botanical, maybe a liqueur or aromatized wine, maybe a tiny 4-ounce vial of some random exotic bitters you’ll never use again. But unless you’re practiced at cocktail making, and can sub with some authority, don’t go off book. Egg Beaters are not an appropriate substitution for egg whites, Stevia has no place in simple syrup, and nobody wants Tang powder where there should be freshly squeezed orange juice. Silver Lining: As you get more into cocktail making, you’ll find yourself with less need to go out and shop like it’s Christmas Eve every time you want a drink.
You Did Not Exploit Your Friends in the Drudgery of Prep
Ask a bartender—or, more likely—a bar back how they start their day: prep. This means procuring and cleaning fresh herbs and fruits, preparing any elaborate garnishes, and cutting, juicing, and/or quietly cursing a mountain of citrus fruits. If you’re making cocktails for a group, don’t let them get away with standing around. Get them to join in on the “fun” (really, you gotta sell it as fun), and then you can all sit around dissecting citrus fruits and picking through mint leaves while chatting about Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin canoodling rumors and their impact on the global economy.