When I first set out to make cocktails at home, I was really intimidated. Measuring in ounces versus tablespoons by way of a jigger was so foreign. What even is a jigger? And how do you pronounce Curaçao or Aquavit? After pronouncing cotija like “cojita” at the grocery store, I knew this cocktail endeavor might produce a decent amount of embarrassment. I’m pretty good at laughing at myself, so I set out on the cocktail journey anyway.
It’s true, cocktails can be heady and fussy and in need of a mixologist. However, on the whole, most classic cocktails are simple, doable, and can be made in under two minutes, which is one part amazing and one part trouble. So relax your shoulders. Pull out the hand juicer. And keep your favorite alcohol of choice on hand, so that when the cocktail craving hits on a hot summer night, you can meet it. Here’s a couple of other important things to know:
Citrus is your best friend.
Citrus adds an easy punch of natural flavor that pairs nicely with alcohol while also providing a beautiful garnish in the peel. For a perfect pith-free peel, try the Citrus Peeler. Note: the pith houses all the bitter notes. Bitter notes are actually great in cocktails, even preferred, but not from the pith. When looking for a trusty bitter, try Angostura Bitters. A couple drops per drink are plenty. For easy juicing, from grapefruits to limes, use the 2-in-1 Citrus Juicer.
Cocktails are made from minimal ingredients. With that said, it’s hard to hide a bad flavor, so use the best quality ingredients you can afford, from the liquor to the ice. Have you ever tasted old ice from your freezer? It tastes like freezer-burned ice. That flavor will come through in your drink as well, so start with fresh ice. Note: the size of ice can vary depending on the drink. The Mojito recipe below calls for crushed ice, which melts fast, while an Old Fashioned, a spirit-forward drink, calls for one large hunk of ice that melts ever so slowly so as to not dilute the drink.
Get a good jigger.
A jigger is a measuring utensil for cocktails in ounces. Traditionally, they are shaped like an hourglass and are known for overflowing and easily spilling, especially if you’re a junior mixologist, like me. For that reason, I love the Angled Jigger for easy, mess-free measuring. And, if a tablespoon feels more familiar to you, you’ll see those measurements as well, though most cocktail recipes are measured in ounces. Add this to your memory: there are 2 tablespoons in 1 ounce, 2 ounces in 1/4 cup, and 8 ounces in a cup.
Shop your garden.
Cocktails do well with a layer of herbs. Try adding rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, or sage to any of your summer drinks. A quick slap or tear will release the oils of the herb.
Sweeten things up.
A sugar cube or simple syrup? Different recipes call for different sweeteners. However, I generally opt for agave nectar, as it’s always at the ready and easily dissolves into a drink. Depending on the flavors of the drink, maple syrup works well too.
Shaken or stirred?
There’s a time for both. If I’m being honest, I break the rules on this one all the time. For example, citrus drinks typically require a shake, but I don’t shake all my citrus drinks, as you’ll see in the Paloma below. However, I do shake the mojito to extract as much flavor as possible out of the mint. If you find yourself making cocktails at home often, I recommend investing in a cocktail shaker. OXO’s shaker includes a strainer and a jigger. In general, don’t be afraid to break some rules. It’ll help you learn why some rules exist and why others can be broken. Cheers!