Just as in any aspect of life, the more versatile you are, the better your chances of success. The same thing applies to mixology, and by extension creating great cocktails. You don’t need to own a lot of complicated tools, or even a back bar’s worth of liquor to be able to make innovative and tasty drinks at home.
Think about the base spirits you’re familiar with. These are generally broken down into the following styles: brandies, whiskies, rums, gins, vodkas and tequilas. 90% of the cocktails you’ve ever had or will make call for one of these spirits. Iconic drinks using these include the Sidecar (cognac), Manhattan (bourbon or rye), Daiquiri (white rum), Martini (London dry gin), Moscow Mule (Russian vodka), and Margarita (blanco tequila).
One thing to realize is that each of these drinks only use three ingredients. Usually a base spirit, a modifier (usually a sweetener like a liqueur or simple syrup, sometimes an aperitif), and a souring agent (juice) or bitters. I’ve previously discussed the use of modifiers here. But, to talk just a bit more about modifiers; they generally work well with any base spirit, as long as they are used in the right proportion. Which is why you should always measure your ingredients using a jigger or similar measuring device. You can free pour all you want, but it’s doubtful that your drinks will come out exactly the same every time.
In any case, try the following experiment. Mix the same drink using different ratios. For example, try stirring a martini with gin and vermouth using a 3-1 ratio, a 2-1 ratio and a 1-1 ratio. Then taste each one. You can see how various flavors within the ingredients either blend or tend to dominate the overall profile. Now try adding one dash, two dashes and three dashes of orange bitters to each drink, then stir. Taste again. The bitters will bring a larger cohesiveness to the cocktail in varying degrees depending on how much you use. Now consider that just these three ingredients: gin, vermouth and bitters contain dozens of flavenoids from the infusions of various herbs and spices. Even a relatively simple drink like the martini becomes rather complex flavor-wise.
This article’s sponsor is PAMA liqueur. What is particularly interesting about PAMA is that it works well with all of the base spirits mentioned above. Having a sweet and tart flavor, it never overwhelms a drink, but rather lifts and enhances it when used in the correct ratio. Experiment #2 is to try and use PAMA as a 4th ingredient in some of your favorite cocktails and see what happens. Start out using a 1/4 ounce, and then add another 1/4 ounce if you feel the pomegranate flavor is still buried. You can create new and interesting variations on the classics at any time in this way. To get you started, here’s a recipe that has a tiki/faux tropical profile.
A Bird in the Hand (Recipe by Eben Freeman, courtesy of PAMA)
Glass: Tiki Mug
Garnish: Pineapple Leaf, Cherry, and Orange Wheel
1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Spiced Rum
½ oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Lime Juice
1 oz. Pineapple Juice
Dash Simple Syrup
Method: Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into mug, fill with crushed ice, stir, and top with more crushed ice.