Make Cocktails at Home

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How to stir cocktails at Make Cocktails at Home

Mixing Cocktails 101 – How to stir a cocktail

The proper way to stir a cocktail

 

For more info about bar equipment check out the ‘Essential Equipment for your home bar’ blog post

Time for the next post in my series on mixing methods, and today we’re going to take a look at stirring, or stirred,  cocktails.

I’ve previously covered shaking, an aggressive action we use when we need to mix ingredients that that differ greatly in consistency (mixing spirits, juices and syrups together for example), but what if we are using simpler ingredients?

If we are simply mixing two types of clear alcohol together (such as gin and vermouth) then the aggressive nature of shaking  is really more than we need- it  will ruin the appearance of the drink by making it cloudy,  and the small chips of ice that break off during the shaking action can also add often unwanted dilution to the drink.

Instead, we’re going to treat this cocktail with respect – be gentle, and stir.

Technique

You will need:

  • Mixing glass (part of your shaker set)
  • Bar spoon

Take your (clean) mixing glass and fill it with (clean) ice.

Using a measure for accuracy pour in the ingredients from your cocktail – for example if you are making a Martini, pour in measured amounts of gin and vermouth.

Now you have the ingredients in the ice it’s ready to mix.

 

 

It’s time to grab your bar spoon. Ever wondered why it was so long? Well, wonder no more – the extra length lets us get right to the bottom of a mixing glass to the precious, precious alcohol.

Carefully push the ‘spoon’ end of your barspoon down the side of the glass right down bottom, holding the base of the mixing glass steady with one hand.  Stir the spoon around in a gentle circular motion making sure that the ice and liquid  move around almost silently – we want a smooth mixing action, we’re not trying to smash the spoon through the ice.

Continue stirring until the drink is mixed – you may read ridiculous things in fancy guides like “stir clockwise 27 times” but really the mount you need to stir will depend on how fast you are stirring, and in general it will probably take around 30 seconds. The most important thing to remember is that we are stirring for a reason – we want to make the ingredients mix and the drink temperature nice and cold – so we will be finished when we have accomplished these two goals.

Mixed and cold, it’s time to move the drink into our glass. Grab your Hawthorne strain (or a Julep strainer if you have one), fit it over the top of your mixing glass and carefully pour your cocktail into it’s new home.

 

Done.  Now be a good bartender – rinse your equipment – and then take a seat, relax, and enjoy your beautiful stirred cocktail.

 

/ dave

Deconstructing the Cocktail

Cocktails Deconstructed

Deconstructing the Cocktail

 

Making great cocktails is a balancing act; using the right levels of sweetness, sourness or bitterness, or adding flavour while still allowing the character of the base spirit to show through is not always easy and requires an intimate understanding of the ingredients involved.

Deconstructing a cocktail, where we take a drink and break it down into its separate components, can help us look at how each ingredient is being used and how it influences the cocktail, and also makes it easy for us to see the trends and patterns in different drink recipes.

 

Breaking it down

Many well constructed cocktails can be broken down into their core components which fit somewhere within the following five categories:

 

Base Spirit –> Sour/Bitter –> Sweetener –> Flavour -> Lengthener

 

Bombay Sapphire

Base Spirit

Vodka, gin, whisky or similar

As the name suggests, the Base spirit provides the bulk of the alcohol (usually) and, depending on the type of spirit used, can also provide the base flavour. Dark spirits (such as whiskeys or rums aged in oak barrels) can provide a lot more flavour compared to the cleaner, more neutral spirits (vodka, white rum or similar).

 

Aromatic Bitters

Sour/Bitters

Lemon or lime juice, aromatic bitters or similar

Sourness and bitterness, while very different tastes, are both used to further flavour and balance cocktails. Sour flavours tend to come from acidic citrus juices while bitter flavours may come from bitter aperitifs, such as Campari, or through the use of aromatic bitters such as Angustora or Reagans Orange bitters.

 

Sugar Syrup

Sweetener

Sugar syrup, sugar cube, liqueurs or similar

A sweetener is usually added to balance the sour/bitter component of the drink (we’ll cover balance in full in a later post as it’s an important concept). The most common sweetener is sugar which we find in crystal form, dissolved in a syrup, or in a liqueur but other sweeteners like honey can also be used.

Mozart Chocolate Liqueur

Flavour

Orange flavour in Triple Sec liqueur, the raspberries in a raspberry Daiquiri

In this case we are referring to the ingredient that is providing the most prominent added flavour to the cocktail, whether that is from a fruit or vegetable, syrup, mixer (such as Coca Cola) or from a liqueur. The flavour may be used complimentary to the base spirit (such as dark rum + chocolate flavour) or more heavily (when used with relatively plain base spirits like vodka).

