The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Simple tips and tricks to bring drink trends into your own home

cocktail thumbWant your cocktails to really stand out at your next party?

Try out these different tips — either solo or blended together — to get creative with your drinks and keep your guests impressed.

When it comes to mixology, what not to do is just as key as what to include.

Taste the booze

Sometimes, the secret to making a great cocktail is "less is more."

Staying away from concentrated juices and pre-made mixes while focusing on the quality and taste of the liquor seems to be a current trend.

Rebecca Davis, head bartender at Charcut Roast House in Calgary and a director of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, says that classic cocktails have recently become more popular, as opposed to drinks loaded with sugar.

"People want to taste the booze now," says Davis. "Any cocktail that I or any of my peers would make would definitely be spirit-forward. Before it was just over-juiced, over-sugary drinks that had no direction, had no flavor profile.

"It was just pretty much vodka and cranberry juice or rum and cokes, and (now) people are really experimenting and trying new stuff."

Buddy up wity brown booze

Adam McDowell, a freelance journalist and author of an e-book on home mixology, says that sticking with the classics is a good place to start for bringing cocktail trends into the home — and that means experimenting with dark liquors.cocktail mainThe Tom Collins, made with gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water, is one of many classic cocktails making a comeback in the mixology world.

Photo by Tera Swanson

"There's a definite move towards brown spirits that we've seen over the past few years," says McDowell. "Bourbon, aged tequilas, darker spirits generally."

A good way to make interesting cocktails is to stick with interesting liquor, which McDowell says does not include vodka.

"It's become the dominant spirit to such a degree that I think it has crowded everything else out," says McDowell. "It's too easy as a drinker to simply gravitate towards vodka because for younger drinkers who haven't acquired the taste for things like tequila and bourbon and frankly might never, it can be easy. It's just the simple option.

"We need to challenge ourselves," McDowell says. "We need to try new things, and I think vodka is just something we've had a lot of over the past 20 to 30 years."

Many stick to vodka because of the perception that it is the lower-calorie option to other spirits. If you think that darker liquor means more calories, think again. McDowell says that's a widespread myth.

"If it's not a liqueur, if we're talking about your base spirits, your tequila or gin, it all has the same amount of calories at the same alcohol percentage," he says. "An ounce of 40 per cent whiskey and an ounce of 40 per cent vodka have exactly the same number of calories."

Keep it fresh and simple (syrup)

With the trending emphasis on quality of ingredients, it would only make sense to use the freshest and most unrefined products possible.

Lisa Kadane, a freelance journalist and cocktail columnist for Avenue magazine, says restaurants are moving away from the cheap, processed ingredients that make up a "fast food cocktail."

"A big trend in a lot of the restaurants is moving away from using sour mixes and that kind of thing to having all fresh ingredients," says Kadane.

If you do want to add a little more flavour to complement your base liquors, try a homemade simple syrup.

Kadane says that simple syrup is very versatile, and that you can add endless things to make different variations, such as honey and ginger.

To make simple syrup:
• Combine equal parts sugar and water (i.e. one cup each)
• Add additional ingredients of your choice, like herbs or fruit
• Simmer and strain

"It's super easy," says Davis. "It's all about experimentation."

Get bitter

Cocktail bitters are also regaining ground in the mixology world.

"People want to taste the booze now. Any cocktail that I or any of my peers would make would definitely be spirit-forward. Before it was just over-juiced, over-sugary drinks that had no direction, had no flavor profile."

— Rebecca Davis

"It's basically like a spice in liquid form that you can shake into a cocktail," explains Kadane. "The most common one is Angostura bitters, and that's an aromatic bitters. It just adds an extra kick to your drink."

McDowell says there are a number of different bitters to experiment with, and you can usually get started with a simple Google search for recipes.

"There's been a real proliferation of interesting flavours of bitters and old 19th-century recipes that have been revived, from chocolate bitters and cherry bitters to grapefruit, celery, you name it," says McDowell.

The tools and the product

As with any craft, you can't create the final product without the tools.

Davis says to get started you need:
• A Boston shaker and metal tin
• Chopsticks to stir
• A muddler
• A strainer

She says many places sell starter bar kits that include most of these tools, which is all you need for just at home.

Kadane suggests a rum punch to incorporate many of these trends into one recipe.

"A punch is a good social drink because you can make a bowl of it and then your guests can help themselves," says Kadane.

She says such a punch could be created using:
• Dark rum
• Freshly squeezed lime juice
• Homemade simple syrup made with brown sugar
• Angostura bitters, with a sprinkle of nutmeg

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