Anyone who has attempted to create the next cocktail sensation will appreciate the difficulties involved. Attempting to devise a concoction that a broad spectrum of consumers will find extremely appealing is a daunting task. The cocktail can’t be too potent, tart or sweet. If it has too little flavor, the drink is perceived as lackluster; too much flavor, and it becomes oppressive.
As daunting a road as it is, many others have traversed it successfully. Indeed, there likely has never been a better time to be a mixologist, bar chef or drinks enthusiast. Today’s class of new cocktails is every bit as soul satisfying as any that have come before it.
Upon consulting several drink experts, five frequently observed cocktail blunders were assembled. Traveling as we do and being frequent visitors of this nation’s pubs, bars and cocktail lounges, the following list is as much a collective cry for relief as it is a primer for the advancement of the craft:
Too Soon to Tire
There’s one quality that all great cocktails share, and that’s sessionability. It’s a term used to describe a drink that people can drink sip on throughout the course of a visit. That’s difficult to create. Ultimately it means that the cocktail is sufficiently interesting to keep consumers interested and wanting another.
Balance is arguably a most telling success factor in a cocktail. Balance means that all character dimensions can be perceived. There are portioning considerations. The goal is to taste the spirits in the drink, but not feel the burn of the alcohol. A cocktail with a light and effervescent nature trumps one that’s heavy and cloying. Balance means that all flavors are tasted somewhat equally
Crossing the Line
There are several immutable laws governing the crafting of cocktails. One of these undeniable truths is the better the liquor, the better the drink. While some may see committing the world’s finest spirits to cocktails a sacrilege, others see it as an act of creative genius. The sustained popularity of super-premium spirits has strapped a booster to the cocktail boom. The cocktail’s uncomplicated and unfettered structure makes it an ideal vehicle for showcasing the enhanced character and unsurpassed quality of top-shelf spirits.
Another guideline to etch in stone is that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest component. Look to save a few cents using a lesser product and it invariably will be the ingredient that prevents the cocktail from reaching its fullest potential. Shortcuts diminish the end result, which is why mixologists more frequently are making their own flavored sweeteners and drink mixes for use in their cocktails.
Last is the inviolate truth is that the fresher the ingredient, the more vibrant and enjoyable the drink. “Look to your kitchen to help determine a flavor ‘voice’ for seasonal specialties,” recommends Tim Kirkland, manager for bar and beverage development at Rock Bottom Restaurants. “Seasonality is well represented in the kitchen by ingredients such as fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Even ingredients like fresh basil, pumpkin and aged balsamic vinegar are jumping behind the bar at different times of year.”
Resistance to Muddling
Mixologists increasingly are reaching for the bar muddler when constructing their specialty drinks. Examples abound. The application of the century-old drink-making technique has elevated the craft to fresh new heights. While it takes longer to prepare a drink made with muddled ingredients, the results are worth it.
The Mojito and Old Fashioned are illustrative of how to best incorporate fresh ingredients on a per-cocktail basis. In their preparation, ingredients, such as cut limes, oranges or fresh mint sprigs, are muddled, thus releasing their succulence and essential oils. Sugar is added to balance the acidic pith. The cocktail then is ready to receive the spirits and various modifiers that make it a singular creation.
In addition to being delicious and thirst quenching, these drinks have enhanced production value, and the muddled ingredients in the glass make for an interesting appearance.
Muddling is a beverage trend of significant and long-lasting magnitude.
Fizzling With Spritz
Adding a fine effervescence in a drink is a marvelous thing, a centuries old practice. Today, however, drink designers far too often commit a splash of club soda to a cocktail. Mere carbonation is passé, now it’s about adding quality effervescence. Spritz helps achieve all-important balance between the various elements in a cocktail. It enhances a drink’s mouth feel, and, most importantly, effervescence energizes a libation, transforming it from flat and lifeless to teeming with vibrancy and pizzazz.
One thing that immediately will improve one’s drink-making abilities is looking beyond carbonated water from the beverage gun. Artificially charged water created on-site can hardly compare with the natural effervescence of sparkling waters, source-derived products like San Pellegrino or Perrier. These famous waters have an abundance of fine bubbles and mild acidity that invigorates a cocktail. Club soda can’t even begin to measure up.
The final piece of advice is to adopt the habit of swirling and spitting while devising drinks. It will prove to extend your career by light years.