 

Pepsi Max

Lengthener

Soda water, orange juice, tonic etc

Often used to soften a cocktail and make it easier to drink the lengthener can also (depending on the ingredient) contribute to the overall flavour. While we usually think of lengtheners as mixers such as juice or soda, the water dilution from ice in a stirred or shaken cocktail also provide a lengthening effect. Used carelessly this component can often overpower or drown the other flavours in the cocktail (so be extra careful).

 

Worth Remembering

Not every cocktail uses every component, and like any general rule that covers a large topic you can find examples that don’t seem to fit at all. However you should generally be able to use this formula to break down a cocktail into its individual parts which can help us see where the particular flavours and tastes are coming from, and most importantly, how we can play with them. Breaking down the cocktail should also give us a pretty good indication of what the final drink will taste like.

 

Let’s deconstruct a classic cocktail to give you a real example of how we can do this.

 

Example:  Margarita

 

The Margarita is a classic cocktail consisting of Tequila, Lime Juice and Triple Sec.

If we deconstruct the Margarita we get:

 

Base Spirit: Blanco Tequila (a light Mexican spirit distilled from fermented Agave)

Sour: Lime juice – contains citric acid which will provide a sour taste.

Sweetener: Triple Sec – Triple sec is an orange liqueur and liqueurs contain added sugar; it is this sugar that will give us the sweetener to balance the sour lime juice in this cocktail.

Flavour: Triple Sec again, this time providing a flavour of orange to the cocktail.

Lengthener: This drink is often served in a cocktail glass so it doesn’t have a legenther such as soda or orange juice, however if properly prepared it will be shaken hard which will add a small amount of ice shards and water which will add dilution (which we want) and also add some length to the cocktail.

From this deconstruction we would expect a cocktail that is relatively light and acidic in flavour (from the white Tequila and lime juice), but balanced with a hint of sweetness and orange flavour coming through from the Triple Sec.

 

Let’s try another.

 

Example: Sidecar

The Sidecar is another classic, made from Brandy, lemon juice and Triple Sec.

 

Base Spirit: Brandy (a distilled spirit usually made from grapes and often barrel aged, Cognac is a well known variety from France. Tends to be a darker spirit with rich flavours)

Sour: Lemon juice

Sweetener: Triple Sec (a liqueur, contains sugar)

Flavour: Triple Sec (a liqueur with an orange flavour)

Lengthener: Small amount of water through dilution of ice

By breaking down the cocktail we can see that the Sidecar shares ingredients with the previous Margarita – in fact both cocktails are members of the sour family and are a a mix of base spirit, sour and Orange liqueur.

Side by Side:

Margarita                   SideCar

Blanco Tequila                      Brandy (Cognac)

Lime Juice                     Lemon Juice

Triple Sec                        Triple Sec

 

We can see that the flavour of the Sidecar should be relatively similar to that of the Margarita; they both contain a sour citrus and Triple Sec, and the biggest difference in this case is going to come from the change of base spirit from the light Tequila to the heavier Brandy.

From Here

 

Deconstructing makes it easier for us to both make new cocktails and play around with existing ones. Try deconstructing some cocktail recipes you find on this site or around the web and see if you can figure out the flavour profile before you make the drink.

If you feel more experimental, why not try and follow the formula to create your own cocktails. Think of different combinations of flavours that could fit within the Base spirit -> Sour/Bitter -> Sweetener -> Flavour -> Lengthener formula and create something of your own.

 

Give deconstructing a try and let me know how it goes.

// Dave

Lime, Roses Lime cordial

Easy guide to lime juice – fresh lime, Roses cordial and the Gimlet

Is all Lime Juice the same?

There seems to be some confusion for the newly enthusiastic home bartender as to what exactly is meant by lime juice – do we literally mean only the freshly squeezed juice of a lime or could you use one of the green lime bottles littering the shelves at the supermarket?

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Why use lime at all?

When we make cocktails we are aiming to take a selection of different ingredients and mix them together, producing something that (hopefully) tastes better than when we started. To get good flavours we need to make balanced use of some of the 5 primary tastes – sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami. I’ll go into a detailed explanation of each of these in an upcoming post but for now we are interested in the main taste associated with lime – sourness.

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When drinking freshly squeezed lime juice you notice a strong sour taste on your tongue – this is because limes contain a relatively high level of citric acid which our bodies note as being sour. A sour acidic flavour, when balanced with other tastes (such as sweetness from sugar) adds to the overall depth of the cocktail so if we use it correctly we can give our drinks a crisp, refreshing flavour.

