So you're an at-home bartender. Welcome. You're in the right place to share that passion. Here are five small and easy changes you can do at home that will make your cocktails taste like they just came from your favorite bar.
1. Use fresh fruit. No more lime or lemon concentrate.
I cannot understate the taste difference that fresh citrus will add to your cocktails at home. In fact, make two identical cocktails and taste side-by-side, one with fresh citrus that you just squeezed and one with citrus concentrate. It's a pretty big difference. Plus, using fresh fruit is so easy and makes a drastic difference in taste.
Just get in the habit of keeping lemons and limes on hand! Problem solved.
2. Stop using mixers.
This is very similar to number one on our list. Margarita mix is so easy to make yourself, as is sour mix.
Instead of using margarita mix, use juice from 1 lime, 3/4 oz triple sec, and 1/4 oz simple syrup. Instead of using sour mix, use 1 oz lemon juice and 3/4 oz simple syrup. You'll never go back again!
Just look at those margaritas, don't they look so refreshing? With fresh limes, and homemade simple syrup? Your margarita game is about to go next level!
Don't know how to make simple syrup? Just boil 1 cup of water, turn off the burner, and add one cup sugar. Stir until dissolved, let cool, and store in the fridge!
3. Start measuring - everything!
Bartenders who don't measure have either practiced so much, that by counting, they are very accurate with every pour or they're bartenders who don't measure because they're lazy and don't care.
Either way, nothing will be as precise, accurate, and consistent as will cocktails that are measured. And at home, where time isn't a constraint like it is on a busy Friday night behind the bar, there really isn't a great excuse not to measure.
Invest in a jigger, and use it with love! I have lots, but one of my favorites for use at home is my Barfly jigger that has measurements from 1/4 oz to 2.5 oz. You can buy it here. *not sponsored*
4. Be smart about your Liquor choices.
There's nothing wrong with not wanting to drop a lot of money on alcohol. I guess for that matter there isn't anything wrong with wanting to drop a lot of money on a bottle either (guilty as charged).
However, there are definitely quality differences between an $8 bottle of whiskey and a $25 of whiskey. The trick is being smart with the bottles you are choosing. Finding the perfect bottles where quality meets budget can make your cocktails taste like a pro.
Not sure which bottles are the best bang-for-your-buck? I have a blog post about great bottles to start a home bar, you can read it here.
5. Don't forget the garnish.
Do you see what I did there? Anyone? Anyone? ....
Jokes aside - it's so true! Never skip the garnish when making your cocktails at home. That is unless of course, the recipe doesn't call for one, which does happen. But if that cocktail normally has one, don't skip it! Peeling an orange rind takes no time at all and makes a drastic difference in taste.
Often the garnish will impact the smell of the drink as well, which is an extremely important element to the cocktail. The mint bushel on top of a Mint Julep is there for more reasons than to just look pretty. When you place your mouth on the straw, your nose goes straight into the mint. Breathing in the mint actually changes the taste of the julep to taste minty. Even though there isn't actually any mint in the cocktail itself.
Don't believe that a garnish can change the taste of a cocktail so much? Try these two experiments.
1. Make an Old-Fashioned without an orange or lemon peel and taste it. Then express the oils from the citrus over the cocktail and drop the peel in the drink. Now taste.
2. The next experiment is to make a Martini but pour it into four separate glasses. In each glass place a different garnish - a lime peel, lemon peel, orange peel, and an olive.
It'll shock you how big a difference a simple garnish can make in the taste of a cocktail. Let me know what you think!