Tools of the Trade
We'll get to the booze soon enough, but before anything else, a bartender needs to be outfitted with the right tools. Though we've all needed to get creative from time to time and been forced to mix up tipples with a butter knife in a pinch, being equipped with the right barware can go a long way toward creating consistent cocktails and improving the quality of your game. Here's an introductory set of suggestions to get you started.
Jigger (measuring cup for drinks): Most jiggers have two sides to measure different increments. While they come in many sizes, a good place to start is with one jigger that has a 1-ounce small cup and a 2-ounce large cup, and another that has a -ounce small cup and a 1-ounce large cup.
Mixing glass: A classic pint glass usually works just fine, but you can also find a hardy mixing glass designed for this sole purpose.
Shaker: A Boston shaker is best-the important part is the metal tin. These can have two metal parts, or the large half can be paired with a mixing glass, which is easily replaceable.
Strainers: A Hawthorne strainer is preferred-it has a flat top affixed to a coiled spring. These are commonly used for straining shaken drinks. "Julep strainers" are round, spoon-shaped strainers with no coil and are generally used for stirred drinks. If you're only going to opt for one for your home bar, however, go with the Hawthorne.
Bar spoon: These are long, slender spoons that help stir drinks without aerating the liquids too much.
Muddler: A dense wooden or metal tool used to crush or mix solid ingredients.
Peeler: A good peeler is a bartender's best friend when crafting the right garnish. A small, sharp knife works, but a Y-shaped peeler with the blade perpendicular to the handle is preferable. Make sure the blade is fresh!
Fresh Ice: Make sure it tastes and smells, well, like nothing. This is super important. You wouldn't believe how much an ice tray that has been sitting next to your frozen chili for two weeks tastes like two-week-old frozen chili and how much it affects the taste of your drink. (It's definitely a bonus to have ice on the bigger side in most cases, since it melts less quickly and won't water down your drink, but size is nowhere near as important as freshness and purity.)
Breaking the Glass Ceiling on Glassware
No need to abide by conformist glassware suggestions! But, hey, just in case, here's a list for reference.
Rocks/Old Fashioned Glass (can hold 6-8 oz) Coupe Glass (5-7 oz)
Cocktail/Martini Glass (4-5 oz) Highball/Collins Glass (10 oz)
Flute (6 oz) Wineglass (Bourdeax or Burgundy/White or Red) (varies)
Pint Glass (16 oz) Hurricane Glass (20 oz)
Mug (Irish Coffee) (10 oz) Cordial or Sherry Glass (4 oz)
(Brandy) Snifter (12 oz) Shot Glass (2 oz)
Creating Your Perfect Drink
Most cocktails, as with most everything in life, rely on a certain principle of balance. Begin with the understanding that your alcohol (spirit) is the star of the show. You want to both complement and emphasize its taste with a balance of the sweet (think sweet liqueurs, sugar, vermouth) and the more bold or even harsh flavors (think acidic citrus, bitters, herbal liqueurs). Of course, there are exceptions, but if you stick to this basic framework, it'll be easier not only to remember recipes but to experiment with making your own drinks. A good rule of thumb is that most classic cocktails have between 1 and 3 ounces of total alcohol, in addition to a wide range of other components, mixers, and water.
Learning these simple terms will allow you to understand most basic drinks, streamline your techniques, and sound like a pro when whipping up your favorite cocktails at home.
"Build": If the cocktail calls for a "shake" or a "stir," you're generally meant to create, or "build," the drink in a separate mixing glass, which is then strained into its preferred glassware. This process helps evenly distribute the ingredients. It's good to get in the habit of building your cocktail using the same order of ingredients each time. I build mine from the bitters on up, which means I start with a dash of bitters (if the recipe calls for it), then the juices or syrups (the less vitally important, or cheaper, ingredients-this is in case you've made a mistake and need to start over; you can't be wasting that precious booze!). And, finally, I finish with the spirit or spirits. Some drinks are simple enough to be built directly in the glass (usually if there are only two parts or it's topped with a fizzy soda that can't be shaken), but others are more complex.
"Layer": Layered cocktails create a visible layering of ingredients and are often just for appearances. Sometimes the layering or separating of ingredients adds a complexity to the drink, allowing the tastes to evolve and change with each sip. Other times the layered drinks can be stirred after they've made their grand debut.
