It’s much less complicated than being a home cook since the consequences of errors are not as dire. Putting too much gin in a classic martini won’t be as disastrous as using too much water when cooking vegetables. You will get someone drunk much quicker, but that’s not bad if you think about it.
Home bartending would make you beloved among the people around you and make you come off as cool and cultured. And if you’re serious about learning to make proper cocktails and serving adult beverages, this article is for you.
To help us build a helpful guide for beginner home bartenders, we’re getting some input from Anders Erickson, a Chicago-based bartender with two decades of experience.
Expert Home Bartending Tips
Every seasoned bartender will have a set of knowledge tidbits to impart. For this list, Anders speaks mainly about the types of ingredients to use, proper storage, and the best ways to be adept at home bartending in the shortest amount of time possible.
We eat with our eyes, and that’s both common sense and scientific fact. This statement also applies to the cocktails we consume. You’d be drawn to a bright orange Negroni with a fancily twisted orange peel so much you’d probably feel guilty about drinking it.
Presentation is everything. It may not seem like much, but using the correct glassware would elevate the experience tenfold. Adding a hand-carved block of ice would make the drink feel like you put some effort into it.
Yet, many home bartenders need to pay more attention to presentation, mainly when using the appropriate equipment. Here’s what Anders has to say about that:
“It’s a good idea to know how much your glassware holds and if it’s ridiculously huge. Or, if it’s ridiculously small. If you’re making a cocktail, and you put it in a really big glass, it looks incomplete. It looks a little silly. If you put it in a really small glass, it’s just not gonna hold your cocktail.
“But if you have just the right glass for the cocktail, it looks intentional and thought through.”
Dilution is another factor to consider, especially for shaken cocktails. For this, Anders advises using measurements to know the limitations of your chosen container. Even if the packaging of your martini glass indicates that it can hold up to five ounces of water, err on the side of caution and measure, nonetheless.
Use Fresh Ingredients, But…
Nothing beats fresh ingredients for cocktails, particularly ones with fruit juice in it. You cannot compare the quality of store-bought lime juice with an extract from the real thing. Try making comparisons, and you’ll notice the glaring difference.
However, you have to consider an important caveat. Fresh ingredients are bound to go stale at one point and, in most cases, much sooner than expected. That’s something you have to consider heavily, according to Anders. Your refrigerator will be your best friend in this case.
“That flavor does start to die off. It oxidizes, it becomes astringent. It becomes bitter. I would say if you juice ahead of time, keep it chilled. In the fridge, keep it sealed. It’s gonna last a bit longer.
“A day later, you could still use that juice. It’s not gonna kill you, but it’s not gonna be as good as right from the ‘orb of goodness.'”
Be mindful of the contents of your fridge. When was the last time you used this bottle of lemon juice? If you no longer remember, it would be best to throw it out and squeeze a new batch. It will be costly in money and effort, but it will give you a fresh experience (no pun intended).
Go For Smaller Vermouth Bottles
You know you’ve leveled up your home bartending game if you have bottles of vermouth in the liquor cabinet.
You’ve developed an appreciation for dry vermouth’s herbaceous taste and grown fond of making Martinis and El Presidentes since you like them exotic. Likewise, you’ve enjoyed making Negronis and Manhattans, thanks to sweet vermouth.
Vermouths, however, require immediate refrigeration upon opening. Here’s Anders explaining why.
“They are higher proof than wine because they’re fortified, meaning a spirit was added, which is gonna raise the (alcohol) proof of that liquid, and therefore, prolonging its life. But it’s not high enough to where it’s shelf-stable.”
Vermouth can remain fresh and usable in the fridge for up to two months. Have a dedicated fridge for your bar needs, whether the fruits you’ll use, ice, or in this case, the vermouth bottles.
And unless you have a full-sized fridge just for this purpose, go with smaller vermouth bottles. That should solve your space issue.
Don’t Forget Your Mise En Place
You’ve likely heard the word mise en place if you’ve watched enough Anthony Bourdain videos on YouTube. It’s French for ‘putting in place’ and is a commonly-used term for cooking.
When chefs ask for your mise en place, they’re looking for your ingredients and equipment that should be right in front of you before you start cooking. Plates, cutlery, and chopping boards should be on one side, and shallots, garlic, salt, and ginger on the other.
Doing so saves you from scrambling for the necessary item and unnecessarily stressing out. It makes your job easier.
The concept of the mise en place likewise applies to home bartending. You want to have all types of liquor arranged in one place.
Gin, vodka, rum, and tequila go on the top shelf. Brandy, whiskey, and wines are on the middle rack, while juices, mixers, and other liqueurs should have their own spot. This allows you to easily reach for a specific item when you need it.
As Anders states:
“If you’re making a Manhattan, and you add the ice to your mixing glass, and you don’t have a spoon? Well, that Manhattan is just gonna dilute, get sad, it’s gonna die. And you’re gonna get really frustrated, wishing you could stir that cocktail.”
Tidiness is part of the unwritten rules of home bartending. Ideally, you want the surrounding workspace free of spills and litter. Have a rag or paper towel by your side at all times.
Anders also advises a regular wiping of bottles. Apart from aesthetic purposes, it prevents sticky situations caused by drips from syrupy liquids like curaçao or grenadine. Not only does that give the impression of carelessness, but it’s also a preventable hassle in the long run.
Familiarize Yourself With Different Drinks
Product knowledge is one of the keys to success at home bartending. Knowing how each drink complements the other makes you come off as a master of your craft.
So how do you achieve this? Anders suggests taking the time to taste every drink in your home bar, whether the bitters you use for an old-fashioned or the triple sec for your margarita. It’s akin to knowing the right guitar chords for that perfect solo.
“All kinds of spirits and liqueurs and syrups… whatever. Taste them all, individually so you know exactly what that flavor tastes like.
“Then when it comes time to make a cocktail, you will be able to pick that flavor out. And you will know if there’s too much in there for your taste, or too little.”
Tasting in this context doesn’t mean taking swigs of each drink. Do as you would when trying out wines and whiskeys.
Be the Undisputed Champion of Home Bartending
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to put them to the test. Get yourself your starter bottles and start experimenting. Include a shaking tin, a mixing glass, and a bar spoon while you’re at it.
You’ll likely make mistakes along the way, but home bartending is all about having fun. It is an art in itself, believe it or not. The empty glass is your blank canvas in this case. Feel free to mix and match to find the right combination of flavors. Play around and make yourself the life of the party.
But most importantly, drink responsibly. Cheers!