I don’t know about you, but I am so very thrilled at the comeback of handcrafted cocktails. There is something romantic and celebratory about a well-made cocktail, it adds an extra special something to any get together or celebration. It can help the whole theme of your evening come together. After all, the first thing you do when guests arrive is get them a drink.
If you hand your guests a Mint Julep, they will know right away they are in for a Kentucky Derby-themed evening. If presented with a perfect margarita, then Mexican fare may well be next. If by chance the whole concept of entertaining, let alone themed entertaining sends you into a tailspin, then perhaps the mastery of making a cocktail might just be your salvation! I have friends who are not that comfortable in the kitchen but are masters of the perfect cocktail, and people are lined up for an invitation to their parties. With a perfect cocktail in hand, your guests will most assuredly feel that they are in fact a special guest.
Now I don’t have a problem with a good rum and coke or a gin and tonic. Those are wonderful cocktails in their own right, but I’m not sure you need much coaching on how to make one. I want to share with you a base formula for cocktails that covers a ton of classic cocktails. I personally felt like I made terrible drinks for years; they were always too strong or too sweet or just too weird. As a chef, it seemed insane to me that I couldn’t make a good drink. I’m no mixologist but I came at this from a chef's perspective, which is through recipes.
Chefs have a love hate relationship with recipes. Recipes are important, but we don’t really want to follow them too closely, instead we like to use them as a guide. Fortunately, cocktails are made more from ratios than recipes and there is one main ratio that covers a ton of cocktails. This ratio is what I call the Mother Cocktail Recipe, and it is similar in concept to the Mother recipes for sauces. There is only one white sauce recipe and every white sauce variation comes from that one Mother recipe. There is one main Mother recipe for cocktails that many cocktails can be made from and from which you can get thoroughly sauced from. (Sorry, I could not help myself!)
The Mother Cocktail Recipe
2 ounces of spirit
1 ounce of simple syrup
1 ounce of lemon or lime
That’s it, really. You just change the citrus and the spirit and you have the recipe for all of these cocktails.
- Margarita: tequila, simple syrup and lime
- Daiquiri: rum, simple syrup and lime
- Gimlet: gin, simple syrup and lime
- Whiskey Sour: whiskey, simple syrup and lemon
- Lemon Drop: vodka, simple syrup and lemon
Within this base formula you can find some room to play by changing the citrus and alcohol in new ways to create all types of fun new drinks.
Then of course we can make very simple modifications to this base recipe to create even more cocktails.
- Caipirinha: cachaca, lime and brown sugar simple syrup
- Mojito: cachaca, lime and simple syrup with the addition of mint
- Pisco Sour: pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg white (note: traditionally all sours are made with egg white)
- Gin Fizz: gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and club soda
Then you can advance even further by combining different spirits or using other ingredients to achieve the sweet and sour components.
1 ½ ounces Vodka
½ ounce Cointreau
1-ounce Cranberry juice
½ ounce Lime juice
If you take apart this Cosmopolitan recipe, you will see that we in fact have 2 ounces of spirit total when you combine the vodka and Cointreau. The Cointreau and cranberry juice are both sweet and take the place of the simple syrup. Both the cranberry and lime are sour. This cocktail will be a little less sweet and a little less tart than the cocktail base formula would make but the ratios balance out very similarly.
There are 4 main elements to a proper cocktail. The spirit, citrus, and simple syrup as we've discussed, but there is one other ingredient I haven’t mentioned: ice. Let me share a few tips on these elements.
- I like to look for 100 proof spirits. The higher proof, the more taste the spirit has and the better the drink. High price doesn’t always mean better, so try some less expensive spirits that are 100 proof, it may open up some new options to you.
- Fresh squeezed - always. This might sound weird and cheffy but the citrus in a drink is the bright component and it should taste and feel alive in your mouth. Pre-squeezed juice loses these qualities.
- Standard simple syrup is 1-part water to 1-part sugar. Heat the water just enough to melt the sugar and refrigerate. Just keep a jar in the fridge at all times so that you are prepared to make a drink at any time! Feel free to play around with the types of sugar and try different kinds. Some drinks will call for more 1½ parts sugar to 1-part water, for example an Old Fashioned.
- Consider ice as an ingredient in your drink. The larger the cube, the slower it melts, so we usually chose a larger cube for more alcoholic drinks like an Old Fashioned or Negroni.
Bourbon on the rocks
I hope this post offers a simplified view of cocktail making for you, and if you are interested in diving a little deeper, download The Chopping Block's free guide to making cocktails at home. Please feel free to stop by our Mart location for Happy Hour and to sample our new Journeyman barrel-aged batch cocktails or to shop our spirit and cocktail product selections at both stores. Happy cocktail making!