Tips & Advice

Tips and tricks to improve your cocktail game!

"Throwing a cocktail party is good for the soul."

- I think Gandhi said that!

Tips & Advice...

four pretty ladies sitting at a table enjoying a cocktail party
four pretty ladies sitting at a table enjoying a cocktail party

To improve your cocktail game!

If, like me, you enjoy making, creating, garnishing, serving, and drinking fine cocktails, then I have a bunch of tips and advice to make your life a little bit easier, and hopefully improve your cocktail game. I am not saying I can turn you into a pro, but I can at least get you out of the sand and onto the green. Then over to the 19th hole, for a drink!

Anyway, I am not going to over complicate things here, I'm just going to list some things that you can do to improve your cocktail game. I am sure a bunch of these tips are already common knowledge, and may seem obvious to some, especially if you already have cocktail making skills. But if you are a beginner like I was, then I am sure you will pick up some useful tips, tricks, and advice, and learn how to make - the best cocktails - of all time! So, let's get to it, shall we?

Squeeze your own fruit… I almost never use store-bought lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, or grapefruit juice for cocktails anymore – that is unless I absolutely must. It makes a stark difference! It's like comparing a frozen TV dinner to a meal made from scratch with all fresh ingredients. It's the difference between an OK dive-bar cocktail and a next level, premium experience that hits you in your face with notes of fresh citrus before you even take your first sip!

Express the oils… Another thing you can do with your fresh fruit is to express the oils from the rinds over your drink and rub them along the rim of the glass for a flavor explosion; assuming the recipe calls for it! Expressing the oils is done by cutting a large coin-sized section of orange or lemon rind for example, placing it over the drink, rind side out, and squeezing it together, shooting the aromatic oils from the rind over the drink.

Pro Tip… Some drink recipes call for a flamed twist to add even more flavor and fragrance. To do this, light a match, I prefer to then use the match to light a longer piece of wood, such as a skewer, then heat up the outside of the orange or lemon peel, then squeeze it with your thumb and fingers into the flame, over the drink, creating more flames. Don’t worry, nothing should explode or catch on fire. But maybe know where your fire extinguisher is, just in case!

Gather your ingredients… Before making a cocktail, get all your ingredients out and ready to go. You will find this makes the process go much smoother and quicker. And this way you never have to worry about not having everything you need after you have already started making it!

Garnish your cocktails… It's more than just a decoration, it actually serves a purpose. Well, except for umbrellas – they do nothing. But who does not love a tiny umbrella in their drink? Probably the same people that don’t like puppies! Garnishing your cocktail adds fragrance, it enhances and adds flavor, it can even be a tasty treat to compliment your drink. When following a recipe, it will either specify the type of garnish, or it may say, “no garnish needed”. You can go simple and traditional, or you can get creative here, it’s entirely up to you.

Garnishing 101… Garnishes include cherries and olives of course, but also apples, mint, rosemary, thyme, basil, pineapple fronds, cinnamon sticks, banana, and edible flowers (eating them is optional). Another popular and visually stunning garnish is to use dehydrated fruit wheels.

Garnishing 102… If you want to kick your garnish game up a few notches, get yourself a set of Dropper bottles and pour some of your bitters into them. More on bitters later. Then, when you make a cocktail with a foamy white top, you can squeeze a few drops on top, then run a toothpick through them to create a pretty heart shaped design.

Amaretto Sour with decorative hearts, cherry and lemon garnish in a coupe glass
Amaretto Sour with decorative hearts, cherry and lemon garnish in a coupe glass

“When hearts are in your glass, then you my friend have class.”

- I think Jimi Hendrix said that!

Salt Rimming… Get yourself some Kosher, Margarita, or Sea salt, just as long as it is course. Table salt is just horrible for rimming a glass, which you will be doing quite often! For margaritas and similar cocktails, another popular option is to use Tajin, it has a strong chili-lime-salt flavor. My main go-to rimming mixture for a margarita-style drink is a combination of margarita salt, chili powder, sugar, and grated lime zest. Oh, baby!

Pro Tips… When rimming your glass, be sure to keep the ingredients on the outside. You do not want any salt or sugar on the inside of the glass, it ruins the drink! Also consider only rimming half the glass when serving someone else. Not everyone enjoys a salted or sugared rim, or they prefer the choice, this will give it to them!

Siesta cocktail - red, with a salt and sugared rim and a lime wheel garnish
Siesta cocktail - red, with a salt and sugared rim and a lime wheel garnish

“Salt, sugar, and lime, guarantees a good time!”

- I think the Surgeon General said that!

Chill-Out… Keep your glasses chilled ahead of time! I find rinsing them with water, shaking them off, then putting them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes works fine. But longer is better to get that cool, frosted look and feel! If you forget to pre-chill your glasses, no worries, just fill your glass with ice cubes and cold water and set aside while you mix your drink. Then dump it out when ready to pour.

Use the right glassware… Always use the right style and right size glass for your cocktails. You don't want to serve a 3-1/2-ounce martini in a 7-ounce whiskey glass! Or in a plastic Solo cup either!

Go big on the ice… When filling a cocktail shaker, use a lot of ice, not just 2 or 3 cubes - fill it up! And try using large, clear ice cubes, which will provide better aeration and less dilution.

Pro Tip… Do not add ice to your cocktail shaker until after you have added all of the ingredients. In other words, add the ice last! Why? Because you do not want to over-dilute your drink. If you add the ice first, then as you pour in your ingredients, the ice will start to melt and over-dilute your drink.

Ice, Ice, Baby… When adding ice to your glass, again, fill it up! To the top! The more ice, the colder the drink, and the less it will dilute. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true! Try to use large, fresh, clear ice when filling your glass, and not just because it looks cool. Old or cloudy ice not only looks, tastes, and smells bad, but it tends to crack easily, and once it cracks, it melts, and then it dilutes your drink.

Pro Tip… It also helps to temper your ice, meaning you let the ice sit out or in the glass for a few minutes before pouring room temperature liquid over it. This helps prevent the ice from cracking.

Well, that should be enough to get you started. If you want more, get my book!!! You will love it, I promise! And the money goes to a good cause!