by Lauren Mote
Age old tactics, ones that seemed to fade in and out with time and technology, find themselves creeping back into bars across North America. Gin, our rising star, and one of the primal spirits in classic cocktails, is perhaps older and more remarkable than we think. The oldest gin cocktail in American cocktail culture originated in 1850’s, with the Fancy Gin Cocktail, a masterful blend of, Dutch Genever gin, orange liqueur, simple syrup, and aromatic bitters. Throughout cocktail books, classic recipes typically look to one of three spirits as a hardy base for a great cocktail; gin (the most popular), rum and whisky. Gin as a base spirit brings a certain elevation to any drink; its depth of flavour and complexity pairs extremely well with other spirits and helps to elongate the flavour of a cocktail. Different types of gins allow you to be somewhat playful with your recipe; Hendrick’s Gin, a blend of juniper, cucumber, citrus peels and rose petals, is delicious as a straight-up martini with a dash of rose water, and a cucumber peel; Bombay Sapphire, a blend of juniper, almonds, licorice, coriander and grains of paradise, is delicious in a dessert cocktail with tawny port, whole egg and cream, or as a simple Gin & Tonic. We are fortunate enough in this market to have access to some of the most incredible spirits and liqueurs, so take advantage of their unique blending power with gin. As we speak, career bartenders throughout the restaurant industry are not just creating epic gin-based cocktails that please all of our senses, but they’re also educating each patron on the time-tested techniques used to blend like the best, a simplistic approach to recreating thirst-quenching history at home.
The Recipe; whether you have found something interesting in a cocktail book, or the bartender at your favourite hangout lent you some advice, when you first decide to recreate a classic, it’s important to follow the recipe verbatim; even the slightest variation in sugar or acid can drastically altar the end result. Cocktail Book suggestions: “Shake ’em Up!” A Practical Handbook to Polite Drinking, “The Savoy Cocktail Book”, and “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book”.
Ingredients; the better the ingredients, the better the cocktail. Freshly squeezed juices act as acidity in our recipes, and go hand-in-hand with simple syrup, a quick mix of equal parts sugar and water.
This brings me to another favourite ingredient – aromatic bitters. I use Angostura Bitters as the example, as it is widely available in most grocery stores, and appears as an ingredient in several cocktails. Bitters are used to bring out the other ingredients’ flavours without masking their character, and to temper the acidity for those with “sensitivities”. Bitters are delicious in non-alcoholic cocktails too, try it in fizzy lemonade,… or add an ounce of gin for a Tom Collins!
Lastly, the egg, a traditional part of cocktail culture that is quickly becoming fashionable again. Historically, eggs were key ingredients in fizzes, eggnog, flips and pickups, but more recently the egg white has resurfaced in some of today’s most tantalizing cocktails, such as the bourbon sour, silver gin fizz, and margarita. The egg white’s main purpose is as a binding agent, and it creates a gorgeous froth on top. I recommend using fresh, cold, organic eggs at home.
Equipment; The ice. Always make sure you have ice on hand, and never use the same ice twice! The shaker. I like the Boston Shaker; it has two parts – a glass bottom and a metal top. With this style of shaker, you will require a strainer to separate the liquid from the ice. Some cocktails call for “the shake” (in this case, you must shake ingredients with ice vigorously, with all your might for at least 15 seconds), and some call for “the stir”, gently with ice and a standard 11″ bar spoon. Remember, if the recipe calls for spirits only, stir gently over ice for about 30 seconds; if the recipe calls for the additions of non-alcoholic ingredients, shake vigorously. I also recommend using a fine mesh strainer over your glass to catch any small bits like fruit pulp and ice shards to maintain the clarity of your cocktail. Lastly, the choice of glassware is absolutely a personal preference (make sure it’s chilled), although the recipe you’re using will likely give you a traditional glass to use..
Measurements; Adhering to recipe measurements is key. With alcohol, a slight variation here and there will not altar the taste too much, but where it counts is with acid/sugar. A simple ratio if you’re creating your own drinks: 3/4 oz acid : 1 oz sugar.
Taste; I recommend tasting your cocktail before you commit to the pour. What are you looking for? Balance; this drink, if the recipe is followed, should not be puckering in acidity, nor should it be sugary sweet. If the acid/sugar ratio is used, you will likely achieve balance every time.
Presentation; please the eyes before the taste-buds. A cocktail should look clean, refreshing and appetizing. The use of a garnish, showcasing a particular flavour used in the cocktail, assists the fragrance, the appearance, and ultimately the taste. Even a simple twist of lemon in a martini goes a long way.