Category Archives: How To

Muddling Feature

How to muddle

Muddling is an important technique in cocktail making. The idea is to use a muddling stick to extract juice or essential oils from fruit and herbs.

When muddling, lightly push on the ingredients (such as fruit and herbs) in the bottom of a mixing glass with a flat-bottomed muddling stick until the juice is extracted. You don’t want to kill it or you’ll get a lot of bitter taste. Once your ingredients are combined, you typically add ice and the remaining liquid ingredients prior to shaking your cocktail.

A muddling stick or muddler is often shaped like a baseball bat and is commonly made of wood. You will also find muddlers made of metal or plastic with teeth on the bottom. Use the kind with teeth carefully as people tend to over-muddle with these and end up with a bitter drink.

What I Learned at Camp

dennis hahn cocktailcamp viva la cocktail1 1023x685 What I Learned at Camp

Dennis Hahn mixing it up at CocktailCamp PDX

When I was a kid, I used to go off to camp to learn basic life skills—like how to make a fire, swim, or paddle a canoe. Now that I’m a grown up, I went to CocktailCamp to learn valuable new life skills such as the history of rum, how the surface area of ice affects dilution and making cocktails with tea. Valuable lessons indeed.

The first annual CocktailCamp PDX was held at the New Deal Distillery on April 11, 2010 in Portland, Oregon. Being both a speaker and a participant I can say it was a day well spent. I ended up kicking off the day because the first speaker cancelled at the last minute due to some sort of emergency. My presentation, Making Cocktails at Home, was designed as a primer for the aspiring home bartender.  I covered topics such as: how to setup your own DIY home bar; the importance of home happy hour; cocktail party basics and a variety of tips.

For those of you who missed it, there’s a great synopsis of the event on the CocktailCamp website and some nice press coverage by our local paper, The Oregonian. There are also some event photos taken by the event volunteers which are posted on Flickr.

As a participant, here are five things I learned at camp:

  1. The default way to mix a drink is to stir it—not shake. Most of the classic cocktails were stirred to keep the ice fragments and air bubbles out of your drink. But certain drinks should be shaken. Check out my earlier post on Shaking vs. Stirring cocktails for more on this.
  2. Ice is the most overlooked part of the cocktail making process. The bottom line: the more surface area, the faster the dilution rate. So crushed ice will dilute the fastest, and large flat pieces of ice (or better yet—a Japanese ice ball) will dilute the slowest.
  3. White grapefruits are sweeter than pink or “ruby red” style grapefruits.
  4. Rhum Agricole is a lighter style of rum made in the French West Indies from sugar cane (rather than dark molasses). Rhum Agricoles can be consumed neat (especially the Rhum Vieux which is aged 3 years or more) or are commonly used in tropical Tiki style drinks and are paired with molasses-based rum.
  5. The bartender panel agreed that cocktails don’t generally go out of style—there is a cocktail for everyone depending on their taste. So, good news to all of you lemon drop drinkers out there!

The next event I have in my sights is Tales of The Cocktail in New Orleans in July. Hope to see you there!

Triple Sec: do you know what’s in it?

I want to call your attention to something that gets overlooked often: triple sec. It’s a basic ingredient in many cocktails such as the margarita, cosmopolitan, sidecar and hundreds of others. Triple sec is used as a flavoring agent and to make your drinks taste a little sweeter. Unless you’re paying attention to the label or drinking at an upscale bar, the triple sec that you’re probably drinking is poorly made. In fact, most name brand triple secs are made from vodka, artificial orange flavor and fructose.

I know what you’re thinking: why spend 2 to 4x more? Considering that triple sec can make up to 20% of the ingredients in your glass, you’ll notice a big difference if you use the good stuff. And, if you’re going to the trouble of juicing fresh lemons and limes for your drinks (which you should be doing in my opinion), then you want natural ingredients in your triple sec.

My advice when making drinks at home is to leave the triple sec at the store and upgrade to a higher quality substitution: Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Harlequin.

Cointreau is considered a premium triple sec, which is made with the peels of bitter Caribbean and sweet Spanish and Brazilian oranges with neutral spirits, cane sugar, and water. It also has higher alcohol content (40%) than regular triple sec (15-40%).

Grand Marnier is similar to triple sec, but is considered an orange-infused cognac. It’s richer and more complex than triple sec due to the distillation and aging process.

Harlequin Orange Liqueur is similar to Grand Marnier in that it is made with cognac. In fact, I prefer Harlequin for mixed drinks because it is less expensive and the difference is difficult to distinguish in cocktails.

Cointreau is lighter in taste than orange-infused cognacs, so it is nice for drinks that need a lighter touch—like a lemon drop or cosmo. I usually use Harlequin or Grand Marnier when I am looking for a richer taste, like in a margarita. Experiment and try out other high-quality brands of triple sec and orange-infused cognacs. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about what tastes good to you. Let me know which brands that you like.