"Shake": Any drink that contains fruit juice, dairy, or eggs is generally meant to be shaken. To do this, fill your mixing glass with all ingredients, top with ice, and cover it with the shaker at a slight angle. Then tap the metal shaker with the heel of your hand until the two are sealed. Use both hands (especially if you're a beginner!) to shake it like hell.
"Stir": All drinks made solely from liquors and syrups should generally be stirred. In a mixing glass, build your cocktail (in the order you're in the habit of-bitters on up for me), fill the glass with ice, and stir gently with a bar spoon for about 15 seconds, until the drink is chilled and the ingredients are dispersed.
"Strain": Whether you're trying to separate your cocktail from the ice that chilled it, or you're trying to strain out ingredients you may have used while mixing (mint or muddled cherries, for example), using your strainer is key. It also minimizes mess by keeping the contents safe inside your mixing glass. To use a Hawthorne strainer (the one with the coil, which can be found at most kitchen or home-ware stores), place the flexible coils on the inside of the glass until the inner plate is flat on top, hold in place, and pour.
"Garnish": Often an oversight with home barkeeps, these finishing touches are integral to many drinks. Common garnishes such as lemon, orange, or lime wedges can allow the imbiber to adjust the flavors to their liking. Other garnishes like citrus twists and mint sprigs add a final touch of soft oils and aromas to a drink. Cherries and olives? Eating these is often one of the best parts of Martinis, Manhattans, and the like. Whatever the garnish, don't overlook it!
Don't be intimidated by all the cocktail jargon spouted out at your local haunt! Here are some of the most useful ways to describe and modify your classic cocktails.
"Perfect": Believe it or not, there's not just one type of perfect in this world. Different standards of beauty, you say? Yes indeed! You can have a Perfect Martini or Perfect Manhattan. It just means instead of sticking to one type of vermouth (whichever the standard recipe calls for), you use equal parts sweet and dry. Yes, we can have it all!
"Dry": Less vermouth than the standard recipe calls for. So the less vermouth you use, the drier the Martini is considered to be. This has nothing to do with the type of vermouth being used (dry or sweet), just the amount.
"Very Dry"/"Extra Dry"/"Bone Dry": Just a whisper of vermouth, if any-a rinse of the glass works just fine. To most, an extra-dry Martini means you can probably just omit the vermouth altogether (when in doubt, just ask your Martini-loving pal to clarify their exact preference).
"Wet": Refers to the amount, or ratio, of vermouth to spirit. A wet Martini, for example, just refers to more vermouth than the recipe's standard.
"Dirty": The addition of a splash of olive juice (equal parts with your dry vermouth) to a Martini before mixing.
"Extra Dirty": The addition of a bigger splash of olive juice to a Martini.
"Up": In a chilled coupe or Martini glass. (Best if you get all riled "up" and demand your cocktail to be served cold and without ice!)
"On the Rocks": Served over ice.
"Neat": Served in a rocks glass with no ice.
ALCHEMY: Role of bitters, sugar, mixers, syrups, herbs & elixirs. (A nod to the history of alchemy and "stirring things up.")
Alchemy, essentially, is the process of mixing certain solutions or ingredients together to create or convert matter. Translation? Chemistry . . . or, ahem, cocktail-crafting (some even call it "mixology"), depending on how you look at it. The earliest records of Western female alchemists date back to the third century AD. Mary the Jewess and Cleopatra the Alchemist, allegedly knew the formula to create the Philosopher's Stone, an elixir that could transform mercury into gold and provide longer, healthier lives-even immortality.
Now, I'm not saying the perfect Rye Manhattan has been known to produce similar results, but I'm also not not saying that. Alchemy is universal and noted in all recorded history, very often associated with the occult and magic. In essence, it's an evolving science of cause and effect; precision as well as improvisation; and sensitivity to the senses.
Mixing drinks is the same. It's art and science: when you measure correctly and with all variables in place, supposedly you can reproduce a consistent, perfect result. But so much is about experimentation, making mistakes, finding improvements, and personal preference. A Boulevardier probably wouldn't have come about if someone hadn't tried replacing gin with whiskey from one of the most iconic cocktails, the Negroni. Women wouldn't have earned their right to vote if courageous women like Susan B. Anthony hadn't tested and challenged the old-fashioned, unfair, and uncontested laws. Sure, that's not a perfect analogy, but the point is, change comes from observing the status quo, identifying and studying what works and what can be transformed, and then trying like hell to make something different, and maybe even better.
