Instant Expert!: Cocktails from A to Z
Fast-track your way to hip host status with the following cocktail tricks from the pros and outrageously easy recipes.
A is for Aperitifs
APERITIFS -- aka liquid appetizers -- are light, crisp and meant to kick off a meal. Making a cocktail version can be as easy as adding a spritz of soda to a citrusy spirit such as Aperol or Campari.
Wanna mix it up? Simply mix Campari and orange juice and you'll have a refreshing Campari Cocktail.
B is for Bitters
Steeped with herbs, citrus peels and spices, BITTERS were used as medicine back in the day -- pre-19th century! Today, they're trending at the bar. Add a few drops to cocktails to balance sweet or fruity flavors, or to give a kick to gin and tonic or sweet liquor such as bourbon or rum. The most popular type is angostura, derived from a bitter-tasting root, but other versions are made with chocolate, grapefruit or even spicy sriracha.
Shake up some bitters in our adaptation of the Rum Swizzle by Phillip Greene.
C is for Cocktail
There are many theories about where the word originated and what defines it. Simply stated, a COCKTAIL is any blend of spirits with mixers like syrup, soda or cream.
D is for Dirty
"DIRTY" is bar lingo for a cocktail (usually a martini) flavored with a splash of olive brine. If you're a fan of salty stuff, you can also try dill pickle brine, or juice from a hot pepper or giardiniera jar.
Shake up a Pickled Dirty Martini using this recipe from the Stone Rose Lounge at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.
E is for Elderflower
ELDERFLOWER liqueur comes from the fragrant, white flower. Add a splash of the liqueur to champagne or seltzer for a sophisticated floral spritzer. You can use inexpensive elderflower syrup -- available at Ikea -- to similar effect.
Try our Saint Eldercot cocktail for a delicious springtime, floral cocktail!
F is for Fizz
FIZZ, or carbonation, is what gives drinks their lip-smacking, crisp and effervescent freshness. To keep carbonated mixers like sodas, tonics and seltzers at their fizziest, add them to drinks at the last second before serving, and stir very gently -- never shake.
Get in on this bubbly buzz and mix up our Grapefruit-Basil Gin Fizz!
G is for Glassware
You can go with whatever's in your cupboard, but the shape of your GLASSWARE can serve a purpose: Glasses that are tapered at the top help sparkling drinks stay bubbly; flat bottoms accommodate muddling; and stemware keeps warm fingers away from drinks served straight up.
H is for Hair of the Dog
Every culture has its quirky hangover cures, but sipping a bit of the hard stuff the next morning seems to be a universal (if temporary!) fix. Mix up something sweet, spicy and substantial, like a riff on a bloody mary!
This Magic Mary recipe by Amy Mills, co-owner of 17th Street Barbeque in Murphysboro, Illinois goes beyond the regular bloody mary.
I is for Ice
Freeze this factoid in your memory: All ICE cubes are not created equal! Ice should dilute a cocktail just the right amount, so you should strategize which cubes to use based on their melting speed. The basic rules: Use large cubes (which melt slowly) in a shaker; medium cubes in a highball or Collins glass; and crushed ice in short, stout vessels (drinks served in them are often stronger and need the extra dilution).
J is for Jigger
This hourglass-shaped gadget called a JIGGER measures fluid ounces in drink-friendly increments. The larger side is a full jigger (1 1/2 oz.); the smaller side is a half-jigger (3/4 oz.).
K is for Kick
Spicy cocktails are hot right now! Try these methods to KICK up the heat: Infuse liquors like vodka or tequila with fresh chiles or peppercorns for a few hours or days. Make simple syrup for margaritas or mojitos by stirring chiles into the warm sugar-water mixture. Add hot sauce to dirty martinis and bloody marys.
Senior Test Kitchen Associate, Katie Barreira, kicks up the regular margarita recipe with her Jalapeno Margarita cocktail!
L is for Lime
Compared to other citrus fruits, LIME has a subtle acidity and bright, sweet flavor that enhances other cocktail ingredients and helps soften alcohol's sucker punch. Though the real stuff tastes best, it requires fresh supplies and time-consuming squeezing. Rose's brand lime juice, a sweetened commercial version that's been around since the mid-1800s, is a quick fix and a staple of classic cocktails like the gimlet.
Customize our Gimlet recipe with as much or as little sweetened lime juice as you like. (The original has equal parts gin and juice.)
M is for Muddle
To MUDDLE means to press an ingredient against the bottom of a glass to coax out its flavors and break it into shippable pieces. Here's how to do it yourself:
1. Place the muddling ingredients in the bottom of a cocktail glass or shaker. Sprinkle in any sugar called for in the recipe (its rough texture will help the other ingredients break down as you mash).
2. Using a muddler, pestle or the tip of a wooden spoon, gently mash the ingredients against the bottom of the glass or shaker, twisting as you go to help release their aroma.