How to Rim a Cocktail Glass

Many recipes call for the cocktail glass to be rimmed. This can be anything like sugar, salt or cocoa powder. This is used to enhance the taste of the cocktail or sometimes just for decoration.

First, you moisten the rim of the glass  with a lemon or lime. I like to use an orange because it is a little stickier than the others.  Ideally you rim the outside of the glass to keep your ingredient out of the drink, but this takes a little practice and patience.

Then you roll the glass in a plate filled with the sugar, salt or whatever until the rim is completely covered. Ideally, you want to do this about 15 minutes before you fill the glass. This gives time for the rim to dry and will keep your sugar, salt or whatever from falling off.

This video from Small Screen Network featuring Jamie Boudreau demonstates the process well.

Fruit Puree

You’ll see that a few cocktail recipes call for a fruit puree of some kind. You have a few options when it comes to purees. You can buy them already made up or you can make your own. Unless you are making a large volume of drinks (for say a party), I suggest you make your own. It’s really easy and the purees are fresh.

Mango Puree
2 mangos, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pear Puree
2 pears, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the fruit, sugar, water and lemon juice; process to a smooth puree, about 30 seconds. Add more sugar to taste. Strain through a fine metal sieve set over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula to stir and press the puree through the sieve; discard solids. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

I store my purees in those GladWare Mini Round 1/2 cup (4 oz) platic containers. They freeze well and you can label them with your type of fruit and the date. This size is perfect for making about 4 cocktails at a time.

Shaking vs. Stirring Cocktails

A question that comes up often is: when do I shake a cocktail and when do I stir? The basic rule of thumb is this:

Shaking Cocktails
You shake any cocktail that contains juice, cream, eggs or other cloudy ingredients.

Stirring Cocktails
You stir a cocktail when the ingredients are all spirits.

I think this video from Imbibe (featuring Jeffrey Morgenthaler) demonstrates the difference well.

Sometimes I break the rules and shake my Manhattans or Martinis if I want little ice shards floating in my drink.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth

This infusion makes a nice summertime sipper by adding club soda. You can also use it in other cocktails like the Cinzano Basil Martini. You will need to make this at least a day before you plan to use it so that the basil has a chance to flavor the vermouth. You can keep it in your fridge and use it whenever the mood strikes.

Basil-Infused Bianco Vermouth
1 bottle (750ml) Cinzano Bianco
15-20 large basil leaves, washed, dried and stemmed

Pour the vermouth into a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and add the basil leaves (save the bottle for later). Stir briefly, close the container and set aside overnight.

Skim the basil leaves out of the container and discard. Pour the infused vermouth through a fine mesh strainer back into the empty vermouth bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

how to make syrups feature

Homemade Syrups

The easiest way to make drinks sweet is to add sugar syrup. Syrups are easy to make and keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks in a tight fitting container. You can also make flavored syrups to give your cocktail an extra dimension.

Simple Syrup

If you’re wondering what simple syrup is then you’ve come to the right place. Simple syrup is a common ingredient for certain cocktails that require a little sweetness. The best simple syrup is to make your own—if you buy it you’re likely to get a bunch of preservatives and other things in it you don’t need. And, it’s cheaper to make your own anyway. Here are a few ways to make simple syrup.

Rich Simple Syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup distilled water

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Quick Simple Syrup
1 cup baker’s sugar
1 cup distilled water

Combine sugar and water in a bottle with a tight fitting lid, and shake it until dissolved. It will be cloudy for a bit, but will eventually clear up. Cover and store in the fridge until needed. This method comes in handy if you run out in the middle of making drinks, or if you’re kinda lazy like me.

Whatever method you choose, you can also substitute Splenda Granulated Sweetner for sugar if you want a sugar free alternative. I use this when I make a drink for my Dad who is diabetic. You can also make flavored syrups, but I will update this post when I include recipes that call for those.

Demerara Syrup

Demerara syrup is called for in some tropical drinks. You just follow the recipe for Rich Simple Syrup, but use demerara sugar instead of granulated sugar. Demerara is a natural brown sugar found at many specialty food stores.

Demerara Simple Syrup
2 cups demerara sugar
1 cup distilled water

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Honey Syrup

If you’ve ever tried to make cocktails using honey, you’ll quickly find that it’s difficult to work with in the shaker. It’s messy and often freezes after you’ve given the tin a few good shakes. I prefer to use honey syrup. You get the flavor of the honey but is easier to use and mixes up better.

Honey Syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup distilled water

Place honey and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

Ginger Syrup

Are you seeing the syrup pattern yet? Yep, just sugar and water boiled together. You can add other ingredients to give your syrup a special flavor. Here’s a good and quick recipe for ginger syrup.

Ginger Syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup distilled water
6 equal-sized pieces of fresh, peeled ginger

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved. Add ginger and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until syrup is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, refrigerate and use as needed.

One thing to keep in mind about ginger syrup—it loses its flavor fairly quickly. Make it in small batches and keep for up to one week.