When it comes to making craft cocktails in — or out — of the comfort of your own home, whether it’s for an upcoming holiday party, romantic dinner for your significant other, or simply an alternative to buying $18 cocktails for you and each of your travel partners, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and uninspired by the majority of modern craft cocktail recipes.
Beyond your spirit of choice, the prospect of buying, cutting and fresh squeezing seven different kinds of fruit, finding something called Velvet Falernum, picking three herb varietals, making your own infused simple syrup and hunting down the best brand of Indonesian Arrack at your local liquor store is just too daunting to be enjoyable.
This fall, we’re here to teach you how to level up your cocktail skills with easy, foolproof tips that won’t require 17-ingredients and endless patience or bar skills. Despite what ‘hot girl summer’ may have taught us, we can do better than seltzer cocktails in a can.
How to Easily Make Craft Cocktails
First thing’s first. Similar to how you wouldn’t be very successful trying to bake a cake without a measuring cup or a pan, your bar skills will improve greatly with a few basic tools, including:
- Jigger or Graduated Shot Glass
- Cocktail Shaker
- Citrus Juicer
Don’t have these items and need to make cocktails on the fly? We’ve got you. Substitute a normal shot glass (2 oz), measuring cup or tablespoon for the jigger or graduated shot glass, mason jars or any container with a lid for the cocktail shaker, and a fork for the citrus juicer. Game on.
Use Fresh Mixers Wisely
As opposed to buying 2-liter bottles of soda that go flat after twist-top opening number six, sugar-loaded margarita and pina colada mixes, flavored syrups, grenadine and fruit juices that may or may not taste anything like the fruit they’re supposed to include, we recommend choosing your mixers wisely.
Use single serving bottles or cans of sparkling water, tonic water and sodas to ensure the carbonation stays at its optimal level, buy 2 to 3 kinds of naturally juicy fresh fruit that’s kept unrefrigerated until it’s time to squeeze — think watermelon, kiwi, dragonfruit, grapefruit, pineapple, mango, blood orange, lemon and lime — and stock up on less sugary yet equally delicious mixers and flavorful cocktail accents like coconut water, ginger beer, bitters and honey.
Even better, there are a number of companies who make fresh, ready-to-drink craft cocktail mixers. Simply add ice, your liquor of choice, garnish and go. Sekford’s line of spirit-specific cocktail mixers include alluring ingredients like rose, cacao, sage, prickly pear, fig and cardamom, and With Co.’s line of fresh ingredient cocktail mixers come pre-mixed with ingredients like lavender, Madagascar vanilla, cinnamon, orange peel and cayenne pepper.
Start with Quality Spirits
Unless you’re a mixology wizard — or disguise the flavor with enough mixers you’d never know what you’re drinking in the first place — chances are you’ll never be able to make that $6 bottle of liquor taste like liquid gold.
Instead of breaking the bank by replacing every single bottle in your liquor cabinet with its top shelf equivalent, however, we recommend choosing a couple of quality, locally-crafted, well-reviewed spirits and go from there.
Practice with Non-Alcoholic Drinks
There’s nothing more disappointing than making (or being served) an undrinkable cocktail with expensive liquor. While bartenders have the opportunity to practice their shaking, stirring and blending techniques for hundreds of drinks and multiple hours per shift, the rest of us would-be home-based bartenders need a way to practice our skills before attempting to show them off.
Practice your measuring, mixing and pouring skills on your next iced tea, lemonade, Italian soda, fresh fruit smoothie, cold brew or mocktail concoctions, and then switch to the good stuff when you’re feeling more confident. For technique tips, watch instructional YouTube videos or pay close attention to your bartender on your next happy hour outing.
Garnish with Care
The drink equivalent of a Sephora shopping spree, even the most unfortunate-looking drinks can be classed up with a little makeover.
After pouring your drinks into pre-chilled glassware — use ice or place your drinkware in the freezer — step up your garnishes with beautiful, easy touches like edible flowers, gold flakes, mint bouquets, cinnamon sticks, dehydrated fruits, flavored salts, metal stir sticks and even creative touches like origami.
Now go forth and tend that bar; you’ve got this.