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Top tips for making cocktails at home

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Everyone from Stanley Tucci to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has taken to home bartending these days.

While there are many great resources out there right now for the budding home bartender, we thought we would give you a run-down of the essentials of home bartending.

1. Preparation

A little time put into preparation makes for an enjoyable evening. Drinking cocktails should be a fun and relaxing experience, so take a while to think about ingredients in advance, to avoid any rushing around last minute.

2. Simple Syrup

One of the foundations of many cocktails is sugar syrup. This can be prepared in advance. Here’s my tip for easy to prepare simple syrup:

  1. Add 200 gm white sugar to 200 ml boiling water.
  2. Stir till sugar is dissolved, and liquid is clear.
  3. Allow to cool then bottle & refrigerate. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed bottle in the fridge for up to a month.

3. Finding your own Balance

If you mix lemon juice 50:50 with simple syrup, you should have a solid mid-line sweet-sour balance. But remember, every palate is different.

To find your own point of balance, mix 15ml fresh lemon juice with 15ml simple syrup, and then dilute the mix with up to 90ml water. Congratulations, you’ve just made fresh lemonade! If this tastes too sweet or too sour, adjust by adding a little more citrus or syrup.

Using this method of calibration, you can adjust any cocktail recipe to suit your own palate.

4. Ice

Ice is the single most over-looked ingredient at any home bar - you’ll be surprised how much you can go through. Cocktails need ice like baking needs ovens. If popping to the shops for ice isn’t an option right now, keeping a freezer bag topped up with ice will ensure you don’t run out unexpectedly.

For best quality home-made ice, try using a silicone ice tray with a lid, to prevent your ice from absorbing unpleasant odours. And wash your ice tray after each use.

5. Quality Ingredients

Where possible always go for premium spirits, the freshest herbs, and the best juices you can get your hands on. For instance, the taste difference between cheap juice and pressed juice is more than worth the small extra expense.

6. Glassware

Try to use glassware appropriate to your drinks. It’s entirely possible to drink a martini from an old coffee mug, but that misses the point of drinking a martini!

7. Learn the Classics

If you can make a Whiskey Sour, you can make a Daiquiri. If you make a mean Negroni, you can riff on a Boulevardier. Once you’ve mastered the Manhattan, have some fun in Brooklyn on your way to Martinez.

Cocktails exist in family trees. Once you are comfortable the basics of each category the world is your oyster!

8. Punch Above Your Weight

You can pre-mix punches in advance - an old trick from the godfathers of bartending in the 19th century. You can bottle punch and store it in the fridge, ready to use on the day, or later that week. If done properly, quality and consistency are assured. If your punch has a fizzy ingredient, such as champagne, only add this your glass just before serving.

If you follow the Punch Ratio, you can’t go far wrong:

  • 1 part sour (citrus)
  • 2 parts sweet (simple syrup)
  • 3 parts strong (spirit)
  • 4 parts weak (juices etc)

And don’t shy away from warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, to make that punch really sing. Don’t have those spices to hand? No problem, a few dashes of Angostura bitters will do the trick.

9. Get Creative

We all have a few unloved ingredients lying around that need using up. For instance, that last bit of red wine in the bottle? Try drizzling it over your Whisky Sour, and voila, you’ve got yourself a delicious New York Sour! Do you have some nice but neglected spice mix in the kitchen? Try mixing a teaspoon or two into your simple syrup as it cools to give your next cocktail an added dimension. Seasonal fresh herbs make a wonderful aromatic cocktail garnish.

10. Take notes as you go!

So now, you’ve hit your stride and you’re getting creative in your home bar. Great! Our top tip for cocktail creation? Write down the exact specifications as you are making it. It’s not always easy to perfectly recall the recipe for that killer cocktail the next day!

And lastly...

If all this sounds like a bit of a chore, then keep an eye open for delivery services available from many local cocktail bars. After all, with the finer things in life, it’s nice to sit back, relax and let the professionals do all hard the work.

Written by Charlie McCarthy, WSET Business Development Manager - Spirits (EMEA)

If you are inspired to take your spirits knowledge to the next level, don't forget WSET qualifications are available online. To find out more about WSET’s Online Classroom, and for a taster of what to expect, click here.