Luckily for me, I get to watch a lot of great bar staff, making me great gin cocktails. They are all very kind and generous with their time when I quiz them for information about what they are doing and why. I’ve collected this information to create these tips for making better home cocktails.
The last thing you want after creating a perfect cocktail is watch all your hard work be diluted too quickly. Whether it’s a gin and tonic or a bitter orange negroni, you want your drink to stay cold down to the last mouthful, wiithout losing it’s flavour.
Bartenders are serious about ice. This is the ice block at The Lui Bar which is sawn and chipped into large squares, or pressed into spheres throughout the service.
Obviously, this is a bit tricky to do at home, but fortunately, there are some great ice cube trays and moulds available. The trick is to use as large a piece of ice as possible as it has the smallest surface area and will dilute more slowly. The tray on the left is a Rickey ice tray from Cocktail Kingdom and the one on the right is a a sphere ice mould from General Traders.
Think about the last time you had a great cocktail. What was the garnish? These two dehydrated options are good for beginners to try.
Campari and lavender dust
I had a negroni at Eau De Vie Melbourne that was garnished with campari and lavender dust, and almost jumped the bar to grab the tub, it was so delicious. It took me two attempts (the first one I managed to overheat and the house smelt of burnt campari for days!) but was worth the time.
Method (unless you have a dehydrator, you lucky thing)
– line a deep square dish with greaseproof paper. Pour in a quantity of campari. I didn’t measure but it was probably about 200ml.
– Put in the oven on the lowest heat you can, and leave for 7-8 hours, checking regularly to avoid the burnt campari scenario I refer to above.
– When the campari has completely dehydrated remove from the oven and leave to cool. You might need to break it into pieces for the next part.
-While the campari is cooling. Put a small amount of lavender (1 tsp) onto a tray and place in a slightly hotter oven until it is dry and crispy, but not burnt. The ideal is simply to dry the lavender out.
-When campari and lavender are both cool, add all of the campari crumbs to a pestle and mortar and little by little grind in some of the dried lavender. Don’t add too much lavender as it will be overpowering!
-Once you are happy with the flavour, add to an airtight jar.
I use this when making a Negroni. I wipe the rim and about 1cm of half the glass with a piece of lemon and then sprinkle the campari and lavender dust onto the glass. When I’m happy with the desired amount, I just tap the glass to remove the excess before putting to one side while I make the drink.
Dehydrated orange slices
These add a professional touch to a Negroni and are extremely easy to do, but like the campari and lavender dust, need patience without a dehydrator. Slice an orange, lay out on a tray lined with grease proof paper. Place in the oven on a very low heat for 7-8 hours. When ready, remove from the oven, leave to cool then store in an airtight container. I use in them to garnish a Negroni, but they look great on a variety of cocktails!
Syrups and Tinctures
Simple syrup (sugar syrup) is a common ingredient in cocktails and it’s worth making a batch to keep in the fridge if you use it regularly (warning : it does go off!).
Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar. You add the sugar to the water and heat until the sugar dissolves. Do not boil! I recently made raspberry syrup for the Clover Club cocktail from this recipe.
Olive Tincture for Dirty Martinis, courtesy of Trolly’d
Getting the right brine for a dirty martini is all down to fantastic olives. Ideally you want a savoury martini, not a salty one, so when I met the boys from Trolly’d at a party and they showed me their olive tincture I was intrigued.
They stone Alto Olives and put the stones onto a baking tray before drying them out in the oven. Once the olives are dried out and cooled they add them to a bottle and top up with gin. This is then stored for a week or two. Some is drawn off and then topped up with gin. Chris from Trolly’d says you can reuse the stones until they are spent.
Going to different bars teaches you very quickly which drink needs a highball (tall) glass or a rocks (short) glass, but the style of glass can really elevate your home cocktail to something more sophisticated. Hayden and Joe both offered me the tip of trawling my local op-shops (second-hand stores) for stylish glassware and they were right. This little collection cost me $6AUD!