America is a nation of drinks. The average American consumes 9.8 liters of alcohol every year. People love to guzzle down beer, wine, and cocktails.
Cocktails can provide dynamic flavors and textures that no other drinks can match. Yet many cocktails are watery or jarring in their flavors. This is because cocktail making mistakes are commonplace.
What should all beginners do as they start to make their own drinks? What tools do they need, and why are recipes so important? How can a person start matching cocktails with dinners?
Answer these questions and you can drink delicious alcoholic beverages in little time. Here is your quick guide.
Not Having Recipes for Cocktails
Anyone who is new to making cocktails at home should use recipes. You may think that you can make your own without guidance, especially if you have been drinking for years.
But making cocktails is a lot harder than it looks. It requires good hand-eye coordination to prepare ingredients in just the right way. It requires intimate knowledge of the flavors of different liquors and fruits, with trial and error in mixing them together.
Start by reading some guides and watching some videos on essential techniques for bartending and drink-mixing. If you don’t have a lot of experience with drinks, go and try a few different ones.
Then get recipes for your favorite drinks. Follow them to the letter. Hold off on experimenting with your own style until you get the basic skills down.
Using the Wrong Ice
Most people grab some ice from their refrigerator for their drinks. These cubes tend to be rather small, meaning they melt quickly and dilute the drink. If you are in a pinch and you will have your drink quickly, you can use the ice in your fridge.
But get a large tray instead. Boil some water and then pour it into your tray. The boiling process removes air, keeping bubbles from forming and allowing ice to cool faster.
Shaking and Stirring at the Wrong Times
Shaking is done to integrate mixers into liquids. Stirring allows liquor and bitters to mix together without damaging ice or herbs.
In general, drinks that only contain liquids should get mixed. You should shake drinks with fruit juices, dairy, and cream.
Keep in mind that shaking the drink with ice will water it down slightly. You may need to use slightly higher amounts of liquor to balance the dilution out. Shaking will also add air, so you will need to strain it in order to taste all of its flavors.
You only need to shake or stir a drink for ten or so seconds. Overshaking can heat a drink up, which will produce an unpleasant experience.
Not Muddling Herbs
Muddling involves crushing fruit and herbs so their flavors escape. You should never throw an entire uncrushed herb or piece of fruit into your drink.
You can use a cocktail muddler and mixing glass, or you can use a mortar and pestle. Apply light pressure onto your herbs and leaves. You don’t want to grind them into a powder, but you want to break them down for easy mixing.
Fruits and rinds require a lot more pressure, especially pineapple and grapefruit. You can twist the rind a little to make it easy for muddling. If you want to make a garnish, make a small slice through the fruit so you can slide it on your rim.
Not Using Garnishes
Garnishes are not essential, but they add great flavors and aromas to your drinks. They will impress your guests if you use them correctly.
Most fruit garnishes add a little sweetness and a strong aroma. Standard ones include citrus slices and peels along with pineapple and melon wedges. But you can get savory garnishes like cucumber ribbons and coconut meat.
Herbs can be a little more peppery and tropical. Rosemary and lavender add great aromas, and you can eat them after you finish your drink.
Not Using Bitters
Bitters are alcohol drinks made from fruit, flowers, and other botanical ingredients. Jack from Brooklyn and other microbreweries specialize in producing bitters.
As their name suggests, they may have a bitter taste that is a little undesirable. But an overly sweet drink is just as bad as a bitter one. Splashing a little bit of bitter alcohol into your cocktail will create an even mix of flavors.
Follow your recipe that asks for a bitter. If you want, taste your drink before you add it and then afterward. You will notice a difference, and your drink will be stronger for it.
Eyeballing Your Measurements
Recipes have their measurements for good reason. Add too much bitter alcohol, and your drink will be unpalatable. Add too many spices or fruits, and you won’t be able to taste your liquors.
You can use measuring spoons, or you can order a jigger. One side of the jigger measures one ounce, while the other measures two. If you need a half ounce, you should use a spoon instead of guessing how much is half.
Make sure to clean your spoons and jigger before using them. Flavors can blend together, hurting the taste of your drink.
Making Everything From Scratch
Whenever possible, you should use authentic ingredients in your recipes. If you have the option to get fresh produce, you should buy it.
Many amateurs apply this rule to syrups and other ingredients. You should know how to make your own syrup, but you don’t have to make your own every time you drink. Syrups can take hours to make, and your first syrups probably won’t be good.
Buy different syrups and store them in your refrigerator. After you open one, it can avoid spoiling for a few weeks. Produce lasts a couple of days after it has been cut into and peeled.
Buying the Wrong Cocktail Making Equipment
At a minimum, you should get a cocktail shaker. It is very hard to shake a drink any other way. Using a blender or whisk will not combine your ingredients together.
You should also have a strainer. You need to remove air and hard pieces of herbs from your drink, especially after mixing it. Getting a muddler and a jigger is a good idea, but there are alternatives you can find for them, like a mortar and pestle.
Serving Out of the Wrong Glasses
When people think of cocktails, they think of cocktail glasses. It is okay to serve your own drink in a different glass, but it is essential to find real cocktail glasses when you are serving guests.
You need a martini glass, which can use for drinks besides martinis. If you are serving liquors on their own or making classic cocktails, you should get a shallow rocks glass. Mixed drinks go in highball glasses.
Serving Your Drinks Warm
The colder your cocktail is, the more you will enjoy it. Put your glasses in the freezer before you pour your drinks into them. You can put them directly in ice if you want to.
Do your best to keep your drinks from heating up as you prepare them. You can put your liquors in an ice container, and you should avoid applying too much friction as you shake your drinks.
Not Pairing Drinks With Food
You can drink your cocktail by yourself. But pairing your drink with a good meal will create a complete culinary experience.
You want the flavors of your drink to match your food. A clash between the two is rarely exciting or desirable. At the same time, you don’t want your drink to be a mere copy of your food.
The sweetness of rum accompanies many Caribbean dishes very well. Chicken and fish dishes with high spices create a strong contrast. If you have fewer spices on your fish, you should pair it with gin.
Whiskey is versatile, making it great for beef and pork dishes. Vodka cocktails are also versatile, though many restaurants serve them with seafood. If you’re looking to drink with dessert, you should find coffee-inspired drinks.
The Most Common Cocktail Making Mistakes
Cocktail making mistakes are as common as cocktails themselves. You must follow recipes as you start to gain experience. Use the right ice, garnishes, and equipment to make your drinks.
Measure each ingredient you add, but feel free to use premade syrups. You do need to serve your drinks as cold as possible in the right glasses.
Create a subtle contrast whenever you serve a cocktail with dinner. When in doubt, serve a whiskey or vodka cocktail because they match many different flavors.
Keep learning to keep creating the best cocktails. Follow our coverage for more alcohol mixing guides.