Like a lot of people who tend bar for a living, I lied my way into my first gig mixing drinks. While I’d spent years working in restaurants in almost every capacity, I’d never actually done any time behind a professional bar. I was broke, had just moved to a new town, and I needed a job pronto, so I stretched my résumé a little to make it appear that I had the experience I lacked.
Lying on your CV in the service business is a sin that ranks only slightly higher than forgetting to put the toilet seat down — nothing too serious or uncommon — but as I began my rookie year slinging booze, I came to realize I was also lying to myself. I thought, “It can’t be that tough. I already know how to make a good martini.” I didn’t. “I can pour a proper glass of wine, pull a beer from a tap.” Nope and nope. “I can pick this up pretty quickly.” Hogwash.
Admittedly, I’m the kind of foolish person who, after buying a new computer, immediately throws out the instruction manual, then spends three days trying to turn the thing on. Because I’d fibbed my way into my new job, no one there thought I needed to be trained in any real way. No one was around to take me under their wing, because I was already strutting around like a full-grown eagle myself. I was sent to the thirsty, salivating masses with little more than a wine key and a nervous smile to defend myself. Every lesson I learned about how to mix a bona fide cocktail was learned the hard way — by screwing up. A lot.
For you, intrepid home mixologist, I offer you the accompanying slideshow filled with the wisdom no one ever imparted upon me. I have violated every single one of these rules during my tenure behind the bar, and committed crimes far greater than over-embellishing my résumé. I have shaken my share of Manhattans, pulped mint and lime unrecognizable with my muddler, and scooped ice with abandon using glassware. I feel terribly for those poor people who sat at my bar during those freshman years, who endured my learning curve with only the crappy drinks I made as company. If any of them are reading, consider this an apology. The next round is on me.
This slideshow, the newest installment in my ongoing home bartender’s guide, is a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when mixing your drinks. You’ll find some great cocktail recipes here as well, including the Pomegranate Cosmopolitan, the Yellow Jacket, and the Jalapeño Mojito.
Know When to Shake ‘Em
We shake a cocktail when the ingredients are of different weights. Mixers like citrus juices are heavier than liquor, and need to be shaken in order to emulsify, aerate, and bruise the cocktail. A good rule of thumb to remember: only shake a drink that uses juice, egg, or cream in its recipe. Experiment with my version of a Cosmopolitan for a delicious shaken cocktail.
Know When to Stir ‘Em
I blame James Bond for the most common mistake made by a surprising number of professional bartenders out there: the propensity to shake absolutely every cocktail they serve. Bond’s preference for a shaken martini should be the exception, not the rule. When mixing a cocktail that contains only spirits, alcoholic mixers (like vermouth or Cointreau), or wine, stir the drink to maintain clarity. The result is a silky, cold, and well-balanced cocktail that is not aerated or bruised. Try this recipe for a Yellow Jacket adapted from Kosmas & Zaric’s fantastic book, Speakeasy, to master your stirring technique.