Shake it up: How to make great cocktails at home

Dirty martinis, mimosas, margaritas, Manhattans, mai tais and mojitos. Interest in cocktails has never been stronger thanks in part to Australia’s dynamic small-bar scene that has seen the art of muddling and mixing spirits make a stirring comeback.

Making cocktails at home is a perfect way to impress your guests and give your event a sense of occasion. So as head full steam into 2016, it’s time to start making great tasting cocktails of your own.

Male bartender pouring coffee martini

Know your ingredients

Getting a handle on the different components of a cocktail is the first step in making lovely libations for your guests. Before you start, take the time to understand the ingredients you’re mixing. Select a few of your favourite spirits and focus on mixing them with flavours that fall into three broad categories: fruity, savoury, bitter.

Just like chefs, home bartenders need to understand ingredients first because a great result relies heavily on freshness and quality. When you make cocktails at home, you’ll get the best results if you use filtered water for ice cubes and buy top-shelf spirits and boutique mixers.

Barmen cutting fruits preparing cocktails

Use a good nip pourer or measuring cup as well as the appropriate glassware, including a highball glass, a tumbler or martini glass.

 

It’s all about the classics

Carnival Spirit’s chief mixologist, Miroslav “Miro” Kljajic, recommends mastering classic cocktails such as the negroni and martini, which he says are simple to prepare.

Home bartenders don’t have to study the entire spectrum of mixology to make a decent cocktail. It’s enough to learn a few basic techniques such as “building” (pouring one ingredient over another), “rolling” (rolling ingredients from one glass into another), or simply shaking. Kljajic says mastering classic cocktails is a good idea as they are easy to prepare and require relatively few ingredients.


The martini – shaken or stirred

The number-one cocktail home bartenders need to learn how to make is a martini because of its popularity, simplicity and the ease of adding a twist.
“The classic martini is a mix of only two ingredients,” explains Kljajic. “Three-to-five parts of gin or vodka, depending on individual taste, and one part dry vermouth. Squeeze oil from lemon peel onto the drink or garnish with an olive and you’re done.”

Two olive martini cocktails

Dazzling guests with a martini made to order means you need to know two basic methods: “shaking”, means shaking the alcohol with ice before straining it into a glass; and “stirring” involves place the alcohol in a shaker with ice and stirring before straining into a glass.

Once you’ve mastered these basic techniques, try twists on the original recipe, from the dirty martini (with olive brine) to the espresso martini with coffee liqueur and a shot of espresso.

Man preparing coffee martini

The negroni – with a twist

The negroni is worth adding to your drinks list because of its simplicity and thirst-quenching flavours.

A negroni is equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth and can be rolled or built directly in a glass over ice with a squeeze of orange zest. “It’s one of my favourite, easy-to-make, classic cocktails,” says Kljajic. “You can always add a twist with a few dashes of bitters. The dryness of a negroni helps stimulate the appetite, which is why it is often served as an aperitif.”

Once you’ve mastered the basic negroni, experiment with boutique local gins such as Forty Spotted Rare Tasmanian Gin or Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin.

Americano and Negroni cocktails with orange

Get fancy

All that’s old is new again and the old-fashioned is a cocktail you can bring in from the cold. It’s also a favourite of Mad Men’s Don Draper, which is perfect for a party theme.

Make the cocktail by muddling (or mixing) a sugar cube with two dashes of bitters until it’s dissolved. Then fill the glass with ice and add two shots of whisky or brandy and a twist of citrus rind. Garnish with an orange slice and serve with your best Madison Avenue attitude.

Homemade Old Fashioned Cocktail

 

Creative yet simple

There are two important rules for rookie mixologists: don’t overcomplicate things and avoid too many flavours. Start with one spirit and a maximum of two or three mixers and make sure the cocktail is smooth and balanced. The most popular cocktails are the simplest, such as the cosmopolitan (vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, lime juice).

 

While seasonal ingredients are of the utmost importance, there is no real “season” for cocktails – you can enjoy them all year round. Our prediction for 2016? A shift to low-calorie cocktails as people embrace healthier lifestyles.