Cocktails really come down to one basic principle: a mixture of at least two flavors. Once you decide what you want to use as the base spirit (think of this as your main course), then you can decide what kinds of additional flavors will accent and highlight the inherent qualities of the liquor.
I do most of the cooking around the house, as well as mix the cocktails. More and more, I see the two as almost interchangeable. Really, the only real difference is that cocktails are sipped and not chewed. Think about it. We have hot and cold cocktails, ones that use vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs, and they all utilize some kind of basic recipe which can be varied to everyone’s tastes. Not sweet enough? Add a bit of simple syrup. Not sour enough? Add an extra squeeze of citrus. Too alcohol heavy? Add a bit of water, juice or soda.
So, suppose you want to make a gin based cocktail, but you want to play around with it and make it a little softer, a little fruitier. The addition of a modifier is what you’re looking for. This can be anything from fruit juice to an amaro to a liqueur. If you really want to taste the effect a modifier has upon the base spirit, try this experiment:
Taste the base spirit by itself. Then, take one ounce of your base spirit and add a quarter ounce of your modifier. Taste again. Keep adding a quarter ounce and tasting, experiencing how the flavors interact with one another. At some point, you will find the perfect ratio you prefer. Make a note of this. Then try adding a quarter ounce of a third ingredient to your perfect ratio and see what happens. Generally, most classic cocktails (the ones that have been around for over 75 years) are two or three ingredient drinks. Of course, bitters and garnishes come into play as well, but in general you can make a decent cocktail without either of these.
PAMA liqueur is an exemplary modifier. It adds tartness, some sweetness, fruitiness, color and texture to cocktails. It also works extremely well with just about any spirit you want to use. In tiki style drinks, I always use a 50/50 blend of real grenadine and PAMA when it calls for grenadine syrup. It also works in classic drinks like the Jack Rose and the Monkey Gland.
Here’s an original cocktail of mine you’re welcome to try. With this, I decided to use PAMA as the base and then modify it with citrus, sugar and spice. It is based on the classic Mexican Sangrita.
Shangra-Lita (Blair Frodelius)
1.5 oz Pama Liqueur
1 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
0.75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tsp simple syrup
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
0.5 oz Club soda
Mix all ingredients except club soda in an ice filled shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top off with club soda. Stir gently.