Guest Post: How to Mix a Perfect Cocktail at Home

I recently signed up for a series of mixology workshops at the Astor Center here in New York. I unfortunately got sick and was unable to make the first class, so I sent my husband, Eugene, in my place. 

Here is his post about the experience, complete with tips on how to mix up the perfect cocktail at home:
I think most men fancy themselves competent, at the very least, in the task of making a cocktail. Using a jigger, or knowing the difference between a Hawthorne and julep strainer are not considered required knowledge. 

Finding myself squarely in this camp of know-nothing-know-it-alls, I set off for the Astor Center--taking the place of an ailing Alejandra--to take a hands-on cocktail basics workshop, led by the highly knowledgeable and very experienced April Wachtel inside the incredible Astor Center space: 2-level stadium seating, super comfy leather chairs, and immaculate individual workstations where we found our bar tools, cocktail recipes, and an Old Fashioned.

After a brief stroll through the history of cocktail making, April introduced us to the tools of the trade. Here is a list of the most basic tools that every bar should be stocked with:

  • Boston shaker (can be metal-on-metal or glass-on-metal)
  • strainer (Hawthorne for shaken and julep for stirred)
  • jigger
  • bar spoon
  • muddler
Once we went over the tools, it was time to put them to good use: making dranksWe started with cocktails that fill the dreams of 007s past and future: shaken cocktails. 

This meant a how-to session on the Boston shaker. I won’t go into the actual technique of using the shaker as I’m sure you can find a ton of YouTube videos on the topic, but I’ll just highlight some of the pointers that April went over:

  • Always assemble your cocktail in the larger of the two vessels.
  • Add the ice last and make sure you fill the assembly vessel all the way to the top with it.
  • If you have smaller hands or you don’t have a lot of arm strength, a smaller metal-on-metal shaker would feel more comfortable.
  • When the metal vessel begins to frost on the outside, you know the cocktail is at the right temperature.
  • Practice shaking with just ice and water so you don’t waste any of the good stuff if you mess up.

At this point you may be asking yourself: “but how do I know if a cocktail should be shaken or stirred?” 

I always thought--as I’m sure lots of people have--that the choice was pure preference, and although I’m sure there are plenty of recipes that break the mold, there’s a simple rule that you can follow if you’re just not sure or don’t have the recipe in front of you:
If a cocktail has juice or egg in it, it should be shaken. If a cocktail is just booze and mixers, it should be stirred.
Once we were done practicing shaking water and ice cubes, April tasked half the class with making a Sidecar, and the other half made its bastard child: the Margarita

We were asked to pour some of our drink into one of the provided small cups to exchange with another person that made the other of the two cocktails. This helped inject a jovial, social spirit into the workshop (the cocktails also helped on that front).

April taught us that the sidecar and Margarita belong to a class of cocktails known as “sours.” These are made up of a base spirit (booze), lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener (some also include an egg white). These cocktails are very flexible, and by simply changing the proportions of the three main ingredients, you can really tailor it to your taste. April gave us the following handy guide to experiment with:
(booze / citrus/ sweetener)

dry and boozy - 2 oz / 0.5 oz / 0.5 oz

juicy and balanced - 1.5 oz / 0.75 oz / 0.75 oz

sweet and not boozy - 1 oz / 1 oz / 1 oz
Now that we had mastered the shaker, we moved on to the bar spoon--stirred cocktails.

The key points are:

  • Keep your forearm stiff and just stir using finger motion.
  • The back of the spoon should always be touching the inside of the glass.
  • Only fill the glass with ice just above the drink line.

Two stirred classics that we made were the Negroni (I either messed this one up by using too much Campari or I just don’t like Negronis), and the Manhattan.

For the final cocktail, the the entire class made the classic daiquiri, but half used a different proportion of rum to lime juice to simple syrup in order to highlight how by just adjusting the amounts, the cocktail can be made to taste significantly different.

In the end, this workshop really highlighted how embarrassingly little I actually knew about making a proper cocktail. It also showed that just by making a small investment in some simple tools, and learning a few basic techniques, your cocktail game will be improved tremendously.

Happy mixing!

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