Once you have the booze, the tools, and the techniques down pat, you’d think making cocktails would be pretty simple. But the art of making cocktails is as much about the mind as it is about the palette.
Surrounded by your friends on a balmy summer afternoon with a jigger in one hand and a bottle of something spirited in the other, you might find yourself being asked that inevitable question, “Can you make me something I’d like?”
You look at your friend, you look at the bottle, and your mind goes blank. Remembering cocktail recipes is the last hurdle for any home bartender, and with a sea of recipes and ingredients, it can be a very high bar.
After all, you’ve invited your friends into your homemade version of ‘the world’s best bar’, and you’ve taken pride in showing them your extensive range of liquor and your shiny cocktail tools. The last thing you want to do is look like you don’t know what you’re doing by scrambling in a cocktail book to find something you can make.
Sure, when you are standing on the other side of the bar, it all looks simple enough. Suddenly, you realise that the skill required in keeping all those ingredients and the measurements in your head is the main reason you should be tipping your bartender far more than you are.
With so many cocktails, so many ingredients, and so many ounces, making your friends the best of libations without a pause or second thought can seem an impossible task.
But don’t despair. There are some really cool tricks for remembering cocktails recipes. And once you’ve found a system that works, mixing up a Ninth Ward or an Autumn In Paris, will be as easy as pouring a glass of water.
Word Play Tricks
Ask any bartender how they remember the recipes of the cocktails they serve, and you’ll get a variety of answers. One of the most popular is the use of mnemonic devices. Now, this might sound complicated, but it’s actually quite cool.
The trick to using these mental shortcuts is to create short, rhythmic little phrases that are thematically tied to the drinks you’re making. Then be sure the first letter in each word of the phrase is tied to a liquor or mixer.
So a Cosmopolitan might be “The Cosmo is a Very Classy Liquor Choice.”
- V = Vodka
- C = Cointreau
- L= Lime Juice
- C = Cranberry Juice
Or – a Tom Collins might be “Tom Gave Lucy Simple Sugar.
- G = Gin
- L= Lemon Juice
- S = Sugar
- S = Soda Water
Flash Of Memory
Another popular method is the use of flashcards. A throwback to your school days, flashcards may seem old-fashioned in this age of technology, but nothing beats having to write a recipe out.
Not only are cards portable, but they also provide an easy reference that you can arrange in a type of Rolodex system. And ultimately, it’s easier to take a sneaky glance at cards than it is to search through the index of a book.
Going Through The Motions
Learning is one of those funny things that everyone approaches differently, and sometimes doing it is the easiest way to learn. For some people, a touch approach could be the best method, where action can cement the recipe to memory better than words.
When you are looking to remember a new recipe, visualise the exercise. Imagine yourself going through the process. See yourself reaching for the bitters, the bottles, and the glassware that you would be using.
And hey, if you want to take this idea a step further and actually make the cocktail, who are we to argue?
Unlike in a commercial bar, at home, you really only need to learn the drinks you are going to actually use. It’s good to know the basics – a Martini, a Negroni, an Old-Fashioned and, of course, a well-made G&T. Beyond that, though, it should all be about flavour.
And take your time. It’s better to know a handful of recipes very well and be able to whip them out at a moment’s notice than to do a whole ream of drinks badly.
Keeping It In The Family
As you become more familiar with the craft, understanding how cocktails relate to each other will become second nature. A lot of cocktails are simply riffs or variations of each other, so understanding the family tree can make remembering cocktails so much easier.
The perfect example of this is Sours. The family of sours contains a lot of popular and tasty Cocktails, and the formula with Sours is simple. Basically, 0.75oz of sour, 0.75oz of sweet, then 2oz of liquor. Then it’s just a case of choosing your poison before adding all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker.
If you can remember the sour/sweet/liquor combination, you can easily make –
Margarita (Tequila + Lemon Juice + Sugar Syrup)
Daiquiri (white Rum, + Lime Juice + Sugar Syrup),
Aviation (Gin + Lemon Juice + Maraschino Liqueur),
Whiskey Sour (Whiskey + Lemon Juice + Simple Syrup)
Kamikaze (Vodka + Lime Juice + Triple Szechuan)
At the end of the day, repetition is the easiest way to learn. If you make what you like again and again, it will become second nature.
In other words, just make it, drink it, and repeat it (responsibly, of course).