When making a good cocktail the most important thing to remember is balance. There are many techniques used in making cocktails that make a big difference. Whether it is your ice, combination method, syrup ratio, or recipe ingredients. After learning a few techniques, you can craft cocktails for anyone. It is vital to embrace the fact that every person has a different palette. You may like sweet drinks, I am fonder of drier cocktails, while your spouse may like boozy drinks. Each cocktail that you craft needs to be specific and purposeful.
To shake or not to shake? That is the question… Well, there are some basic tenets that you can follow to make this an easy call. If you are combining a liquor with another liquor or simple syrup, then you stir it. If you are combining fruit juice with liquor, then you shake it. Getting your stirring and shaking game down is really important. Doing them correctly effects the dilution of your cocktail. Dilution refers to the amount of water that is added to your drink. You need to know how long to stir and shake. The proper time is learned through experience. There are times that these rules are not used, but they are the exceptions.
Your syrups and juices are an important part of creating a well-crafted cocktail. When making syrups your ratios are important. It can change the cocktail significantly. The most important part is consistency. I try to keep a consistent ration of syrups across the board so that you do not need to do math in order to easily substitute one syrup for another. When it comes to juice, fresh is the name of the game. Finding local fruit is great as well. The biggest shortcut that I see is using commercial juice rather then fresh juice. This creates a bad tasting cocktail and a hangover tomorrow.
We have always have a “Dealer’s Choice” option on our menu. This is a great way to get customers to come back. Having a giant menu usually means that you are good at a lot of drinks and not great at any. A really great bartender will be a master of the classics and able to make riffs of these to personalize cocktails for each individual guests. I recently had a trio of ladies in with 3 very different tastes. One was really adventurous, one was a novice, and one liked sweet drinks. They all ordered Dealer’s Choice as their second drink. I swung and missed on 2 out of the three, but listened to their feedback and was able to really nail the third cocktail. The best part is they do not even remember the second drink, they only remember the drink that I nailed.
When honing your technique, talk to other bartenders. You can pick up tricks from your local bartender. Most bartenders will share shortcuts and best practices with you. There are also new tools coming out all the time. As long as you are focused on making good cocktails, you will only get better with practice. Keep an open mind and be prepared for creative criticism. Finally, my favorite quote is “Perfection is the enemy of progress”. Some of the best drinks are really simple.