Tips and tricks to elevate your home bartending skills: Andrew Coppolino
Local bartenders share how you can up your cocktail game with ingredients and new techniques
With various COVID-19 safety requirements in place, restaurants have been granted permission to open to limited numbers of customers.
But what if you're not confident about visiting a restaurant or patio just yet?
You can stay at home with your social bubble and whip up a celebratory cocktail to mark the occasion.
Classic cocktails like the Negroni and Old-Fashioned are reliable go-to drinks, but with some suggestions from area bartenders, you can up your cocktail game with ingredients and new techniques.
Shake your Boston
Using your Boston shaker the right way can add layers of flavour to your cocktail creations, whether it's a sour or a margarita.
Shaking and stirring puts into play some important chemical and mechanical principles: a good shake aerates, integrates and emulsifies the fruit juices, simple syrups, eggs or dairy in your beverage; stirring, on the other hand, is gentler and ensures proper ice dilution and cooling.
But give the ingredients a "dry" or a "wet" shake too, says Public Kitchen & Bar bartender Shawn Flanagan.
"In a dry shake for a sour — Bourbon, egg whites, simple syrup, lemon — you shake the ingredients before adding ice. It allows the egg to emulsify and froth up," Flanagan says.
The wet shake is done over ice.
"It brings down temperature and dilutes the cocktail," he says.
You can also do a reverse dry shake: give the ingredients a wet shake with ice, strain the liquid, and then give it a dry shake: the ice won't break down and you'll have a better structure in your beverage with less dilution.
Fat washing, flash infusing, smoking
Flanagan also touts the virtues of "fat washing" cocktail ingredients, the start of which is your breakfast: fry up some maple bacon, strain the fat and pour it into Bourbon.
"Put it in the fridge, and as it chills the flavours from the maple-bacon fat will blend with the Bourbon. Strain it and you've got a nice viscosity and velvety mouth-feel in a flavoured Bourbon," says Flanagan, adding that it's a perfect elevated technique to give a classic Old-Fashioned a bit of a tweak. Store the fat-washed potion in the fridge.
With a thermal immersion circulator, you can do your own "barrel aging." Combine and seal your cocktail ingredients air-tight in a bag with lightly charred wood chips that you'd use for barbecue smoking. Place the ingredients in the temperature-controlled water and infuse for several hours.
With a nitrogen-charged N20 cream whipper (about $50), you can infuse a spirit with any flavoured ingredient — driving the aromatic quality of a solid ingredient like rosemary, say, into your vodka — quickly and easily.
A smoky aroma also adds body and flavour to a cocktail, says Jill Sadler of Swine and Vine. While a smoking gun could cost you $100, Sadler has a hack using a sealable glass container, like a bottle, and some wood.
"Ignite some hickory, maple, cherry or oak, extinguish the flame and place the bottle over the smoking wood until is filled with smoke and seal it in. Next, make a whiskey cocktail like a Manhattan, pour it into the smoky bottle and shake. The longer you shake the smokier the cocktail. Depending on the cocktail, serve straight up or over ice," Sadler says.
Non- and low-alcohol drinks are popular
Professional bartenders agree that a recent focus has been on non-alcoholic and lower alcohol-content cocktails, as well as on sustainability, especially during the pandemic.
"Because everything has been closed for so long, you really have to try to use as much out of any product that you're going to get," says Aaron Hatchell, lead bartender at Langdon Hall.
If you're using a lemon or orange, it can be juiced, squeezed, charred, zested but also for making other interesting syrups with a technique in which sugar is used to draw out citrus oils that dates to the 1800s.
"You can make an oleo-saccharum of citrus and sugar for a different type of syrup that can be used in non-alcoholic cocktails," says Hatchell.
Currently on the market is a growing range of non-alcoholic "distilled spirits" for making faux cocktails, with Seedlip and Stratford-made Sobrii as two examples.
When it comes to supplies for drinks without alcohol, head to a good food- and baking-supply store for cardamom, star anise, orris root, juniper berries and other ingredients.
Add a mortar and pestle and coffee grinder to your kitchen arsenal and make non-alcoholic "tinctures" and bitters for delicious drinks.
After you have the cocktails made, remember that good stories — the lore of cocktails — make them taste better, according to Hatchell.
"Look into the history of the spirits themselves," he says. "That's one of my favourite things. Every bottle has a story and there's often another story behind that. It's a great connection for entertaining."
Non-alcoholic Twisted Star "Gin and Tonic"
- Juniper berries
- Cinnamon sticks
- Coriander seed
- Cardamom pods
- Star anise pods
- Orange peel
- Whatever else you like
For the tincture, fill one quarter to one third of a medium-sized Mason jar with juniper berries. Add remaining ingredients until they fill half-way up the jar. (Use star anise pods and orange peel sparingly.) Top up the jar to the shoulders with glycerine, seal tightly and put the jar in the slow cooker.
Add water to the slow cooker so that it goes three quarters of the way up the jar. Cook at lowest temperature for 72 hours. Remove the jar carefully, strain ingredients and transfer to amber Boston glass bottles (the ones with the eye-dropper).
For the cocktail, fill a rocks glass almost with ice, add a squirt or two of the juniper-glycerine tincture and fill the glass with your favourite tonic water. Add a lime wedge and a star anise pod as aromatic garnishes.