Making a good, possibly excellent, cocktail involves placing certain ingredients into the correct receptacle. We all know that.

But there are other not-so-acknowledged actions that have an equal bearing on a proper outcome. When you watch a professional making a drink, or borrow a recipe from a publication or website, these little noted, must-do actions are never mentioned. Sometimes the person doing the demonstrating assumes everyone knows. Sometimes there is the haughty assumption that if you don’t know these things, maybe you should not be doing this activity.

Here are some “secrets” to making better cocktails, none of which is about any one ingredient.


Do not wash glasses in soap

Restaurants and bars are directed by the local health department as to how to wash glassware. You are not bound by these directives. And likely you do not have anyone at your home who is infected with the next designer plague.

Remember at the core of cocktails or wine, there is a good supply of alcohol. And what do we use as a germ-killing liquid for all manner of disinfecting?

Wash your glassware either in the dishwasher with very hot water, or at your sink with the hottest water you can stand, but don’t use soap. Soap leave a film on the glasses and it not only dulls the glass, it can affect the taste of whatever is put into the glass. In the case of sparkling wine, a soap film can shut down the bubbles.

It is quite enough to give previously used glasses a good rinse, use your hand to remove stains and residue, then dry them with a paper towel. Don’t use a dish towel that has been washed in soap and then dried with a dryer sheet in the machine. All of the above, soap, towels, dryer sheets, can negatively affect whatever you are going to use the glass for on the next round.


Purchase ice from store

Even when you are simply entertaining at home, don’t put something in the glass that is not fresh and pure. Your home icemaker may be perfectly sufficient for you, but ice can take on the odors and the taste of other items around it. Most of us do not clean our icemakers routinely and there can be a mold build-up in the unit. A bag of ice is only about $3 and it’s worth the effort.


Use fresh only

Sort of an ancillary rule to the ice. If you want to make a drink, use only fresh ingredients. If fresh strawberries or blueberries are not in season, make a different drink until the fresh fruit is back in season. Frozen is not a good way to go. All of the flavors and aromas are gone from frozen foods. Along those lines, peach schnapps is not a substitute for fresh peaches. I am not noting you can’t make a drink with fruit spirits or with frozen fruit. I am only suggesting the drink you make will not as bright and happy as if you use the fresh ingredient. There is no substitute for fresh ingredients.


Do not skimp on quality

Again, a very important thought, expressed in reverse, GIGO (garbage in; garbage out). That is not to say that you would put garbage in anything you are doing, but always use the best. You may not see the direct result, but it’s there in subtle and important ways. You don’t always need to buy at the top of the price chain but you need to think through how big a role the ingredient plays in what you are trying to do. Even a good grade of vodka in a thick and spicy Bloody Mary can change your guest’s appreciation of the cocktail. 


Measure all ingredients

I cannot believe how many home mixologists don’t measure what they are adding to their creations. I even get upset when professionals don’t measure. There are points in every drink when the ingredients are not enough or too much. Avoid those conditions. Measure everything.


Properly store wine

Dark good; Sunlight bad

Temperature as cool as you can make it and constant

These last three “suggestions” are closely related so I have lumped them together. Wine is a changing, fragile, challenging product to store and keep. The problem is that you do not know until it is too late whether the product has gone towards a bad end. The fall off of fresh and pure is not immediate. Change is gradual. But there is a definable point when a bottle of wine is no longer the beverage you hoped it would be.

Those conditions can onset with high and/or fluctuating temperatures, effects of sun, or vibrations in the storage area. Truth is the majority of wines today do not really benefit from aging. They are ready to be enjoyed when released. You are taking a chance setting a wine aside on a shelf in your dining room and saying, “I can’t wait to enjoy that in a few years.”  


I go on the philosophy that in any lifetime there are a limited number of beverages to be enjoyed or meals savored. Why waste one of those times one something not up to full potential?




Read Happy Hour here on every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.