3. Pour in ice and any remaining cocktail ingredients; stir gently to distribute the muddled bits evenly around the drink.
N is for Neat and O is for On the Rocks
"NEAT" is when a spirit is served plain (undiluted and unchilled) and should not be confused with one that's "straight up," which means chilled with ice, then strained into a glass.
"ON THE ROCKS" is the opposite of neat and is when a spirit is poured over ice cubes or "rocks" like in our Pick-a Liquor Ginger Cocktail.
P is for Punch
PUNCH is for the party people! Dating back over 300 years, it encompasses dozens of fruity, friendly (i.e., not crazy-strong), big-batch cocktails. They're make-ahead, help-yourself affairs, great for serving at get-togethers. Classics include punches made with bourbon and sweet tea or rum and tropical fruit juice like this Bourbon & Peach Sweet Tea Punch recipe from Rob Ortenzio, beverage director at Yardbid Southern Table and Bar in Miami, Florida.
Q is for Quinine
Here's some built-in cocktail trivia: QUININE is the ingredient that gives tonic water its astrigent flavor, and it's derived from a South American tree bark. Premium varieties are worth the small splurge: They're made with real quinine, which has a fresher taste than quinine flavoring.
Try tonic in the classic cocktail the Vodka Tonic.
R is for Rim
Salt on a RIM of a margarita glass is just a starting point: experiment with cayenne or cumin rims for tomato-based drinks, cocoa mix for eggnog, and pulverized ginger candies for citrusy drinks. Rimming a glass is simple, just wet a glass's rim with water (or run a lemon or lime slice over it), then dip it into the rimming ingredient.
S is for Sour Mix
SOUR MIX is actually sweet and sour! This combo of sugar, lemons, limes and water turns any basic spirit into a tangy drink. The DIY version tastes so fresh and tart, it instantly brightens smoky scotch and even supersweet amaretto.
Quick Tip: You can make any spirit into a "Spirit Name Sour," simply by adding sour mix. Try our Scotch Sour, created by Senior Test Kitchen Associate Katie Barreira.
T is for Twist
The TWIST is a traditional garnish that has an elegant look that will never go out of style. The natural oils in the peel add a subtle, citrusy flavor without diluting the drink. Here's how to do it yourself:
1. Cut a strip of peel from a lemon or orange with as little of the white pith as possible as it adds a bitter flavor to the drink. Twist it into a spiral.
2. Run the peel around the rim of a glass to leave a fragrant trail.
3. Plop the peel into the glass, then fill with the remaining cocktail ingredients.
U is for Umbrella
Is the UMBRELLA essential? No. But is it adorable? Heck yes! Their use dates back to the early 1930s, when umbrellas began appearing in tropical drinks at California-based tiki bars like Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber. Today, umbrellas still usually signal that a frosty, rum-filled, tropically flavored drink lies beneath.
Umbrella or not this Frozen Mango Daiquiri recipe from Katie Barreira is so tropically tasty you'll feel like you're on vacation from the first sip!
V is for Vermouth
The fortified, lightly sweetened wine, VERMOUTH, comes in both sweet and dry versions and can take the edge off hard liquor when mixed into a cocktail. As a staple in any well-stocked bar, vermouth is a key ingredient in classic cocktails like manhattans, martinis and negronis.
Try out this well-known ingredient in John's Sparkling Negroni.
W is for Whites
Egg WHITES aren't just for omelets! Bartenders shake them into drinks to give body, a frothy head and a silky smooth mouthfeel. To pull this off, use the freshest eggs possible and shake whites vigorously with the other ingredients for 1 to 2 minutes without ice, then add ice and shake again.
Try this out-of-the-box ingredient in the Clover Club recipe from bartender Tacy Stevens of Bar Uncommon in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel in New Orleans, Louisana.
X is for XO
No, we're not talking about kisses and hugs! "XO" is short for "extra old," a term referring to spirits -- especially cognac and rum -- that have been aged (usually in barrels) for an average of 10 years.
For a truly indulgent drink, try an XO Rum in our Hot Buttered Rum!
Y is for Yuletide Cheer
The holidays come but once a year, so make the corresponding cocktail count as YULETIDE CHEER! Spike store-bought eggnog with bourbon and ground cinnamon or nutmeg, or spice up a mug of hot chocolate with a pinch of cayenne and a splash of dark rum.
Whip up a batch of this Light and Creamy Eggnog for your next holiday party.
Z is for Zero-Proof
"PROOF" is the percentage of alcohol in a spirit. Bartenders are having a field day with booze-free drinks, mixing up mocktail menus with fresh juices, flavored simple syrups and infusions.
Try our Pink Grapefruit & Basil Mojito Mocktail by Katie Barreira.
Keep mixing it up with the help of some of the best bartender's tricks of trade!