“cooking by feel” - of bypassing the comfortable authority cookbooks often seem to offer, and taking a more creative and intuitive to approach to preparing meals. But what about applying this freestyle, seat-of-the-pants technique to mixing drinks? Over the weekend, I did just that. On Saturday, I attended one in an ongoing series of workshops led by Jonathan Pogash at the Astor Center called “The Elements of Mixology.” There were eleven of us in the class, with diverse cocktailian backgrounds: enthusiastic beginners, seasoned home cocktail makers, along with a few diehard bartending professionals. After a quick but thorough overview of cocktail history and technique, we were divided into groups of two or three. We then got down to business: In the style of Iron Chef, each team was given a surprise ingredient to work with (unveiled from under a bar towel) and then allotted 40 minutes to design an original cocktail. With a comprehensively large bar at our disposal, replete with a wide range of spirits, fresh fruit garnishes and juices, sweeteners (simple syrup and agave), and a dazzling array of bitters, we felt a little like kids in a candy store. But it was also a bit overwhelming. Our group’s key ingredient was Celtic Crossing, a honey-like liqueur with an Irish whiskey base. Where to begin? We reviewed Jonathan’s basic cocktail-designing principles:
- First try to form a clear taste “picture” of your ingredients together in your mind, then tweak the recipe through hands-on trial and error. (Like cooking by feel, this skill comes with practice.)
- Short cocktails (those served straight up in a “martini” glass) are generally 4 ounces total: 3 ounces ingredients (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) plus 1 ounce of water dilution created by shaking or stirring the ice.
- Remember balance: Use equal parts of sweet and sour, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic components (where applicable).
- Shake drinks containing juice or (non-carbonated) mixer. Stir drinks that are 100 percent alcohol.
- Always use fresh juices, syrups, etc., NEVER pre-made mixes.
- Use the proper type of ice (large cubes for shaken and stirred cocktails).
- Don’t forget small touches. A drop of bitters or a twist of lemon or lime rubbed around the edge of the glass and then dropped into the drink can make a world of difference.