Memorize These 5 Essential Rules For Making Great Cocktails At Home

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Allow us to introduce you to Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Food Republic's new Contributing Cocktail Editor and author of the occasional column, Easy Drinking. Jeffrey is an industry veteran, having worked at many styles of bars for the past two decades. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon and is the author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. In this space he will talk about making excellent drinks at the home bar — which, as the name suggests, does not need to be difficult  as well as suggest favorite products, gear and maybe tell you where you need to drink when not perfecting the Blood and Sand at home.  

The cocktail is, in my opinion, America's one truly great and unique contribution to the culinary world. Sure, there are the usual objections whenever I bring this up. What about pizza, jambalaya, hamburgers? But those foods we typically associate with American cuisine are little more than variations of European dishes, a reflection of the beautiful cultural smorgasbord that makes this country great.

But consider the cocktail for a moment. Sure, the British Empire had been mixing punch — a union of spirits, citrus, sugar, spices and water — for centuries, well before the American cocktail was invented. Long before that, civilizations lengthened and flavored their beers and wines with all manner of mixers, herbs, and flavored waters. But the beauty of the cocktail as it was defined in this country is that it was the first drink created as a single serving. And that, for me, sums up the spirit of this country, the emphasis on the individual.

As such, the way we take our cocktails is incredibly personal. Some prefer their Whiskey Sour a touch sweet. Some take theirs a little more sour. While some rules are flexible, others are not made to be broken. And there are some rules that mean the difference between a good cocktail, and a great cocktail. For my first Food Republic column, where I will detail and debate the world of home cocktail making, allow me to share them with you.

1. Sugar should be weighed, not measured

There are few things in the cocktail world more basic than simple syrup. You'll even hear bartenders say, "It's not called difficult syrup" when referring to this common cocktail component. But in my years I've discovered that even the most educated bartenders still measure their simple syrups by volume, when a quick trip to the digital scale will provide more accuracy. Sugar and water have different densities, so a measure of sugar is closer to the total of the same volume of water. This means that when making, say, 2:1 simple syrup, you're actually only making 1.75:1 syrup when measuring by volume.

2. Citrus juice tastes very different with age

In recent years we've learned a lot about the varying properties of citrus juices as exposed to oxygen and time. One interesting fact about both lemon and lime juice is that they tend to taste more like themselves when left to sit (bottled, sealed and refrigerated) for around four hours. This is great news for those who like to prepare in advance for making drinks. However, the opposite is true for oranges, which contain substances that react to an enzyme almost immediately upon being squeezed to turn the juice bitter. Bad news for prep, as orange juice will never taste as good as it does freshly-squeezed.

3. Knowing when to stir, versus knowing when to shake, is very important

When we mix cocktails that contain clear ingredients — spirit-driven cocktails such as Manhattans, Martinis and Negronis — we want those drinks to be ice-cold, rich and crystal-clear (not cloudy). The only way to facilitate that is through stirring, where the ingredients can be combined and chilled without the introduction of ice chips or air bubbles. Drinks containing ingredients such as fruit juice, dairy or egg whites are best when shaken, when the drink is full of air bubbles, well-diluted and cold as hell. Just remember to fine strain your shaken drinks through a tea strainer to remove any excess ice.

4. Blended drinks need to be slightly sweeter

Given the Arctic temperature and increased dilution of blended drinks, they tend to taste a little thin when made using the same recipe as the same drink, shaken. A Margarita served "up" or over ice will taste watery and flat when served with a cup of blended ice. Increased sugar helps deliver flavor to the palate, so don't skimp on the sugar when whipping up a batch of Strawberry Daiquiris.

5. Coffee drinks finished with whipped cream shouldn't look like a soft-serve ice cream cone

There is kind of a eureka moment when you take your first sip of a properly made Irish Coffee. You realize that the function of that thin layer of whipped cream floating neatly on top of your drink is more than a visual garnish, it also provides a cushion against your upper lip as you sip the hot beverage through the cool blanket of thickened cream. Since that eureka moment I've decided to forgo the nitrous whipper, instead opting for a gentle whisking in a bowl or shaking in a shaker to produce a slightly thickened cream that can be gently poured on top of the drink.

None of these rules would mean much without a drink that exemplifies at least a few of them, so I present the simple Daiquiri — a shaken (or blended), citrus-driven drink sweetened by properly made simple syrup.


2½ ounces light rum (seek out Seven Sirens or Banks)

¾ ouce lime juice

½ ounce 2:1 simple syrup (use twice this if blending)

Shake (or blend) with ice until well chilled. Serve in a frozen stemmed glass and garnish with a thin slice of fresh lime.