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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.
Go to most bars in any city, doesn’t matter if it’s New York, New Orleans or San Francisco. Chat up the bartender and ask them what kind of training they got when they were starting out. Nine times out of ten, they will usually laugh and say, “none”. It amazes me that a lot of bartenders who have been working for years, still get by with a minimal amount of knowledge and training It doesn’t have to be that way. There are several well-respected programs and organizations available to bartenders which will both increase their knowledge and understanding behind the flavor profiles of mixology; but also their skill behind the stick. Better drinks mean better tips and returning customers.
I was lucky that my early efforts in bartending were helped by some of the luminaries in the cocktail world. Not only did I do a lot of reading, studying and practicing on my own, but over the years I’ve had the opportunity to learn from experts like Paul Pacult, Steve Olson, David Wondrich, Doug Frost and Andy Seymour from the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource). Each brings years of practical experience, knowledge and insight into the world of spirits and mixology. Without them, I would most likely not have started Good Spirits News or made my interest in the world of cocktails more than just a passing hobby.
Each year, PAMA recognizes the importance of learning in the field of spirits, liqueurs and mixology by sending three exceptional bartenders to the intensive five-day B.A.R. program in New York City which enables them to achieve the coveted B.A.R. diploma. This year Chad Arnholt (Trick Dog, San Francisco), Joy Richard (Citizen Public House/Franklin Restaurant Group, Boston) and Pamela Wiznitzer (The Dead Rabbit, New York) all benefited from the 40 hour course.
In addition, PAMA holds an annual competition open to all professional bartenders which this year will be judged by B.A.R.’s Paul Pacult and Steve Olson, along with Clover Club and Pegu Club’s Julie Reiner, The Butterfly’s Eben Freeman and Heaven Hill Distillery’s Director of Marketing, Kate Shapira Latts. You can enter your original PAMA cocktail here.
In the autumn of 2012 PAMA held the first Pamalympics in NYC where Josh Perez of Booker & Dax took home the gold medal. The recipe for his winning cocktail is below*. As well, starting this month PAMA will debut a series of themed events entitled the Bar Star Media Series which will take place in major cities around the country. PAMA also regularly sponsors several cocktail events around the country including the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail, Kentucky’s Camp Runamok and regional USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) Monthly Mixers.
It’s clear that PAMA actively supports the bartending community. Reason enough to raise a glass to their ongoing commitment to helping bartenders bring their “A” game to their customers. Cheers!
1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Honey
1 oz. Chobani Greek Yogurt, whipped
Finely Ground Fennel, for garnish
Directions: Stir PAMA, bourbon and honey in a mixing glass with ice for approximately 15-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Float whipped Chobani Greek Yogurt on top and garnish with a dash of finely ground fennel.
One of my life mottos is “Balance in everything”. For awhile I even contemplated getting the word tattooed in kanji on my arm. That hasn’t happened, but I still look for balance. Especially in cocktails.
As with food, balance in cocktails should be one of the benchmarks when creating something that a customer or yourself will enjoy experiencing. There really isn’t much of an excuse for making a drink that is unbalanced. All it takes is learning the individual flavor profiles of each ingredient that you’ll be using. It’s a simple formula, that allows you to create something on the fly, that will taste good. There are certain ratios that work most of the time. A balance of sweet, sour, strong and weak along with the ubiquitous umami tends to be the golden mean of mixology.
Think of the classic cocktails that have been around for over a century. The daiquiri, the Manhattan, the martini; all are triads of a balance of ingredients tempered by the addition of water. Even creating homemade sour mix calls for balance. The right ratio of citrus to sugar ensures a proper flavor. When creating a cocktail from scratch, start with your base ingredient, and then add less of the secondary ingredient than you think will work. If it needs more, you can always add it in; but like a food recipe, if you add too much salt or pepper at the beginning, it’s inedible. This is a trick that I’ve learned over the years. Taste your creation and see how the addition of just a quarter ounce affects the overall balance between flavors. Balance can be achieved through a few key points which if you remember them will serve your bar well.
1) The ingredients should form a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
2) No one ingredient should stand out as being different enough to grab your attention.
3) Avoid extremes. i.e. – really sour, really sweet, really smokey, really salty, etc….
4) Simple is best, but best is not always simple.
5) Taste each ingredient on its own, and then taste how it works with the other ingredients.
As this article is sponsored by PAMA liqueur, I want to mention that PAMA works wonders in cocktails calling for grenadine. Most commercial grenadines are good for throwing in the trash, to be honest. Artificial flavor, color and the inevitable corn syrup are what most people are familiar with. Plus, they’re incredibly sweet and don’t add the tartness that real pomegranate would. PAMA has a natural flavor which is balanced between sweet and sour, along with a subtle alcohol kick. Be aware that when using PAMA as a substitute for grenadine in a recipe, that you will use less than is called for, due to it’s slightly tart quality. But, this in itself is a plus; giving the drink an edge that moves beyond the sickly sweet drinks that so many bars seem to dole out.
