In an age when bartenders are known as “mixologists” and ingredients like housemade bitters pepper cocktail menus, designing your own drink may seem like something better left to the pros. But creating a simple one-of-a-kind cocktail, for anything from a tapas feast to a birthday bash, is a great way to personalize your party.
Jacob Grier, lead bartender at Metrovino in Portland, recommends starting with a liquor or seasonal ingredient you like. “Let the rest of the drink come together around that one ingredient,” he says. For example, maybe you’re on a bourbon kick or have been eating piles of tangerines. If you’re still at a loss, ’tis the season for darker spirits, including rum, whiskey and brandy, as well as herbal liqueurs like Chartreuse.
Grier also suggests choosing between a citrus cocktail or a “spirit forward” drink. A citrus drink will be more refreshing and approachable, with brighter flavors and more balance, while a spirit-forward cocktail like a Negroni — with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari — will be more assertive.
Our top picks for the home bar include quality spirits that lend themselves to blending:
Once you’ve picked the ingredients, figure out how to combine them. Drinks made without juice are generally stirred, while cocktails with juice are shaken. When using a shaker, Grier recommends pouring the drink through the shaker’s strainer and through another fine-mesh strainer into the glass. “It’s a shame to go to the trouble of making a good cocktail, then have bits of unwanted fruit or ice floating around in it,” he says.
Make a few practice drinks days, if not weeks, before the party. Measure every ingredient as you go. “Otherwise it’s very hard to be consistent,” Grier says. “I measure the ingredients for every single drink I make, even at home.” Taste and take notes. Then you’ll be able to repeat the cocktail with absolute precision.
When the party rolls around, and you’re ready to unveil your creation — which, of course, you’ve named something clever — be sure to have all ingredients out on a countertop or table. Prep what you can ahead of time: Juice citrus fruit, make simple syrups and wash fresh herbs. Don’t forget the ice; you’ll need plenty for shaking and serving. Then roll up your sleeves, channel your inner mixologist and shake it up.