Here's a classic cocktail that every home bartender should know. The method looks simple from the outset with just a few key ingredients, but the trick is achieving that right balance and smooth mouth feel. This recipe comes from Alex Origoni of the Shady Lady. He says the key is to use high-quality spirits and never shake. Otherwise, you might end up with a cloudy cocktail that's laden with ice shards.
1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry, for garnish; a Luxardo or brandy-soaked cherry is recommended.
Add bourbon, vermouth and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice. Stir about 20 times with a long bar spoon. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add maraschino cherry.
Spiced cranberry syrup
Makes about 8 cups
This recipe, from "The Cocktail Primer: All You Need to Know to Make the Perfect Drink" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99, 128 pages), creates a flavored syrup that'll boost your whisky sour or a daiquiri made with dark rum.
4 cups sugar
Two 1-pound packages fresh cranberries
Five 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole star anise
4 cups orange juice
In a sturdy pot, mix the sugar, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, and star anise. Add just enough water to make a thick paste and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, without stirring. Immediately add the orange juice and stir well, crushing the cranberries with the back of a wooden spoon.
Return the liquid to a boil, remove from the heat, and strain into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Transfer the syrup to a lidded container and store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Homemade spicy ginger beer
Makes 4 liters
Ginger ale and ginger beer are classic cocktail mixers that'll add a spicy and aromatic kick to your favorite drink. Here's a recipe to make your own ginger beer, from "Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined" (Ten Speed Press, $24.99, 176 pages).
2 pounds fresh ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
2 fresh red chilies, chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup acacia honey
2 cups water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Chilled club soda, or water if using a soda siphon
Place the ginger and cucumber in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Pour them along with any juice into a large saucepan with the chilies, mint leaves, sugar, honey, water, juice, peppercorns, and soda. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes until liquid becomes syrupy enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool overnight. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate. It will keep for 4 days if refrigerated.
Make the ginger beer just before using. The ratio of syrup to club soda is 1:3 when made to order. If using a soda siphon, pour 1 cup syrup and 3 cups water into a 1-liter soda siphon.
Here's a home version of a popular bar snack served at the Shady Lady. While the Shady Lady makes its own duck pâté, you can create this dish with a high quality store-bought version.
Salt and pepper
Vinaigrette of your choice
Cut baguette lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Grill baguette face down briefly until warm and slightly charred with grill marks. Cut into bite-size segments.
On another section of the grill, brush pieces of apricot and radicchio with oil until warm and showing grill marks.
Spread pâté on grilled bread. Add radicchio and apricot, one piece each, and top with arugula. Drizzle vinaigrette of your choice on top of the crostini.
Serves 4 to 6
For any Mexican-themed cocktail party or one that features tequila, a hearty bowl of guacamole is a must. This recipe comes from Mexico native Richard Sandoval in the "party food" chapter of "Food & Wine Cocktails 2010" (Food & Wine, $14.95, 224 pages).
3 Hass avocados, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 plum tomato, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Tortilla chips, for serving
In a medium bowl, gently stir the diced avocados with the tomato, onion, cilantro, chile and lime juice until well mixed but still slightly chunky. Season the guacamole with salt and serve with tortilla chips.
Here's a novel way to give your cocktail a smoky twist. Chris Tucker of the Golden Bear uses this smoked ice for his mint julep and other bourbon-based drinks. He prefers fruit woods for smoking.
1 perforated hotel pan or metal colander
1 deep metal pan large enough to catch all of the melted ice
Smoker or grill with a smoke pan
Prepare your smoker and place the deep pan in the smoker. Fill the colander with ice and place inside the deep pan. Allow the smoke to melt all of the ice, then remove from the smoker. Filter the smoked water through a paper coffee filter, then fill the ice trays. Allow 24 hours for the ice to freeze.
Yields 1 quart
Here's a favorite mixer from Chris Tucker of the Golden Bear. Shrubs are a classic concoction that preserve fruit juice with sugar and vinegar. They can be mixed with water or soda water for a nonalcoholic drink; Tucker likes to use ginger ale or ginger beer. Shrubs also pair well with bourbon, rye, brandy and rums for cocktails.
Use a 2:1 ratio of spirits to shrub when making a drink. Shake vigorously and pour over ice, or top with soda for a milder drink.
16 ounces blueberries or blackberries
16 ounces sugar
24 ounces white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh cracked pepper, coarse
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1 teaspoon cinnamon, coarsely ground
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients except vinegar in a large nonreactive bowl. Crush the berries until everything is macerated. Refrigerate for one day. Add vinegar and stir. Allow to sit refrigerated for 3-4 days, stirring every day. Filter through a fine mesh strainer and bottle.