Of the Sipsmith persuasion? Odds are you enjoy experimenting with drink mixing at home as much as you do venturing to a cocktail bar for the evening. If you’ve invested in some basic kit, have built up a good range of bottles and have a few recipes under your belt, now’s the time to start refining your technique with these top bartending tips.
There’s no one better to advise on the art of bartending than our Head Distiller Jared Brown, who’s spent years behind the bar, has published several books on the subject, and is a veritable font of knowledge when it comes to obscure drinks facts. For dedicated bartenders who are looking to brush up on their techniques, he’s also got plenty of expert advice. Below, find his 10 bartending tips to help you master your mixing. Consider this your cue to go stir, shake, or throw yourself a cocktail (or several).
1. Invest in the right equipment. While many home bartenders invest in three-part cobbler shakers, a Boston shaker is the favourite of most pros. After all, when you shake using a three-part shaker, the metal contracts and often seals shut (and when you have to use hot water to open your chilled shaker, that’s far from ideal). A Boston shaker – which consists of one metal and one glass half – can always be opened, no matter how cold it gets.
2. Never, ever overlook the quality of your ice. Of all the home bartending tips, this may be the most essential. You want your ice to be deeply chilled (the kind of cold that sticks to your fingers) rather than just hovering under freezing, so your drinks don’t dilute too quickly. The truly dedicated can also experiment with tempering their ice: chilling it at very cold temperatures, bringing it up near to the freezing point, and then chilling it again. This process creates a much harder fibre in the ice that prevents it from melting too quickly.
3. Shake or stir? A simple rule of thumb: any drink that contains fruit juices gets shaken, while wine- and spirit-based drinks, like the Martini, are generally best stirred. You can also try ‘throwing’ the drink, which is the very best for aeration – and for opening up the flavours of those gin botanicals.
While many home bartenders invest in three-part cobbler shakers, a Boston shaker is the favourite of most pros.
4. Mise en place. Bartenders aren’t too different from chefs, and for both, mise en place – or setting up your ingredients in advance – is essential (it also helps ensure you don’t leave out any ingredients). There’s a definitive order of operations when building a drink: first, fill the glass you’ll be serving your cocktail in with ice and water before you start mixing, so it’s perfectly cold when the drink is ready. Also, make sure to add the ingredients first and the ice last when mixing your drink – as soon as ice and spirits interact, you’re under a time pressure to prevent too much dilution.
5. Don’t be pithy. A citrus twist is an important technique in any bartender’s arsenal, but there’s definitely a wrong way to do it. When shaving off citrus skin, you want to avoid any of the bitter, white pith beneath, which leads to astringent flavours (Jared’s pro-tip: a truffle slicer is an excellent way to slice a pithless twist). The purpose of the twist is to anoint your drink with fragrant citric oils: as such, never squeeze before you get it to a glass, squeeze it only once, and don’t run the twist over the rim of the glass afterwards, unless you want a sharp and bitter-tasting result.
6. Don’t lose your sparkles. Whether it’s Champagne or tonic, if your drink’s sparkling, don’t even think about stirring it – doing so leads to lost carbonation, and who wants a flat G&T? Instead, submerge your bar spoon and simply lift it back up through the drink. That method will leave the carbonation in but will also properly blend the spirit and the mixer. When building a fizzy cocktail, always start with ice and then add the spirit (if you put spirit in and then ice, you’re going to get splash-back) before topping up with the fizz.
7. Scratch up those Champagne glasses. Sparkling drinks look prettiest when the bubbles are all rising from the very bottom – but dissolved carbon dioxide needs a rough surface to cling to for that to happen. Try this simple trick: lightly mark the bottom of your Champagne flutes using an etching pen, which will create a rough surface that bubbles will rise from.
A citrus twist is an important technique in any bartender’s arsenal, but there’s definitely a wrong way to do it.
8. Simple syrup is worth it. Another essential among JB’s home bartending tips. There’s a reason bartenders rarely turn to straight sugar, especially when making cold drinks: it’s very, very difficult to dissolve sugar at cold temperatures. Simple or gomme syrup is a perfect solution – and very easy to whip up at home.
9. Fresh citrus, always. As a rule, store-bought citrus juice will never taste as good or as complex as the real stuff. When you’re squeezing those lemons, though, don’t squeeze directly into the glass: it’s essential to measure your citrus, as being off by even 5 or 10ml can completely change the drink. And note: a good rule of thumb is that fresh citrus and simple syrup ratios are usually the same.
10. Master these classics first. According to JB, every bartender should be able to master five classic gin drinks: the Martini, the Gin & Tonic, the Negroni, the Rickey, and the Collins. A bonus fact: the traditional garnish for the Collins is a ‘flag,’ which is a slice of lemon wrapped around a Luxardo cherry and fastened with a toothpick.