Are you an amateur mixologist with a home bar that could use a good refresher course? Well, I certainly am. That’s why I recently took a class at Union Square Wines & Spirits called Mixology Boot Camp, taught by Kelley Slagle. Slagle is part of Cocktail Kingdom – an Internet outlet where you can purchase many different kinds of bar tools and accessories. If you’re in New York City, you can find Cocktail Kingdom at this location. In this class, we learned about the various types of shaken cocktails that are frequently referred to as “sours”.
To start off the evening, we were welcomed with a gin-based cocktail called Aviation, which contains Maraschino liqueur and Crème de Violet liqueur for color.
Generally speaking, a cocktail is any mixed drink that contains at a minimum three ingredients – a base spirit, a modifier and a third ingredient, which exists for flavoring. The key to any good cocktail is its balance – not too strong, not too sweet and not too sour. Having said that, however, everyone’s palate is different – what may be too strong to you may be absolutely fine to someone else. Likewise, what may be too sweet to you may be the perfect cocktail to another person.
Whenever shaking any cocktail, make sure you fill up the edge of the shaker with ice – that said, however, be sure to put the ice into the shaker last. The reason why you would do this is quite simple – basically, if you put the ice into the shaker first, it will obviously melt due to the heat to which it is now exposed when it is at room temperature; if you put the ice into the shaker first, it will then start to melt and clearly begin to dilute the other ingredients you add. Not a desirable result when it comes to the taste of your cocktail, believe me.
Also, when pouring the ingredients into your jigger, start with the cheapest one – that way, if you somehow manage to mess up mixing the drink, you can always pour everything out without worrying about wasting the most expensive ingredient (in other words, the base spirit).
What constitutes a cocktail as a “sour”? Essentially, a sour is 2 ounces of your favorite liquor (the base spirit), followed by anywhere from 1/2 oz. to 3/4 oz. of your sweetener, then adding 1 oz. of your choice of sour (e.g., the juice of a fresh lemon or lime, etc.). This can easily be remembered as a recipe of 2:1:1.
After shaking your drinks, what is the condition of your ice cubes? Well, if they are still reasonably large, that may indicate that you did not sufficiently shake the drink either hard enough or long enough; on the other hand, if the ice has shrunken considerably, then that may indicate that you shook the cocktail too much, thereby diluting the drink.
One final suggestion: whenever possible, make sure that if you are using fruit juice in your cocktail, be sure to make it freshly-squeezed, whether it be lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit or whatever – it makes a significant difference in the way your cocktail will taste, compared to a bottled fruit juice. The caveat to this, however, is that once you squeeze the fruit, be sure to throw it out if you haven’t used it after a day – if you try to use it after that, it will start to turn and won’t taste as fresh as it did when it was originally squeezed.