Friday Musings: Let’s Make it Perfect!
So I have the reputation for being a bit of a perfectionist. Does that surprise you? It’s not in every aspect of my life and it’s definitely changed as I’ve gotten older. For example, I can tolerate a less than pristine house now (that seems to have come with having raised three kids), but I do still like it to at least be organized. Books are alphabetized on my shelves, clothes are grouped by color in my closet, and I can be a bit of a menace with a label maker. But that’s not so bad, right? Where I think I really demand perfection is in things that I personally do or make. So if I’m hanging a group of pictures on a wall they had better all be level and evenly placed or it’ll keep me awake at night. The same goes for baking a lopsided cake or making a sauce that doesn’t quite turn out right. Since I’ve started this blog I’ve become acutely aware of how much I’m bothered by a typo or a misplaced word, or a photograph that’s slightly blurred. And that last one can be a real challenge when you have only the rim of the glass to focus on. Thank God for garnishes in more ways than one! Speaking of garnishes, that begs me to ask the question: do you think I’m a perfectionist when it comes to making cocktails? I can hear you laughing. Of course I am! For me, it just makes no sense to be any other way, especially as a home bartender. If I’m not measuring, shaking, stirring, or pouring correctly then there’s just no way for me to consistently make you a good drink. It would be different every time, and that simply would never do.
How can you get as close to perfect as possible when making drinks at home? Here are some thoughts:
- Use the best ingredients you can and measure everything. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed posting about Philly Craft Spirits Week so much is that it’s given me the opportunity to try some of the products being made right here in the Philadelphia area, and to truly appreciate the thought and care that goes into making spirits that are small batch and handcrafted. Talk about perfectionism! This idea extends to the bitters and mixers you choose as well.
- Citrus juices should be freshly squeezed and never out of a bottle. It’s okay for other juices to be bottled, but just be sure they’re all juice and don’t have added sugar that can change the composition of the drink.
- Try making your own simple syrups. There’s a reason why they’re called simple: they are easy to make and you get the added benefit of being able to infuse them with other flavors. That’s not to say that you can’t ever buy something that catches your eye. Look how obsessed I’ve become with Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar syrup!
- Make sure that your cocktails are the right temperature. In other words, make sure you’re shaking and stirring them for the right amount of time. Once you have that timing down, do it consistently each and every time you make a drink.
- Step up your ice game. Silicone ice trays are a fairly inexpensive way to make large and medium format cubes that won’t dilute your drinks as quickly as small cubes do. And they are so much prettier to look at!
- Don’t overmuddle! When a recipe calls for fruit or herbs to be muddled that does not mean mashing and grinding them into nothingness in the bottom of your shaker tin. It’s a very gentle process that’s intended to just release flavor, especially when it comes to herbs. Think about just disturbing those little hairs that you see on a mint leaf – anything more than that and you’ll end up with bitterness instead of flavor.
- Try to develop a flow to your cocktail making and aim to do it that way every time. There’s something very zen and peaceful about this idea and it will help you develop consistency, which I can’t stress enough. Remember that this is a creative process; you are actually making something here!
Those are my ideas on how we can all be better bartenders at home. Try them out this weekend by making my Autumn cocktail recipe for today using whiskey from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA. And then we can alphabetize the bookshelves, organize the closet, and make some labels!
Chai Apple Whiskey Sour
2 oz Manatawny Still Works Whiskey
1/2 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
3/4 oz Chai tea syrup*
1 oz apple cider
1 egg white**
Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and dry shake for 15 seconds or so. Add the ice (1 large cube and 2 small if you can) and shake for another 15 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass or a goblet. Garnish with whole cloves and an apple slice dusted with cinnamon. Enjoy!
*To make the Chai tea simple syrup, boil 1/2 cup of water and add 3 Chai tea bags. Let them steep for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of a cup of sugar and reheat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Store in a Mason jar in the fridge.
**Use up to the full egg white, or 1 oz of a vegan substitute such as chick pea liquid, or omit it entirely.
Vintage glass a recent thrift store find. I’m always on the lookout.
Have a great weekend – see you all next week! I’ll be continuing with more recipes for cocktails made with Philly Spirits!