Cocktails took a spotlight at this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival, with a host of events revolving around the art of mixology.
Indeed, there's a nationwide revival of the art of making a beautiful cocktail, with bartenders and restaurants working together to form classic cocktails that are as much a part of a great meal as a fresh piece of fish or the perfect steak. This year's fest featured several events that celebrate the cocktail, including a seminar hosted by Tony Abou-Ganim that showed enthusiasts how to set up a home bar.
Abou-Ganim literally wrote the book on cocktails. He's the author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails and won the 2007 Iron (Bar) Chef America: Battle Mango competition with Mario Batali. Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn handpicked Abou-Ganim to create the cocktail program at his Bellagio Resort, and Abou-Ganim's new book, Vodka Distilled: Breaking Down Vodka, was released at the festival.
We asked Abou-Ganim to share some tips about mixing it up at home. Read through and make every hour a great excuse for happy hour.
A stellar cocktail starts with stellar ice. "Never underestimate the importance of ice in a great cocktail," Abou-Ganim says. "That martini that's four parts gin and one part vermouth is also 20 percent water. It's a safe bet to say your home ice-maker makes really bad ice. Store-bought ice is better, and ordering ice from an ice company is better. To make good ice at home, use distilled water and buy larger silicone ice molds. You may also want to turn your freezer up a degree or three so that the ice freezes slowly. You might not make perfectly crystal-clear ice at home, but try that method and you'll come close."
Learn the basics. "A lot of people think there's a great myth that only mixologists behind the bar can make a good cocktail," Abou-Ganim says. "The reality is that it's just like cooking or baking. Once you master some basic steps, you can build on that knowledge. Take the time to learn how to use a Boston shaker, prepare simple syrup, and learn a basic drink recipe. You'll then open up a world of creativity. With a little bit of practice, you can make a great drink at home."
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Use the proper glassware. "A martini just tastes better in a crystal glass than in a jam jar or a red Solo cup. Trust me."
Keep it fresh and keep it simple. "The greatest recipes have three or four ingredients at the most. Always use premium spirits and fresh juices. A well-made cocktail is not necessarily a strong cocktail. It's a cocktail that's well proportioned. It's all about having a beautiful balance of sweet, sour, bitter, and alcohol in perfect harmony so the total sum is greater than the parts."
Never use store-bought mixes. Abou-Ganim believes that "the worst thing you could do is to bury a good base spirit in a store-bought, artificially flavored mix. At one of my seminars, I asked a young lady what her favorite drink was, and she told me it was a cosmopolitan. I asked her how she made them, and she said she used a mix, so I showed her how easy it is to make one with fresh lime, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and the right citrus vodka. Then we garnished it with a beautiful spiral of lemon made with a citrus stripper. She took one sip and said, 'So that's what a cosmo is supposed to taste like!' Take the time to make a good cocktail, because life is too short to not drink well."