A message from our Bar Chef
The liquid aspects of cocktails are two-fold. The first aspect is quite obvious, cocktails are made using various forms of liquid; spirits, syrups, bitters, juices. The other aspect is more inexplicable; cocktails are liquid in the sense that their elements have fluidity, they flow and swirl and cascade, their currents are influenced by many factors.
A good bartender knows the contours of such rapids well, and will navigate these waters to deliver a cocktail that is best-suited for the person drinking it. A good drink is tailored to a specific drinker at a specific moment in time; bartenders must therefore be able to read people quickly and well. While this skill can take a while to master, in the case of a Crafty Cocktail box, it won't take long at all. The only person you'll have to learn how to read is yourself!
Do you typically like your cocktail sweeter? Add a dash more syrup! Feeling like a drink needs a bit more tang? More citrus will always help that! Not enough kick? A splash more booze is never a bad thing! Experimentation should always be encouraged in a bar setting, and listening to your own inclinations can greatly improve your enjoyment of the cocktail. While Crafty Cocktails strives to create the best, most balanced and accessible recipes possible, there is no such thing as a perfect cocktail. What is 'perfect' for one can be lacking for another. Pro-tips are therefore scattered throughout our recipes, giving comments and suggestions in places where the experts commonly take a bit more creative license with their ingredients.
The fun of making cocktails is making something that people find enjoyable, and things are always more enjoyable if they are suited to your individual tastes. Take advantage of the liquid aspect of cocktails and create drinks that are perfect for you!
Have fun out there!
Director of Recipe Curation
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With a muddle stick, smash whatever ingredients are in the shaker. Depending on the ingredients, muddling does not necessarily mean that they have to be pulverized. Muddling sugar usually takes a bit longer, as the point is to either infuse or dissolve the sugar into the rest of the ingredients. When muddling fruit/vegetable flesh or any dry herbs, such as cardamom or pepper, don’t be afraid to grind things together. However, more delicate elements such as fresh, leafy herbs deserve a lighter hand, and often bruising techniques are used.
Over-muddling ingredients such as mint or basil can be more detrimental to a cocktail than it might seem. While grinding up these leaves extracts all their flavorful oils, it also releases the fibrous elements contained within the leaves, creating an undesirable, bitter flavor throughout the drink. A seasoned bartender knows that the best way to coax the more agreeable flavors out of delicate herbs is to use techniques that bruise the skin, rather than tear it. Gently clapping mint leaves between your hands or lightly crushing lavender pods between your fingers will help release the desirable oils while leaving the more bitter elements out of the cocktail.
The dry shake is a very important step when working with ingredients that need to be emulsified into drinks. The most common ingredient requiring this technique is egg white but can include anything with fat or oil (i.e. milk). Basically, any ingredient that does not readily mix with other liquid components. Dry shaking increases the amount of oxygen in the shaker, facilitating the emulsification process. With all the liquid ingredients in the shaker, but before ice is added, vigorously shake for at least 30 seconds. When the shaker is opened, you should see a nice, thick foam sitting on top, while all the ingredients below should be completely mixed together, showing no signs of separation.
An important technique in bartending, shaking cocktails with ice not only cools the ingredients down to an agreeable temperature and thoroughly mixes all elements together, it also adds oxygen and dilutes the cocktail so as to calm the flavors which might be too bracing without shaking. This is especially critical when using acidic flavors, such as citrus. For this reason, shaking is mainly used when making cocktails with any sort of juice, syrup or other non-alcoholic ingredient. Most drinks should be shaken for 30-45 seconds to achieve the desired effect.
Straining cocktails through both a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer smoothes out the texture of the drink and helps to remove larger pieces of debris (i.e. citrus pulp, un-emulsified egg white).
While stirring drinks over ice may seem like a simple technique, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Stirring drink is an important step as it not only mixes all the ingredients together, it chills and dilutes the drink, smoothing out the spirits. This allows the more nuanced flavors to stand out. Cocktails which require stirring mainly consist purely of spirits; they do not use non-alcoholic ingredients. Good stirring technique is consistent; the movement of the spoon should not be static, but a fluid circular motion following the contours of the glass. This ensures uniform mixing and dilution throughout the drink. The consistency of the ice you’re using is also an important factor. If the ice melts quickly, stir for less time, and vice-versa, so as not to under or over-dilute the cocktail. Different types of drinks also require different lengths of time spent stirring. A Negroni does not need to be stirred as long as an Old Fashioned, as the base spirits in the Negroni have a much lower average alcohol by volume percentage, which can lead to over-dilution if stirred for too long.
