March 22, 2019 | Arts and Culture
byob: build your own booze
a handy guide to cocktail craftsmanship
My darling friends, there are so many more ways to get plastered than by drinking vodka straight out of plastic bottles. I, as an alcohol expert having served as professional bartender making four dollars an hour at a bowling alley, am here to tell you to class up your game. Believe me, I get it: Parties are gross, so gross I can understand why you’d think you have to drink gross alcohol to tolerate them. But did you know that you can also power through the hours with something straight-up tasty? And that you can make it yourself?
Without further ado, let’s talk cocktails:
My friends think I’m some sort of magician for being able to mix drinks. Although my bowling alley bartender experience may intimidate you, the truth is, I was a terrible bowling alley bartender who made cocktails up because she didn’t actually know how to make them. And they were terrible cocktails. Why am I so skilled now? Well, I discovered the secret to the great cocktail, and it is: the internet.
The internet is full of these things called “recipes.” A recipe is a thing that you ask Google about, and then Google tells you how to make things that aren’t sh*t. What are the parts of a recipe? Generally, ingredients, quantity, and instructions. So, what’s first?
Starting out, cocktails can be intimidating because “Oh my god, WTF is orgeat syrup?” First, dial down your ambitions; there’s no need to start off making mai tais. Classic, fundamental cocktails never require gathering obscure ingredients. There’s no reason to think you need a full bar in your dorm room to make a decent cocktail.
I’ve found that prohibition-era cocktails are a great place to start. They are very simple, tasty, and often have cute names—like gimlets, and Bee’s Knees. Moreover, because the flavors were invented to mask the taste of bathtub gin, cheap alcohol from plastic bottles (we in the business call it “swill”) will go unnoticed. To this day, most cocktails rely on the same intertwined flavors as these original creations: sour and sweet.
The sour portion usually comes from lemons or limes, and while I always prefer fresh-squeezed, many find hand-juicing both emotionally and physically taxing. If you have to use the pre-squeezed stuff, the little plastic lime-y and lemon-y boys in the fruit section of the supermarket (not those radioactive green ones you see in the juice aisle) make a good substitute.
If you want something citrus-y other than lemon or lime, grapefruit juice pairs nicely with tequila. Add a bit of simple syrup, a tiny bit of lime juice, and top it off with sparkling water—you have a Paloma. Now, you’re super classy, sipping something Ernest Hemingway probably nursed while writing The Sun Also Rises, all because you swiped some grapefruits from the V-Dub.
The best way to achieve sweetness, the other essential cocktail component, is by adding a liqueur (like triple sec and peach schnapps) or syrup. Triple sec, a cheap orange liqueur, sweetens up a mixed drink while still adding more booze. It goes well with most juices and liquors, so play around with it. If you don’t want to pay money for things—or you want to pay less—simple syrup makes another great add-on. All you have to do is pour some white sugar into a mason jar, add an equal amount of heated water from your kettle (aka: Jo’s microwave), put on the lid and shake it like a polaroid picture. Huzzah! You made a thing. It’s called simple syrup and lasts in the fridge for about four days.
You can add this to pretty much anything you want to make sweeter. I put a bit of simple syrup in my gimlets (gin, lime juice, simple syrup, shake with ice, pour into a coupe so you feel like Jay Gatsby), but you can also use it in margaritas instead of triple sec (two parts tequila, one part triple sec or simple syrup, one part lime). What’s a part? That takes us to…
“Allie, help me! How do I measure in ounces?! Where can I find a jigger?!”
Hold your horses, friendos. Let’s start with the basics. It’s true, most people don’t have jiggers chilling in their rooms, but if you have a shot glass, that’s a good estimate. If you’re a oddball, and you have tablespoons, a mason jar, or one of those little plastic measuring cups you get with liquid cough syrup, a shot is 1.5 oz or about 45 ml. This translates to about three tablespoons.
Let’s break down a simple cocktail together: the daiquiri—a favorite of your favorite writer/alcoholic, Hemingway (not me, I’m more of a gimlet gal). Perhaps this is surprising; most are familiar with the drink as it has been redefined by Chili’s bars nationwide—trashy garbage. But the classic daiquiri is actually classy, dead simple, and delicious.
The drink consists of 2 oz light rum, ¾ oz fresh lime, and ¾ oz of that simple syrup we just talked about. You have all the stuff. You know the measurements. So, how do you make it? That brings us to our final section.
“Add all the ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake until well-chilled, strain into a chilled glass.”
That may sound scary, but it’s not. “ALLIE, I DON’T HAVE A SHAKER!” I know you don’t. Do you have a jam jar? A mason jar? A travel coffee mug? Yes? You do? Then you have a f**king shaker. Take your shaker or shaker alternative, and stuff some ice you stole from Jo’s in it. Don’t. Skip. The. Ice! Every cocktail tastes better served cold. If you’re feeling bougie, or making a f**k-ton of cocktails for friends who you want to impress, go to Eastside Mini Mart and buy a bag of ice for two dollars. While you’re there, throw in some limes so you can hit the five-dollar card minimum—and have some sour on hand for later, when you realize I’m right about gimlets.
Once your shaker is full of ice, add the ingredients carefully: one cocktail at a time. Don’t get overzealous and spill sticky stuff on your desk, leaving your MacBook syrupy for months. Shake carefully. Alternative shakers can sometimes be surprising and tricky bastards. After shaking for long enough that you start feeling cool, pour the Good Stuff into your red solo cup and hold back the ice (chill your cup in an ice bath if you want to make me laugh). Wow, you did it, you made a daiquiri!
And there you have it. Just like that, you’re ready to be a bartender at your next frat party… and all the dummies who didn’t read this will think you’re an absolute god for making something that’s not straight Svedka.