"Asking a top bartender to make world-class drinks at home is no easier than expecting a Michelin star chef to produce a tasting menu from scratch in a domestic kitchen. It’s not impossible but it requires a transfer of skill to a different environment, using and sometimes substituting equipment, and doing all of it in what is generally a far more confined space."
So notes Tristan Stephenson, award-winning British bartender, bar owner, barista, chef, journalist, and bestselling author in his cool new, and beautifully illustrated, book The Curious Bartender: Cocktails at Home: More than 75 Recipes for Classic and Iconic Drinks, from Ryland Peters & Small, now available on Amazon.
With the book, Stephenson instructs readers on the art and science of making perfect cocktails at home—every time. The key, he writes, is first "to understand what equipment and ingredients you need to use or source, and second "to understand the basic techniques you need to master to get the best out of the ingredients and to look like a pro at the same time."
In some respects, Stephenson notes, "your kitchen is already fairly well set up for mixing drinks: you have running water, a freezer, plenty of ingredients, and a wealth of utensils. The secret, then, lies in practice and preparation; understanding what you’re going to need, when you will need it, and how best to make ready for it."
"There’s a lot going on when you take a sip of any cocktail," he points out. "Tongue, mouth, nose, eyes, and even ears work in harmony to glean every ounce of relevant information about the drink you’re sipping." In addition to the many other factors he lays out, "both the temperature and the degree of dilution of a cocktail are key contributors to the enjoyment of the cocktail, so insuring they are managed correctly is a hugely important part of bar craft."
And while "all ingredients are equal, but some are more equal than others.... It’s a common understanding that a cocktail is only as strong as its weakest link, but in reality not all links in the chain are of equal size." In most cases, "it’s ok to select a single brand from each of the main spirit categories (gin, vodka, whisky, rum, tequila, cognac) and stick with it for the majority of your cocktail making. This practice will save you a lot of space and expense and ensure that your spirit cupboard doesn’t contain a bunch of dusty neglected bottles."
Which isn't to say you shouldn't take care in your selection. Stephenson says you'll need roughly 13 essential bottles of different spirit to master almost any cocktail you'd care to drink, though the degree of investment should depend on how you intend on using them.
"If you’re making a Martini, the gin is an important consideration as it is at the forefront of the flavor profile, so a little more care in selection is required," he writes. "In a cocktail such as the Negroni, where the gin battles against far more powerful flavors than that of the dry vermouth in the Martini, there is clearly less need to be fastidious about the brand of gin."
And finally, he provides more than 75 essential recipes which, with practice and adherence to his advice, will have you shaking and stirring like a master mixologist in no time. Chin chin!