This method is used mainly when dissolving ingredients as the cocktail is being made, rather than using a pre-made syrup. Most common in Old Fashions, this technique takes more patience and perseverance than other forms of stirring or shaking. Start by placing a dry ingredient, generally sugar, in a tumbler or mixing vessel and thoroughly soak with a wet ingredient, usually some sort of bitters. It is usually a good idea to add a splash of water, as the amount of bitters needed to balance a drink and the amount of liquid needed to dissolve everything can be quite different. Give the solution a few moments to soften up (go cut your garnish!). Then, using a muddle stick, vigorously stir the solution. This step deserves the most effort and persistence, as the desired effect is to essentially make a mini syrup in your glass, with the dry ingredients dissolved as much as possible. It is very hard to fully dissipate the dry components, but if only a small amount of debris is left over, it will easily dissolve when more liquid is added and stirred (i.e. liquor).
Zesting the skin of citrus fruits not only adds to the aesthetic of the drink, it disperses citrus oils over the top of the cocktail, adding subtle citrus flavors and aromas which can greatly heighten the overall balance of the drink. Using a vegetable peeler gives a thin peel, minimizing the amount of pith in the skin which contains more bitter citrus oils. The pith can be further removed by scraping the inside of the zest with a paring knife. Squeeze the zest over a finished cocktail and place somewhere in or on the drink, whatever looks best to you. To make it even more fancy, use a paring knife to cut the skin into a thin strip and curl around a straw or a spoon to get a decorative twist.
Not to be confused with a drop, a dash of bitters (or any ingredient that calls for a ‘dash’) is the equivalent of dropper full (1mL). A dropper is approximately 15-20 drops, so a recipe calling for 2 dashes of bitters would need around 30-40 drops of bitters.
While it may look like just another fancy bar trick, flaming citrus oils over a finished cocktail can actually be an important factor in the cocktail’s flavor. Flaming caramelizes the oils, adding a smoky element to the aromatic profile of the drink. While this can be done with any cocktail, it is important to think about the entire flavor profile of the drink; does the smoky element add anything to the other ingredients, or is it just over-kill? To flame a zest, cut a circular zest out of the citrus with a paring knife. Having pith still in the zest is more desirable than in a garnish zest, as the flame will be bigger with a little bit of pith in the skin. Light a wooden skewer on fire and hold the flame to the zest over the drink. Move the flame back and forth over the skin for a few seconds, drawing the oils out, then squeeze the zest. A satisfying flame should burst over the drink and dissipate immediately. Wipe the oils around the rim of the glass, discard the flamed zest and garnish drink with a prepared, more decorative zest.
Floating ingredients on cocktails means pouring a thin layer of the ingredient on to the top of a shaken cocktail. Pour slowly so the ingredient stays on top of the drink and does not penetrate the center of the drink. Serve with a skewer so the drinker can mix the ingredient at their leisure.
Rinsing a glass involves filling a small spray bottle (known as an atomizer in the bartending world) with a desired liquid and spritzing the inside of a preferably cold, dry glass, creating a thin sheen over the surface on which the cocktail will be poured. This is often used with ingredients which have stronger flavors and/or aromas, such as bitters or smoky ingredients. Including such components straight into the mixing steps of a cocktail has a tendency to overwhelm the flavor profile. Misting a glass will subtly incorporate the desired flavor and aromatics while leaving the balance of the drink intact. When pouring, slowly rotate the mixing vessel in a circular motion, ensuring an even blending of the mist and the cocktail.
Mortar and Pestle
Mortar and pestle are implements used since ancient times to prepare ingredients or substances by crushing and grinding them into a fine paste or powder in the kitchen, medicine and pharmacy. The mortar is a bowl, typically made of hard wood, metal, ceramic, or hard stone, such as granite. The pestle is a heavy and blunt club-shaped object. The substance to be ground, which may be wet or dry, is placed in the mortar, where the pestle is pressed and rotated onto it until the desired texture is achieved. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle the same effect can be achieved by using a small bowl and your muddler. Some items like the whole nutmeg will need to be grated using the fine blade profile of a cheese grater.