In the end, balance is the mark of a not merely a quaffable beverage, but one that is truly luscious and noteworthy. Best of luck with your next original creation! In the meantime, check out this cocktail courtesy of Eben Freeman.
1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
Method: Combine all ingredients except Champagne in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glass and top with Champagne.
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.
Early pioneering mixologists knew that great cocktails were more than just a collection of sweet, sour, strong and weak elements. They used a holistic approach to their drink making, which included visuals (the Blue Blazer is a great example), scent (fresh-cut citrus peel sprays the surface with oils) and texture (the inclusion of egg white). This time around we’re going to focus on texture.
Unfortunately, most bartenders ignore this important aspect of cocktails. Martinis are shaken, Old-Fashioneds are a muddled mess of fruit and soda water, and Margaritas come out of a sour-mix slush machine. I suppose one could argue that these relatively recent changes to the classics are what people expect when they order one from the bar. But, these are not how they were originally intended to be made, nor are they improvements by any standard.
The texture of a drink means that it has a pleasantly smooth character and that it visually appears to have an elegant and somewhat sexy appearance. Think of satin, and visualize how it feels in your hand. Texture in a cocktail does much the same thing.
With PAMA liqueur, many drinks can achieve a smoothness which incorporates all of the above aspects in a cocktail. Visually, it is a rich, and luscious garnet color. The olfactory response is mouth-watering due to its intense fruit nose. The tannins in the juice bring a perceived dryness (similar to what you find in dry red wines) creating a natural mouth-watering response, which in turn gives the drink extra texture. But, most of all, the blend of pomegranate juice and spirits has a sleek and smooth texture which translates into the glass as pure sophistication and luxury.
Try the recipe below and see what I mean. Make sure you use a good Cognac and not a brandy. It makes all the difference.
Garnish: Dash Orange Bitters (I recommend Bitter Truth)
1 1/2 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 1/2 oz. Cognac
Method: Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 40 seconds. Strain into chilled snifter set with 1 large ice-cube.
For more recipes, click on the PAMA ad on the right of Good Spirits News.
The craft of mixology is one akin to many popular card games. Easy to learn, difficult to master. If it were easy, we’d win every custom cocktail contest and make a name for ourselves in no time. But, there really are just a few basics which everyone should know and understand when creating an original cocktail. Let’s start with the ingredients. Almost all cocktails can be broken down into three magic parts: 1) a base spirit, 2) a modifier, and 3) a visual or flavor enhancer, often both.
Base spirits are the easy part. What will you use as the foundation of your cocktail? In general you have brandies, whiskies, rums, gins, vodkas and agave based spirits. The next step is choosing what to add to it. This is called “The Modifier” or in simpler terms, what makes a cocktail, a cocktail. If you were to take a base spirit and shake it with ice, then strain it into a cocktail glass and serve it; you would not have made a cocktail. A modifier takes what you’re already working with, adds to and enhances it, until you have something more interesting and marvelous than either ingredient on it’s own. A modifier not only takes the edge off an 80 proof spirit, but clarifies the character of the spirit in the same way spices work in cooking. You can add additional modifiers, bitters, colored liqueurs, creams, herbs or what have you. The first modifier is really what starts the whole ball rolling.
As this post has been sponsored by the good folks at PAMA liqueur, I’d like to focus on their product as a suggested modifier to work with this month. I’ve been using PAMA myself for several years now and have recommended it to many people as a high quality and quite useful product. Unlike many grenadine syrups you’ll find on the market, PAMA actually uses real pomegranates with a color and flavor both natural and enticing. It’s also 34 proof, which adds a depth and richness to a cocktail, and also boosts the overall quality of the finished product. I often use a 50/50 mix of a real grenadine syrup (which is quite sweet) and PAMA (which has a bright, tart quality) to any cocktail calling for grenadine.
If your customers are looking for something which goes beyond the usual cloying sweetness of a Tequila Sunrise for instance, try using my 50/50 ratio and see what they say. Watch for their facial reaction also. It’s sure to start an interesting dialogue. It also works especially well in the classic Jack Rose cocktail.
If you want to experiment even further, try using PAMA as an alternative to the usual citrus juice/simple syrup blend found in a sour mix or fruit based liqueur such as triple sec. Remember, Pama is less sweet and more tart than most liqueurs, so you may want to begin by using a different amount than the recipe states. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination! Have fun, and keep mixing!
PAMA & Rye
Garnish: Orange Wheel
1 oz. PAMA
1 oz. High Proof Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
Method: Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish.