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TIP OF THE DAY: Home Cocktail Tips From Professional Bartenders

Drink Like A Bartender

[1] Make better cocktails at home, and order better at bars. Get the book at Amazon.com.

Bourbon Flip
[2] A Bourbon Flip, made with the contents of Nana’s Fridge. Here’s a recipe from Epicurious.

Hawthorne Strainer
[3] Hawthorne strainer: You’ve seen it, now you know its name (available at Golden Age Bartending).
Channel Knife

[4] A channel knife makes peel and twist garnishes (available from Barconic).


Our Tip Of The Day is from Thea Engst and Lauren Vigdor, authors of Drink Like A Bartender: Secrets From The Other Side Of The Bar. While there is much great information on how to order in a bar, here are their tips for home mixologists:
Let’s just get this right out in the open: we love booze. We love creating new drinks and trying new flavors. Mixing a cocktail is an art form these days, so much so that it’s hard to imagine that cocktails were first invented as a way to mask the taste of low-quality liquor.

Today we have the luxury of mixing bitters, fresh juices, and well-crafted liqueurs and spirits to make balanced beauties we can be proud of. We’ve come a long way from shutting our eyes and chugging moonshine for a buzz—our forefathers would be proud.

A few years ago, Thea visited her Nana’s house for Christmas. Like a lady, she arrived with nothing but a bottle of bourbon. Her Nana was downsizing and trying to clean out her fridge, so she told Thea to make whatever she wanted with whatever she could find. Thea accepted Nana’s challenge.

She found, among other things, a bottle of crème de menthe, heavy cream, and a few eggs. Along with the bourbon brought from home, Thea mixed the heavy cream, an entire egg, and a touch of the crème de menthe (warning: it’s a potent taste!) to make minty bourbon flips for her family (photo #2).

To be fair, they were all hesitant as they watched her throw an entire egg in the shaker, but they were happy with the result.

What’s the moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to experiment with what you’ve got! Nana’s liquor cabinet was limited, but she had a few essentials: eggs and cream. You don’t need a citrus or fancy mixers to make a delicious drink.

You too can be like Thea and Lauren. Here are some tools to keep on hand for when it’s your moment to impress your friends and family:

  • Boston Shaker (photo #6) Those tins you see us mixing drinks in.
  • Bar Spoon: Those long spoons you see us stirring with.
  • Jigger: Measuring device for fluid ounces. Again, choose the style you want—they come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Muddler: A muddler is a wooden (but sometimes metal) tool you’ll see behind the bar nowadays. It is used to help you crush ingredients (like mint leaves) to release the flavors.
  • Channel Knife (photo #4): Similar to a vegetable peeler, but this has a smaller blade to make a twist versus a peel, which is a larger swath of fruit peel.
  • > Twist: When you use a channel knife to peel a narrow spiral of fruit skin. A twist is actually twisted citrus peel, or, a long narrow rope of the peel only that is twisted into a corkscrew shape.
    > Peel or swath: A much wider piece of citrus peel than a twist. A swath is just the zest (or colored part) of the citrus peel with ideally no pith or meat of the fruit at all.
    > Wedge: A slice of the fruit that is often shaped like a wedge or half-moon. This does involve the meat of the fruit. You can squeeze further citrus into your drink if you’d like, as with the lime wedge on a Gin and Tonic, for example.

  • Strainer: Once you shake or stir the cocktail, if you don’t want to use dirty ice, you need to strain without your fingers, so invest in one or all of these:
  • > Hawthorne Strainer (photo #3): The strainer with the coils. It essentially looks like it has a slinky on it. This is a pretty universal strainer, so you can’t really go wrong with it.
    > Julep Strainer (photo #5) The strainer that looks like a big spoon with a small handle and big holes in it. It’s more commonly used for stirred cocktails, as there won’t be huge ice chunks to strain out of a stirred cocktail.
    > Tea Strainer: A cone-shaped mesh strainer very often used to double-strain egg white drinks or shaken drinks as well.

    Some people want to get the ice chunks out of a shaken drink and will use the Hawthorne strainer as well as the tea strainer. That’s about preference. This is a good tool to get mint bits out of a drink, too!

    Pro Tips:

  • If your cocktail has juice in it, you shake it. That’s the rule. Don’t think twice about it.
  • If it’s straight spirit, stir. That’s the rule. Don’t think twice about it.

    Just like Ocean’s Eleven, when it comes to drink making, you have key characters doing things that are apparently important. We got the explosive expert, the tech person, the driver, and the dude who gets everyone together and somehow gets all the credit.

