Right in time for the party season, we asked Brian MacGregor, Bar Manager at Wingtip in San Francisco, to share some tips that will elevate your home bartending skills.
1. No, the Cheap Stuff is not Even Good for Mixers.This may seem obvious, but the number of times that I've seen sub par Vermouths used to make a Martini or Manhattan at home bars is appalling. If you want to make a great tasting dinner, you start with great ingredients, why wouldn’t you do the same for your cocktails?
And if your family and friends are anything like mine, who want to have a drink before they sit down for dinner, you can set the whole tone of the party with that first drink you serve and really make the night unforgettable.
If making Martinis, use Dolin Dry Vermouth, in my opinion it's still the best Dry Vermouth on the market. Buy a small bottle, and keep it in the fridge. For mixing Manhattans or any Manhattan variation, I still love Martini and Rossi, it's what we use here at Wingtip.
If you're making any cocktails that call for sparkling wine, buy something in the USD 20 range (EUR 16), anything less will create sub par cocktails.
When making any drinks that call for citrus, hand squeeze the juice, there is no substitute for the bright fresh flavor of fresh squeezed lemon or lime.
2. There’s Such Thing as Bad Ice. And There’s One Even Worse: Running Out of Ice.Whenever you're serving a drink over ice, make sure it’s good ice. Avoid using ice you bought at the store, this is fine for chilling your Champagne or your beer, but when making cocktails, you want to use great ice.
Buy ice molds to create that perfect cube that makes Old Fashioned look so amazing in the best cocktail bars (ice spheres are a thing, too). When shaking or stirring a drink, feel free to use the ice that you make in a standard ice tray. They are large cubes that look and sound sexy when mixing, just make sure to make plenty of it.
Running out of ice mid-party is no minor faux pas. In the bartending world, it’s roughly an equivalent of forgetting about your wedding anniversary.
3. Dress Your Cocktails for the Party – Get Them Sexy GlasswareThe looks of the glass help to tell the story of your cocktails and show that you care just as much about the presentation as you do about the creation.
In the US, Crystal CIassics has a variety of amazing cocktail and other glasses to choose from and if you're looking where to buy vintage glasses, search through Etsy.
One of my favorite activities when driving anywhere is stopping at roadside antique stores and browsing their glassware sections. You can find amazing gems for not very much. Also if you are in the market for a punch bowl, there is no better place to find them.
4. There’s no Craftsman Without Proper ToolsThis goes along the same lines as the glassware. A simple beautiful spoon and mixing glass can make you look like a real pro. When you're looking for those glasses in the antique shop, don't forget to keep an eye for vintage mixing glasses.
As far as the spoon goes, my favourite shop is Cocktail Kingdom. They have a large selection of beautiful spoons, jiggers, shakers, and strainers you can purchase for home use.
When it comes to cocktail shakers, avoid the three piece cobblers and get a simple two piece Boston shaker set.
I prefer the tin on tin for every day use at the bar, it’s lighter and easier to work with than the glass and tin combo. Also you have no fear of breaking the glass.
5. Keep it Simple and Do as the Cocktail Recipe CommandsWith cocktails, the beauty of the simple recipes is that you’re actually able to join the party while still serving delicious drinks.
There are literally hundreds of drinks out there that only take two or three steps to produce.
The simple elegance of a Saratoga cocktail will wow the stagiest of Manhattan fans. A French 75 perfectly executed will turn any Vodka drinker into a Gin lover instantly.
But none of this can be achieved, unless you follow the cocktail recipe.
Don't be afraid to practice pre party as well. Practice makes perfect after all. Remember to experiment with different base spirits to find your favorite to serve. If a cocktail recipe calls for Gin, make sure to try it with multiple Gins so you can serve what you think is the best version. This will also give you a story to tell and build your cred when you can tell your guest why certain Gins worked better than others.
Enjoy your party!