—This is a new segment where I want to write about things I care about but that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the marketing/travel blog. These will be shorter and more light hearted reads!
I’ve mentioned it a few times in other posts, but I am a huge fan of cocktails. I even tried making a website on a cocktail business that failed…. read about it here! I am in no ways a professional bartender, but through my travels I’ve drank and partied in a good amount of countries all over the world. For me this passion of mine started in Singapore where I was in shock with how much drink prices were. I was thankful that the drinking age there was more lax (I was 20 at the time), but $15 A COCKTAIL?!?!? As a college student who got his alcohol for free at parties on campus, this concept of paying for drinks was pretty new to me.
Naturally as a result all of my housemates and I started pre gaming at home. Otherwise the heavier drinkers would need to pay over $100 a night after the cover fee and a few drinks. While pre gaming is fun and cheap, it got to a point where just mixing coke and rum got boring. As a result, I started to get curious into making delicious drinks and thus I naturally grew interested in cocktails.
The Start: Youtube
One of my guilty pleasures is spending hours watching food related videos on Youtube. Some of my favorite cooking channels being Gordon Ramsay, Binging with Babish, and Foodtube. Through these channels every now and then I saw a video about cocktails, and this is really where my interest started forming. If you are interested in learning more from youtube, some of my favorite channels are Drinkstube (a spin off of Foodtube) and Cocktail Chemistry.
For example a video from Drinkstube is like this:
From these channels I realized there are so many different techniques, types of liquors, and combinations that I never heard of. This got me interested in the topic and made me start questioning what I’ve been drinking. For example, if someone asked you what goes into a margarita, would you know? Even if you’ve drunk 100+ margaritas in your lifetime, you might not know the effort that went into making it perfect…. unless it was from a bottle mix, you uncouth savage.
Getting the Tools
After a few weeks in Singapore of watching these different videos, I decided to finally double down and get started. Unfortunately Amazon was not a thing in Singapore so I had to use their local craigslist equivalent to pick up a used cocktail making set. This is the same set I use today, so it was a worthy investment. To really get started you’re going to need a few things.
The Staple Stuff
Cocktail Shaker: Of course you need this to start 🙂
There’s a few different varieties of shakers but my go to favorite is the 3 piece shaker (It looks like the iconic martini shaker that has a lid and a cover). It’s one of the easiest shakers to use as it’s pretty intuitive and comes with a built in strainer so you don’t need any fancy strainer. You could also use a boston shaker, which looks like two tins you use together.
Alcohol: The priciest part of this hobby 🙁
For a first time cocktail maker I recommend these core alcohols to be able to make most basic cocktails. I tend to aim for mid shelf products (think good brand name and ~$20 for a fifth).
- Rum: White rum like a bacardi blanco is a perfect fit. It goes well in most rum cocktails and it’s a great value for the price.
- Tequila: My recommendation is anything 100% Agave. Don’t go for the Agave mix products, those aren’t real tequilas. Tequila can get quite pricey but it’s one of the alcohols where you can truly taste the difference in quality.
- Vodka: Any brand name like Smirnov, or Don Tito’s is good! There’s no reason to get some premium vodka like Ciroc (vodka is supposed to taste like nothing). Despite that, nothing from a plastic handle please.
- Whiskey: Whiskey is also a liquor type that varies wildly in quality based on price. My recommendation is if you are not a seasoned whiskey drinker try something easy to drink like a flavored whiskey. Apple flavored Jim Beam or Tennessee Honey Jack Daniels are easy intro whiskeys. Once you got a hang of the taste get some straight whiskeys like Wild Turkey or Bulleit Bourbon.
- Gin: Not many people like gin unfortunately. My advice is like the whiskey don’t buy a super expensive one like Bombay sapphire to start. Try something cheap like a New Amsterdam Gin and work your way up to the pricier options.
- Triple Sec: So triple sec is weird in that there are two types. The usual triple sec, and the ultra luxurious. The usual triple sec which is more than fine for a starting mixologist is $6. The super fancy ones are like Cointreau which costs $40 for a fifth. I don’t recommend getting this unless you have the money for it.
With these 6 alcohols you can make most of the drinks people order at bars. Margaritas, Daiquiris, Whiskey Sours, Long Island Ice Teas, Cosmopolitan, etc. Of course you will need to buy some extra stuff like lemons/limes but those are cheap in comparison to the liquor.
