I’m a professional mixologist, as well as a writer and public relations pro. Sometimes the best of both my worlds intersect! That’s why I wanted to share with you a few tips I practice when it comes to making my favorite drinks and impressing my close friends (and sometimes special customers) with libations that make them go “Wow!” The amazing attention-getting drink factor doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need dry ice and a degree in science to create cocktails that are tasty, innovative, and a step above the rest.
Every bartender strives to stamp a signature on their specialty drinks. We all have the same liquors to choose from, and the basic recipes are timeless. Even if you can’t constantly concoct new drink recipes that propel you into mixology stardom, you can add simple twists to increase your tips, or at the very least enhance your own enjoyment of martinis, margaritas, and drinks du jour. And please don’t mistake my suggestions for only pertaining to those “in the know”. You can easily incorporate these four simple ways to make your cocktails stand out from everyone else’s even if you have to Google every drink recipe or only tend bar at your own home. I guarantee you that your guests will be asking you “Why does yours taste so much better than the one at the bar?” Just wink and tell them it’s one of your trade secrets….
Make Your Own Simple Syrup*
Some drink recipes, such as an Old Fashioned or a Champagne Cocktail list a “bar spoon of sugar” in the ingredients. I have a problem with that. Granulated sugar does not dissolve well in cold liquors. It leaves a grainy effect. So, as in most bars, I use simple syrup in place of the sugar so it blends well. What is simple syrup? It’s a sugar syrup, where when substituted, spoon for spoon, will mix seamlessly into your cocktails for a smoother effect. You can even try using it when making homemade lemonade or iced tea so no sugar settles in the bottom of your glass!
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar, occasionally stirring, until it comes to a boil.
2. When it reaches boiling point, it will form a clear-to-cloudy syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and let it completely cool.
3. Store the syrup in a container, bottle, or jar in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
1. Substitute 1 bar spoon (teaspoon) of simple syrup in a drink recipe for each bar spoon of sugar called for.
2. You can flavor your simple syrup using 2 Tablespoons of fresh fruit juice of your choice after it has completely cooled. Try using the juice of fresh strawberries to create a strawberry syrup, for example. By adding 2 bar spoons to 2 oz. of citrus or strawberry flavored vodka, and 1 oz. of vanilla vodka, you can make an excellent strawberry martini!
3. You can double or triple the recipe easily by maintaining the 1:1 ratio of sugar to water.
Prepare Your Own
Sweet n’ Sour Mix
Sweet n’ Sour mix is used often when preparing “tall” or “Collins” drinks such as Long Island Iced Teas, Tom Collins’ or other specialty drinks such as Side Cars. You can get the bottled brands in the store that are shelf-stable with enough preservatives so it will last until the next millennium – or – you can create your own sweet n’ sour mix from scratch. I guarantee you, once you use homemade sweet n’ sour mix, you’ll never go back to using the store bought stuff again. Your drinks will taste fresher, slightly tangier and with a burst of sweetness in each sip.
It’s easy. Don’t let the sound of “homemade” intimidate you.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 lemons, juiced
2 limes, juiced
1. Make simple syrup as instructed in the above recipe*.
2. Once the simple syrup is cooled completely, add the juice of 2 lemons and 2 limes.
3. This is sweet n’ sour mix. Pour into a bottle or jar and shake it. It will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Add Fresh Juices Instead of the Bottled Brands
If you’ve got a juicer, go for it! But you can add a simple fresh twist to many martinis and cocktails just by squeezing some fresh juices from your garnishes right into the glass!
When preparing a classic cosmopolitan, try squeezing the juice of 2 – 3 fresh lime wedges into the shaker instead of using Rose’s Lime Juice. (Rose’s Lime Juice is pre-sweetened.) This will give your cosmos a slightly more tart taste that will leave your guests guessing “What’s that special somethin’ somethin’ about this cocktail?”
Adding any freshly squeezed juices to your drinks will provide you with a mouthwateringly refreshing taste in every sip.
My secret to making a memorable Old Fashioned? Macerate an orange slice and maraschino cherry with the bitters and simple syrup in your rocks glass, add a premium bourbon (or whiskey, if you prefer), and top with a splash of club soda. Then garnish it again with a fresh orange slice and cherry, after you take a twist of orange peel and rub it around the rim of the glass, for that orange essence, which will consume the senses even before you sip some.
Decorate with Non-Traditional Garnishes
Don’t just grab your lemon twists, lime wedges, orange slices, cherries, and briny olives. Think outside the garnish box!
If you’ve got mint chocolate cookies – crush ‘em! Rim your grasshopper glass, or sprinkle some on top of your chocolate martini! Are you working with vodka or gin infusions? Try garnishing your watermelon-basil martini with a spring of fresh basil! Real mint served sticking out of a highball glass calls attention to a mojito.
A cotton candy-tini? Mold cotton candy into little balls and put them on a pick! Like sweetness? One of the most attractive flavor matching garnishes that I’ve served on a strawberry martini is a rolled up piece of red licorice poised on the rim of a glass like a snail shell.
Berries are a better garnish when your drink delves into raspberry, blueberry, or blackberry territory. You can easily place a toothpick through 2 or 3 of them to gussy up the rim of your glass.
The holidays are approaching… how cute is it to hang a mini candy-cane from the top of the rim of a martini glass? It can complement flavors of anything chocolaty or minty, and attract attention! Room temperature milk chocolate or dark chocolate kisses can be balanced on a glass rim by slightly pressing them on the edge. They work well with vanilla, sugary, chocolaty, or minty cocktails.
Bloody Marys should not be boring. Many premium versions are served using bacon-flavored vodka, and you can almost find a meal on a pick, bobbing in the glass, sometimes consisting of accordion-style folded bacon, sandwiched between half a hard-boiled egg, a spicy pepper, a few green olives, a cube of bleu cheese, and a tangy pickle, leaning up against a celery stalk, all encircled by a black-peppered glass rim. It’s nothing short of spectacular!
Think of flavors you like, then go after the uncommon garnish to make your cocktails the star of the show!