Bitters, Syrups, Sugars & Concoctions
Beyond the booze, there exists a dizzying array of modifiers and mixers in the world of bartending. From tiny little dash bottles to sticky-sweet syrups and exotic liquors, we love exploring all means of sprucing up your concoctions. This is by no means a definitive primer but rather an idea of some of the adjuncts you can work with.
Cocktail Bitters: The most common bitters you'll find (and the staple bottle for your personal bar) are Angostura Aromatic Bitters, though there are countless other brands and flavors available for you to experiment with. Bitters are a super-potent, heavily concentrated, high-alcohol extract of bitter roots, spices, seeds, fruits, and botanicals that are intended to change the flavor of the drink with just a dash or two. But you'd bitter not overdo it, or you may overpower the drink completely!
Bitter Liqueurs: Similar to cocktail bitters, bitter liqueurs (such as Campari, Amaro, and many herbal liqueurs) come in a wide variety of flavors and colors and are used to round out and enhance many of your drinks.
Infusions: For the sake of simplicity, we mostly avoid infusions for the classic recipes in this book; however, infusing base spirits with herbs, fruit, or spices is another super-easy way to flaunt your creativity at home. Depending on the potency of your additive, these can take minutes or days to finish . . . another opportunity to taste as you go.
Syrups: Many drinks call for simple syrup, which is just a fancy way to say sugar water. To make simple syrup, combine boiling hot water with a bunch of sugar. No need to be precise here-around equal parts is fine. White granulated sugar is the most common type used for simple syrup, but using unrefined or raw brown sugars creates a more toffee-like and slightly less sweet syrup. Homemade syrups offer an easy way to try on your alchemy hat and add new and distinct layers to many of the classics.
Fighting the Good Fight
Smash the Good Old Fashioned Patriarchy! (Old Fashioned)
The Old Fashioned is one of the most iconic and elemental cocktails of all time. In a way, it's an unsophisticated drink by cocktail standards: a simple mix of liquor, sugar, and bitters. But ask any bartender, and they'll tell you its ubiquity does not debase its worth. Hang by a bespoke cocktail bar for a few too many drinks, and you'll fall within earshot of the great debate over what makes for the "perfect Old Fashioned."
The Old Fashioned may be evocative of men in suits, cigars in hand, behind a smoky curtain in the liquor-forbidden Prohibition years, but itÕs also elegant and raw and primed for experimentation within its classic formula. There is a suggestion hidden within this iconic cocktail to look forward, to new perspectives and new flavors. To make the drink your own.
Throughout history, trailblazing women have considered the status quo, and what came before them, and worked to improve it. They contributed to a new narrative, one that was inclusive. One that was not just composed of those men in suits, cigars in hand; and one that didnÕt allow just a single path to achieve a goal. Follow their lead. Learn how to create a classic, or put your own twist on it, but most important, be yourself and make it your own. And smash the patriarchy while youÕre at it.
Now take everything you've just learned and everything you thought you knew and SMASH the compulsion to conform! SMASH a sugar cube with some bitters and water! SMASH any preconceptions of a single right way to make this drink! Establish your own belief system within a historical framework that agrees with your principles and your palate-then SMASH it all together in a glass, and stir yourself a damn good cocktail.
Morning Gloria Steinem (Morning Glory)
A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
With a career that spans decades, Gloria Steinem is undoubtedly one of America's foremost feminist pioneers and visionaries. She has been both a role model and a lightning rod, depending on the fashion and politics of the time, and has inspired countless women with her eloquent lectures, writing, and action.
Steinem gained widespread notoriety in 1963 by going undercover as a ÒBunnyÓ to expose the mistreatment of women at Playboy Clubs, but her career in journalism continued throughout the 1960s and onward. She was one of the founders of New York magazine, where she wrote a column on politics, penning such pieces as ÒAfter Black Power, WomenÕs Liberation,Ó and later helped launch Ms. magazine. She said of Ms., ÒI realized as a journalist that there really was nothing for women to read that was controlled by women,Ó so in January 1972, Ms. first hit newsstands, featuring, appropriately, Wonder Woman on the cover.
Copyright © 2017 by Merrily Grashin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.