Like all things, be frugal but remember price is often highly correlated with quality. I like to think that a cocktail is only as good as it’s weakest link. In the case of a Long Island where you are mixing 5 different types of liquors, if you are using a cheap tequila you can taste something off. For example, at my college house we had a bottle of montezuma triple sec that came in a plastic bottle. After a few drinks with it tasting awful, we never went back to it. Save yourself the time and effort and start with something mid tier.
At the same time, many high end liquors aren’t meant to be in cocktails. I went to a Japanese whiskey bar in Tokyo and when I asked for a nice Japanese whiskey in an old fashioned they looked at me in disdain. Some high quality drinks should be drunk on their own to experience the quality which is completely fair. Still do the best that you can afford is my motto in life.
Hopefully you have an ice machine at home. In my college days I would have to buy 10lb bags of ice before a party as there was no room in my fridge shared by four people to make ice.
You can get super fancy here and buy things like iceball molds, perfect ice cube molds, or learn how to make clear ice. Personally I can’t taste a difference, but it does make you look that extra bit fancy.
Anything else in a recipe:
This is things like lemons/ limes, cocktail bitters, and juices for things like the cosmopolitan. Before I have any guests I always check that I have a stockpile of lemons, limes, homemade syrup (this is really easy), and some chasers like coke (for Long Islands) / ginger beer (for Moscow Mules).
Learn Some Cocktails
There are wayyy too many cocktails to write about so here are some of my favorites and why. If you want to see a more comprehensive list, keep browsing those youtube videos especially Drinks Tube, or take a look at the International Bartenders Association’s list here http://iba-world.com/contemporary-classics/.
I’ll break them down into cocktails for the two most typical situation.
Entertaining Guests At Your Place
- Margaritas/ Daiquiris: These are my go to drinks when I want to show people cocktails as they exemplify good mixology skills. For example, the daiquiri is only 3 ingredients: rum, lime, sugar. It requires a delicate balance of everything to get perfect and when it’s done right its amazing.
- Any stirred drinks: If you make someone an old fashioned properly with muddled sugar and garnished with an orange peel it will blow people away. However do note, stirred drinks are quite heavy in alcohol so this would only be for guests who are used to drinking hard liquor.
- Cosmopolitan: This a drink where people usually haven’t tried one before but have seen it constantly from shows like sex in the city. Make a great one with a flamed orange peel and this will blow people away.
- Long Island Ice Tea: This is more for the pregame at your place. When I need to get people energized for going out I’ll give them a few of these and they are ready to go. Take equal parts rum, vodka, tequila, gin, triple sec, and lemon juice. Shake with ice and add a generous amount of coke and you have a perfect long island. Be warned generally cocktails will have 1-1.5 shots of alcohol in them. With a long island theirs a good chance a person will have 2-2.5 shots per drink. Not to mention it’s a combination of liquors which makes it quite potent.
- Amaretto Sour: My absolute favorite drink. It tastes like candy when made properly and will make people question why they love this drink so much. (Be warned it’s not that strong so don’t expect to get wasted off these)
This is a tricky situation where you have a ton of people partying at your place which is awesome! The only problem is, you want to party too and not be stuck behind the bar all night. Not to mention, many people want to get drunk not wait in line for a cocktail. It took me awhile to get used to, but I found these drinks to be the easiest to make quickly to dole out to guests.
- Moscow Mule: 3 ingredients: vodka, ginger beer, lime. For simplicity I squeeze half a lime in a cup, a shot or two of vodka, and ginger beer. It has spicy and exotic flavors you normally don’t get at a party which makes people say wow.
- Batch Cocktails: The strongest jungle juice in the world is probably a cooler filled with long island iced tea. It’s an expensive cooler but it will destroy people as it tastes delicious and it’s pretty simple to make.
- Punch: This is more of an advanced cocktail, but google any punch recipe and you will see that most punches are mainly alcohol. It’s easy to have guests serve themselves and delicious. One of the best punches I made for my final senior house party was this one here. I call it an advanced recipe as it requires making oleo saccharum in advance and might require tinkering with to get right.
So What’s Next?
Assuming you doubled down and got a cocktail shaker and all the alcohol you need, it’s time to play around! Try making your own drinks, buy new and exciting bitters every time you shop. Try some advanced cocktail techniques like dry shaking with egg whites in a whiskey sour. Or get SUPER fancy and try making drinks like this guy.