5 Restaurant Tips for Making Top-Notch Cocktails at Home

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I have imbibed my fair share of drinks at trendy cocktail bars, and after a while, a gal starts to pick up a thing or two about making a top-notch cocktail. It's not always about fancy artisan spirits or the enthusiasm with which you shake that cocktail shaker. Just as often, it's the little things that make the difference — simple things that can take our own cocktails from good to restaurant-worthy.

Many of these tips have less to do with the actual making of cocktails and more to do with re-creating that special feeling of sipping a truly fantastic restaurant cocktail in our living rooms. It's surprising how adding an extra-large ice cube or drinking from an actual cocktail glass makes the whole experience somehow more. 

1. Use Big Ice Cubes: Talk about drinking like Don Draper! Not only do extra-large ice cubes make a drink look extra-impressive as you sip, but they melt much more slowly than regular ice cubes. This keeps your drink chilled and adds just the right touch of water, but without actually watering it down. I like using silicon molds from Tovolo, but you can also freeze large trays of ice and chisel yourself a big chunk.

2. Play with Bitters: I have recently tumbled headlong into the world of bitters, and am constantly surprised at how a few dashes of pear bitters in a gimlet or vanilla bitters in a manhattan will transform these simple drinks into something new and engaging. Good bitters are an investment, but they also last practically forever. If you're interested and eager, you might try your hand at making your own!

3. Invest in Cocktail Glasses: Presentation counts for a lot with cocktails, just as it does when arranging food on a plate. Sipping from a demure coupe glass or a chiseled tumbler makes the whole cocktail experience feel special. Keep your eye out at thrift shops and garage sales — you'll often stumble upon unique cocktail glasses there.

4. Don't Neglect the Garnish: A garnish is more than just a snack you can eat on your way to the appetizer table — it's often what brings the whole drink together. It also makes a homemade drink look classy. I myself am often guilty of dismissing a recipe's instructions for fussy garnish in the name of expediency, but after watching the thought and care that many great bartenders put into their garnishes, I'm starting to change my tune.

5. Buy Quality Liquors: No way around this one — if you want a good cocktail, you need to make it with good ingredients. It really does make a difference in the glass. If you're on a budget, I suggest starting out with just a bottle or two of a liquor you love and expanding your collection as funds allow. Take a look at this post on the 12 Bottles Every Bar Should Have to get started.

What other tips do you have for making great cocktails at home? Any insider's tips to share?

Related: Straight Up, No Ice: 4 Steps To Drinking Whiskey Neat

(Image: Grapefruit Mimosas/Faith Durand)