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Fresh squeezed Lime

Easily the most important lime for us – the vast majority of cocktails that you’ll come across on this blog referring to lime juice are asking for freshly squeezed lime juice. Buy a bunch of limes from your local grocer, wash them, cut them in half and squeeze with a citrus press or reamer to extract all the juicy, natural goodness. Real, fresh limes will provide the acidic bite that we are looking for and provide a more natural flavour in the final drink.

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Depending on where you live these can be pretty costly so try and buy a citrus press to make sure you can get as much juice as possible out of each lime. A tip; use the palm of your hand to push on the lime and roll it around on your bench a few times before juicing and you’ll get more out of it. Expect to get around 15ml juice per half lime/ 30ml per lime.

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‘Fresh’ Lime bottles

Often found in the soft drink section of your local convenience store or supermarket, these squeezed lime bottles tend to contain concentrated lime juice that has commonly had preservatives and other bits and pieces added. While these bottles may save a few seconds over the hand-squeezing of a real lime, unfortunately they tend to fail on the taste test, generally lacking the true sour or acidic bite as fresh lime juice and are therefore best left on the shelf.

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Roses Lime cordial, other brands of Lime cordials

Lime cordials were originally a mix of concentrated lime juice and sugar although the ingredient list on many modern bottles seems to have grown somewhat with a mix of added preservatives and colourings. Hmm. But anyway…

 

The original and best known is Rose’s lime cordial, invented by a Mr Lauchlin Rose in 1867 in part as a way to help British sailors in their fight against scurvy, a nasty disease bought on by a diet lacking vitamin C.

 

Sensible medical types had discovered that limes and other citrus fruits were a good natural source of vitamin C and therefore helped in the fight against scurvy and quickly pushed for laws to ensure that all ships carried a ready supply of citrusy goodness for their sailors. While good in theory, problems arose quickly – citrus fruits were not always easy to source, and even when you could find them they were not particularly appetising when they’d been stored in the hold of a ship for a few weeks. Added to this, drinking straight lime juice is not particularly appealing at the best of times and while it could (and was) made more attractive by adding it to the daily rum or gin rations it was still something to be drunk out of necessity rather than choice. Time for Mr Rose.

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Lauchlin Rose had a business supplying provisions for ships and after a bit of experimentation discovered that a mix of concentrated lime juice with sugar allowed him to create a cordial which would provide the necessary vitamin C but in a sweetened, more palatable form than simple lime juice. Added to this the lime and sugar combination was stable when bottled and could be stored for lengthy periods without going off. Created just in time for the Merchant Shipping Act of 1868, which made the carrying of citrus a legal requirement, Rose was on to a winner.

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Nothing is perfect however. The sugar that helped so much in creating the cordial is often its downfall when used in cocktails. Remembering from earlier, the main reason we use limes in good cocktails is to add an acidic bite from the citric acid contained in the juice. Unfortunately the sugar that is used to help stabilise the cordial weakens this acidity, ultimately giving a kind of sweet general lime flavour but without the acid that we really want. This results in an unbalanced and (often) unpleasant drink when compared to fresh squeezed lime.

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Conclusion

Unless specifically stated, use freshly squeezed lime juice for cocktails – your drinks will taste better. Avoid buying pre-squeezed as squeezing by hand will result in better juice and a better drink.

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Lesson – Making a Gimlet

A real classic cocktail now, we are going to start by going against what I’ve just been telling you and using Rose’s cordial rather than fresh lime.

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You will need

  • 50ml Gin
  • 20ml Roses Lime Cordial

Gin and Rose's

Method

Stir in glass

Nice and easy, this can be made in the glass or stirred in your mixing glass and strained into a cocktail glass. We are going to do the ‘stir in glass’ method today.

Take a rocks glass, old fashioned glass or similar and fill with ice. Measure in your gin and lime cordial and use your bar spoon to stir the ice and liquid until it is well mixed and cold – this should take around 30-40 seconds. Garnish with a lime slice and drink, feeling happy in the knowledge that you are tackling the fight against scurvy head-on.

Finished Gimlet.

 

Variations to try

After making a traditional Gimlet, make another but replace the Roses lime cordial with freshly pressed lime juice. Prepare in the same manner and taste the difference. You should notice that the new fresh lime Gimlet is very sour from the citric acid in the lime juice. To improve the taste add a small amount of simple syrup and stir – the sugar should help bring the drink back into balance and improve the overall taste.

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There you go – more than you’d expect to read about lime juice on any given day. Try making the drinks and let me know in the comments section how they turned out.

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// David

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