When it comes to cocktails, Simon Ford is the guy to know. After earning a Wine and Spirits Education Certificate in the UK, he went on to work for Seagrams and now holds the heady title of Global Spirits & Cocktail Brand Expert for Pernod Ricard USA. For real, it’s on his business card. In Simon’s weekly column, Drink Ford Tough, he tells you everything you ever needed to know about the art of the cocktail. And how to drink better.
It’s a lot of fun to make cocktails at home, but one thing you should always remember is you’re likely never going to be as good as your favorite bartender. This is the man or woman who makes drinks every day. He is the master of all spirits. The custodian of the craft. If you were as good as him, he’d be out of a job.
With that said, the first piece of advice I have for you is don’t be disappointed in your early days of making drinks. Master some of the tips below and your cocktails will quickly improve.
1. Start with the classics
Before you start creating your own cocktails, learn some of the classics—because in these lie the foundations of all great, balanced cocktails. Learn a good sour drink, such as the margarita, or the daiquiri. Perfecting the balance between lime juice and cointreau is a formula you can apply to many of your own concoctions.
2. Keep shaking
A mistake people often make is they don’t chill, or dilute, their drinks as much as the professional bartender. Remember, when you see the bartender shake the cocktail, he is shaking for a really long time. Yes, your hand will get cold when doing this but you’ll have a newfound respect for the bartender. The longer you shake the more chilled and diluted the drink will become, which will in turn release better flavor. But be careful not to over do it. With practice you’ll find the perfect balance (try shaking 25 times to start).
3. Taste for balance
Taste your drink in the middle of shaking to make sure it is chilled and balanced enough. Same goes for stirring. Do a good 30 stirs, taste, and stir more if needed.
4. Always chill your glassware
Put your glasses in the freezer. This is only really important for drinks that you’ll serve up, because there’s no ice included.
5. Buy the best ingredients
Your professional bartender has gone to great lengths to get the best spirits, fresh juices, and fresh fruits. Just remember that your cocktail is only as good as the ingredients.
6. Add a functional garnish
A garnish isn’t there just to look pretty (but it’s nice if it does). A garnish should always add flavor. When you squeeze the oils from a lemon peel they add an essence as well as oil over the top of your martini. So keep in mind that most garnishes have a purpose. There’s no reason for a cocktail umbrella unless it’s a tiki party. But a big, fat sprig of mint on top of a mint julep not only looks great, it adds freshness. Make your cocktail look and smell good and people will want to drink it.
And remember, if you’re throwing a dinner party serve a punch. It’s a good convivial way of sharing a well-balanced drink that you can make ahead of time.
You can follow Simon Ford on Twitter: @SimonJFord.