Our know it all editor, Stephanie, pays attention to detail in every aspect of life. When it comes to teaching people about cocktails, she’s even more meticulous. In today’s guest post, she demonstrates why. Enjoy.
It’s been a while since we’ve done a cocktail class post. A recent night of indulgence had me thinking about the one adjustment that made the biggest difference in my cocktails – measuring.
We don’t do restaurant plugs here on KL very often, but a couple of weeks ago, I took the night off for a particular indulgence of mine. DC is home to a thriving cocktail revival, helmed by my personal choice for best drink maker in the country, Derek Brown. Derek ran the Columbia Room, featuring a prix fixe cocktail menu, and it was there that I had my first truly transcendent cocktail experience.
After about a year closure, he reopened it in a new space. I knew I had to get reservations that opening night, and it was still as magical as my first visits. Tremendous cocktails, mixed by people with a tangible passion for their craft, served in an exquisitely designed space…it’s by far the best time I’ve had in a bar.
How many times have you set down at a bar where the bartender tries to win your favour by pouring a stronger drink? A little more alcohol, a little less mixer…we feel like we’re getting something extra, a bit of something for nothing. It makes us feel a bit special. The bartender gets a bit extra on their tip. Everyone wins.
Except – you’re getting a worse cocktail for it. I almost never follow recipes when I cook anymore, and I definitely never measure my ingredients. I taste at every step of the way, adjust for my personal palate and get a result that I’m happy with. When I bake, I measure precisely; the chemical reactions and the inability to taste and adjust while the oven is on make precision necessary. Cocktails don’t have quite the same restrictions as making a cake, but when the experts who can use a hay-based syrup and freshly foraged ingredients in their cocktails are measuring, it’s probably a good sign that we should be doing it too.
A cocktail, done correctly, is about balance. The spirit, the sweet, the bitter, the sour –all of them need to be in proportion for a drink to taste right. Due in part to the chemical properties of alcohol, very small amounts of other liquids can dramatically change the aromas and tastes. It’s why a single malt Scotch will taste different served neat, with a splash of water or on the rocks. Additionally, most cocktails are going to be a few ounces (scorpion bowls aside), and your cocktail may only call for an 1/8th of an ounce of one ingredient or another. I know there are some out there that can free pour and be incredibly precise with that minuscule volume; I have neither the experience nor the inclination to try.
Most bar sets will call for a jigger; a quick search on Amazon turns up dozens. I own this one, and would probably buy this one if I was in the market for a new one. But I find myself going towards these angled measuring cups – they’re easier to pour and have all the measurements marked off for me. When I’m entertaining and having to make several different drinks, all with different measurements, this set is great.
Free pouring works fine if you’re just mixing a Jack and Coke. When I have a cocktail though, I’m looking to taste the interplay and balance of the ingredients, and shifting one of them out of proportion leaves me dissatisfied. Next time you’re mixing up a margarita, try a few experiments to figure out the ratio of ingredients you like. Then measure it out – you can now ensure you have a consistent experience, tailored for your tastes, every single time out.