Priscilla Leong has been bartending for 14 years. Currently tending at Sydney’s whiskey-focused, word-of-mouth triumph The Baxter Inn, Leong has seen it all – from cocktails bursting with ingredients, to satisfyingly elegant, two-spirit mixers that stand tall. At the base of them all are a few simple rules and tools that Leong says any home-cocktail lover can master.
First: any home bar needs a solid base of “the big eight” spirits: gin, vodka, whisky, rum, tequila, brandy, liqueurs, and fortified and aromatic wines. “Price doesn’t guarantee quality,” says Leong. “But in most cases you get what you pay for so choose the best ingredients you can afford.” That said, the middle ground is often best. “It is totally unnecessary to use premium cognac [all the time], but don’t grab the cooking brandy either.”
Once the spirits are sorted, stock up on bitters, condiments like olives, cocktail onions and maraschino or brandied cherries, and fruit and herbs for juices and garnishing. You’ll also need sugar for making your own simple syrup, other sweeteners like honey or agave, and an array of reliable mixers, including Coke, Cascade Tonic Water, Cascade Spicy Ginger Beer and Cascade Soda Water.
Gadgets help. Leong says a handful of essential tools include a jigger or measuring cup and spoons. A 10-centimetre paring knife with a wide spear-point blade is ideal for carving garnishes and ingredients, as is a 20-centimetre chef’s knife. From there, a long-handled spoon for stirring; a two-piece cocktail shaker; a mixing glass, a water jug for any drink meant to be stirred; a Hawthorn strainer, which fits easily on a mixing glass or shaker; and a classic recipe book will round you out. For the beginner, Leong recommends Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail.
Now, when it comes to glassware, there are four types of glasses that will suit almost any cocktail. For Manhattans, Margaritas and champagne, Leong says the coupe is less spill-prone than a Martini glass. For anything served on the rocks, the squat and solid Double Old Fashioned glass is your best bet. For taller drinks such as a Gin Rickey or Whiskey Highball, or to accommodate a generous helping of Bloody Mary or a gin and tonic, you’ll want a collins glass or tumbler. Finally, the curved rocks glass is ideal for dark spirits such as whisky or cognac.
Now that tools and recipes are accounted for, what are some basic dos and don’ts?
“Keep your drinks simple and fresh,” says Leong. “Use good quality produce and freshly pressed juice as much as possible. If you’re entertaining and catering for a large party, make a large-format cocktail like a punch bowl to share.”
As for don’ts, do not skimp on quality ice. “Ice is the soul of a good cocktail,” says Leong. “It is the only cocktail ingredient with a specific job to do – chill the drink and add dilution. It’s a component that seems to often get overlooked.”
For an easy at-home cocktail to get you started, one of Leong’s favourites is the Montana. Stir 50 millilitres of cognac, 15 millilitres of dry vermouth and 15 millilitres ruby port and serve in a chilled coupe glass. Brighten with lemon zest on top. “It’s a wonderfully delicious classic cocktail,” she says. “And it only requires three ingredients to help start the evening.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Coca-Cola, South Pacific Pty Ltd. Visit refreshyourspirit.com.au for your chance to win a weekend getaway or $100 voucher at participating venues. Please drink responsibly.