    Your home bar components are just like this. You need to have:

  • Simple syrup: Don’t you dare buy this! You can make it at home in a few easy steps. It’s equal parts hot water and sugar, stirred until the sugar dissolves. So, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup hot water, stir and stir (photo #7). You can even add more sugar for a richer syrup. Just like sugar, simple doesn’t expire.
  • Sweet and/or dry vermouth: Thea’s Nana raised her to always be able to make her guests a Martini or Manhattan. Sweet vermouth goes in a Manhattan, dry vermouth in a Martini.
  • Campari: An amaro (herbal liqueur) with strong orange notes. Campari is good to have in your bar because you can make anything from a low-alcohol, stomach-calming highball (Campari & soda), or classics like a Negroni for your gin-drinking guests and a Boulevardier for your whiskey-drinking guests.
  • Citrus: lime and/or lemon. There’s not much that can top a daiquiri (photo #8) with fresh lime juice, and ifyou have lemon juice, gin, and soda water, you have a Tom Collins. Voilà!


    Let’s talk about the birds and the bees of bartending: shaking and stirring. You are building a cocktail—let’s say it’s a Daiquiri.

    The rum, simple syrup, and lime go in the little guy shaker (the smaller half of your shaker). Then you take a scoop of ice with the big boy shaker (the bigger half of your shaker), throw the ice into the little shaker, and lock the big shaker into the little shaker.

    Remember that you don’t want them to be directly up and down. The two sides won’t seal effectively that way. Make them crooked: The rim of the big half should be touching the side of the little half in one spot.

    Then smack the top with the heel of your hand until it locks. You are going to be throwing this bad boy around a little, after all. A poorly sealed shaker will split during the shaking process and that’s a good way to get yourself sticky.

    Now to unlock the shaker: hold the locked shakers in one hand so that your palm lines up with where the two halves meet. Take the heel of your other hand and hit the opposite side of the sealed shakers. It should unlock with one to three steady hits. Done!

    Shaken Or Stirred?

    When you shake a cocktail, you incorporate a lot of air and small chips of ice into the drink. The shaking motion whips the cocktail (think of stirring a cup of cream versus making whipped cream) and breaks the ice down by knocking it into the sides of the shaker.

    When you stir a cocktail, the ice spins around in the center of your mixing glass as one continuous piece. It slowly melts into the drink to dilute it slightly, which softens and expands the flavors, and very little air is added.

    Stirring cocktails is what gives your Martinis and Manhattans that silky smooth mouthfeel, whereas shaking is what makes your margarita so dang frothy. We’ll get more into when to shake and when to stir later.

    Dry Shake Or Wet Shake?

    A dry shake is when you put all your ingredients into the shaker and shake them without ice. A wet shake is the opposite— it’s when all your ingredients are shaken with ice.

    So when do you use a dry shake and when do you use a wet shake? We’re glad you asked!

    You should use a dry shake when you are making a drink that is served over crushed ice.

    Do you remember what we said about dilution earlier—how shaking with ice dilutes the drink ever so slightly? Using a dry shake here helps from diluting a drink further (pouring it over crushed ice dilutes it as well).

    When you’re still getting a feel for how long to dry shake, it’s super-helpful to add just one cube to the shaker. When you can’t hear the cube shaking around anymore, it’s time to add more ice.

    What about stirring?

    You don’t have to worry so much about over-stirring cocktails. Unlike shaking, the ice isn’t chipping and melting quickly in the process. Still, you don’t want to overstir. A good number of stirs to aim for is 40–50 turns.

    Pro Tip: Mixers

  • Don’t buy expensive bottled cocktail mixers that are full of chemicals and sugar. You know the ones we’re talking about. They come in plastic bottles and are sometimes created by chain restaurants.
  • Instead, take a stroll over to the frozen food aisle of your grocery store. It’s just as easy to throw some frozen fruit or a purée—maybe a can of coconut milk?—into a blender. Your cocktail will taste so much fresher than it would if you had used the bottled chemicals.
    Editor’s Note: There are more than a few artisan cocktail mixer lines that are 100% natural—no chemicals: Just read the ingredients label. There are even organic lines. All we’ve tried have been fresh-tasting and good enough to drink by themselves, as a mocktail.
    Thea and Lauren also sent us recipes for some must-try cocktails.

    Alas, we don’t have the room to print them today. You’ll just have to read the book!

      Julep Strainer
    [5] Julep strainer, available from Bar Products.

    Boston Shaker
    [6] Boston shaker available at Williams-Sonoma.

    Simple Syrup
    [7] Simple syrup is easy to make at home. Here’s the recipe from Liquor.com.

    Daiquiri Cocktail

    [8] A classic Daiquiri, invented by American engineers in Cuba. Here’s the scoop (photo courtesy Bacardi). Also: Yuzu Daiquiri recipe and Grapefruit Daiquiri, both delicious.

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