Wherein our Hero/Heroine discovers it not only matters a great deal about what is made but how the making takes place.
Right now cocktails are the hottest they’ve been since the 1930s. The craze in the 1930s was due to the passing of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While Americans do not usually get worked up over constitutional amendments, this particular one repealed a previous amendment (What the hell was this country thinking back then?) and reinstated the legal availability of alcohol – taken away from us with passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
Anyway, you get the point: cocktails are big deals right now. Our town’s renowned abilities in the kitchen and the bar are beyond negative discussion. We are mixing, muddling, batching, stirring, shaking, tweaking and sipping like no one else anywhere.
So, let’s discuss how to make the perfect cocktail – without confusing the issue with ingredients. This is all about being ready to make a cocktail and remembering to follow a few basic steps so the outcome can be as wonderful as you wish it to be. Of course, this is your creation and you can screw it up if you wish.
Experiment and enjoy. But first:
- Start with clean glasses. Really clean. That means if your glassware has been washed with soap (even after going through a dishwasher cycle), rinse them well under the tap and then wipe them dry with a towel that has not been bleached or experienced fabric softener. Sniff your glasses before you add the cocktail’s ingredients to see if they have any odors. They should not give off any scent and they should be completely clear.
- Use the correct glasses. If the drink calls for a particular style of glass, use it. At the minimum, a glass’s height should be respected. If the drink is summer-y then use the tall glass. If the drink is elegant then use a shorter one.
- Make certain your work area, particularly your cutting board, is clean. Don’t use the surface for cutting citrus, then turn around and mash olives on the same place. Wash it down between actions.
- Always use the freshest ingredients. Packaged lemon juice is not the same as a fresh-squeezed lemon. Anything powdered is not nearly as good as anything fresh. You may be forced to use a mix due to time constraints, but surround it with other fresh ingredients. Allow one compromise, if you have to, but no more than that.
- Use only clean ice. And here is the surprise: store-bought ice is probably cleaner than the ice from your freezer. Home freezer ice, and even ice from stand-alone icemakers, is not really clean. Very few owners of these appliances ever clean the mechanism. When ice sits in your freezer, it can pick up odors from surrounding foods in the refrigerator. Pay a couple of bucks for commercial bags of ice at the grocery store – they are colder and cleaner.
- Use only the best liquor you can afford. In a well-made cocktail, every ingredient has a part to play. The idea is that if it is in the glass, the drinker should be able to taste it and enjoy what it brings to the tous ensemble (you have no idea how long I have been wanting to use that phrase in a column. Thank you.) The liquor you use, which is, of course, a keystone ingredient, should please the nose and the palate with its quality and its attributes. Those attributes are usually obtained only from distilled spirits that are of decent, if not great, raw ingredients and processes. While money may be a consideration, it makes no sense to embark on this excursion if cutting corners is required. That being said, and you are going to love this double-speak, it also makes no sense to spend more than you really need. Using a great grade of vodka in a Bloody Mary is usually a waste. The subtlety of quality that a great grade of vodka possesses is lost in an overwhelming amount of tomato juice and spices. Think about the liquid environment you are creating and act accordingly.
- If you are following a recipe, or even a portion of a recipe, measure every ingredient. Great cocktails are all about proportions. How can you achieve the right proportions if you are “eyeballing” the quantity of your ingredients? Measure how much of everything you are using. Otherwise, it could result in too much of one thing and not enough of another. And worse, you won’t be able to duplicate the perfect cocktail you just created.
- The decision to garnish or not to garnish is not to be underestimated; it’s important. Garnish is a key aspect to your masterpiece. Fruit or citrus? Savory or sweet? Colors? Rimming spices? Toys, like umbrellas or plastic figures? Follow the same thoughts as you did in creating the drink. What works here better than anything else? The garnish is likely the first thing your audience notes and first impressions count. If the recipe calls for fruit, make certain it is fresh and extra clean. This is an item that “makes” the drink. And it can change everything. Don’t even get me started on lemons and limes at many bars and restaurants. They are hardly ever rinsed and then they sit in that bin deteriorating, getting slimy. Gross! Think fresh and firm, like your abs.
- While I am not personally a great fan of straws, I think they should always be in the drink. In general, I don’t think guys use them, and most girls do. Sexist, I know, but that has been my observation. At the minimum, they provide a tool with which to stir the drink. Ingredients settle during the course of enjoyment and giving the straw a couple of twists from time to time helps to keep all ingredients where they are supposed to be. Unless the drink is frozen, those big straws are not what you want. Use something small that reaches to the bottom of your glass. If you are using a classic, shallow martini glass you really don’t need the plastic pipe.
Follow these absolutely true and necessary steps and you will be well on your way to making the Perfect Cocktail. No guarantees but it’s a start.