A great bartender is a chef, chemist and performer rolled into one. Their palate is impeccable; they’ll know which ingredients react badly and which turn to gold; and they’ll know exactly what you want before you do.
But just because you’re not René Redzepi, it doesn’t mean you can’t cook. Mixing your own cocktails in the comfort of your own home doesn’t require much in the way of equipment, and it’s easy to get brilliant results by starting off simply.
What follows are some of the basics on how to mix a drink - some essential skills to master before summer really hits.
The only non-negotiable piece of kit you’ll need to make a cocktail is a glass, but even that’s open to interpretation. That being said, there is a few pieces of equipment that can help you master the art of mixing.
- Cocktail Shaker
The single-most important piece of gear you’ll need is a cocktail shaker. Opt for a metal shaker if you can; they’re easier to use and will never shatter in your hand. However, if you don’t have a cocktail shaker handy, a pickle-jar with the lid on makes a perfectly respectable substitute.
- Mexican Elbow
Named simply because it was invented in Mexico and looks like an elbow, the Mexican Elbow makes it infinitely easier to juice citrus. One thing to note, however, is that while the elbow appears to fit a lemon neatly in its groove, the flat of the cut fruit needs to go across the bottom or you’ll get juice in your eye. But, again, this is hardly a compulsory item - you can easily juice a lemon by cutting it in half, scoring the flesh in an X and squeezing it into your shaker.
- Cocktail Strainer
Useful for stopping solids and separating ice on the way from the shaker to your glass, a cocktail strainer is a friend to barmen everywhere. Some fancy strainers even boast a little lever to press its coil against the glass, preventing stray bits from leaking in. If you don’t have one, rummage around in the second drawer for a tea strainer.
- Simple Syrup
You’ll see this stuff in nearly every cocktail recipe ever written, but true to its name, Simple Syrup couldn’t be easier to make. Simply pour an amount of superfine caster sugar into an equal amount of cold water, and stir until it dissolves. Some directions will tell you to do it over a medium heat, but that’s unnecessary, and will actually start separating sugars, which you don’t need. Store your syrup in the fridge pretty much indefinitely if you’ve got a lid on it.
Lemons and limes are the backbone of cocktail culture, allowing bartenders to balance flavour between sweet and acidic. You need lots of these, fresh.
More important than you think. Perhaps counter-intuitively, more ice does not mean less drink - it actually means that your drink stays colder, longer; preventing the ice from turning into water and diluting (read: destroying) your drink. Strange but true.
- Shake Right
A bartender’s cocktail shaking technique is their signature, so you’re going to have to come up with your own. However, The Beaufort bartender Dave Kerr always advises shakers to try and make a long action - say over your shoulder and out in front of you with an extended arm - to put as much force and power into the shake as possible.
- Taste as you go
Yep - this is the most important piece of advice on this here list: taste your drink before sending it out. The difference between chefs and mere mortals is that they taste everything they cook; the same goes for cocktail-makers. Take a little sip with a straw, then if it’s too sweet, add lemon, and if it’s too sour, add Simple Syrup.