Archives for category: Tools

As a cooking as well as cocktail aficionado, the Grog Dog believes in following a recipe… at least at first. It takes a few run-throughs before I’m comfortable with the timing, techniques, and last-minute fixes that mean the difference between a dish that looks like the picture in the cookbook vs. one that looks like, well, the dog’s dinner.

If you want to know what a proper cocktail looks, smells, tastes, and feels like, check online reviews and take a field trip to the bar that’s most highly rated for their ability to serve a good drink. Decor, ambience, price even – none of that matters if the bartenders really know what they’re doing. (The proof of this principle is the success of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives“.) Once you’ve had a good-quality sample of the cocktails you like most, you’ll be better able to re-create them for yourself.

Image: startcooking.com

Image: startcooking.com

Most US drink recipes are given in (no surprise) US standard measurements – ounces, tablespoons, etc. Occasionally you’ll come across a recipe where the ingredients are given in “parts”, which are simply ratios – 1 part gin, 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth (Negroni; stir with ice in a rocks glass). I’m a fan of using parts as opposed to ounces. First, the standard US measurements are not universal, and it’s pretty arrogant to push our scheme, especially when we’re the one major holdout from the metric system. Second, it allows for scale. Sometimes you want a 3-oz drink; sometimes you want a double. The recipe is the same ratio of spirit to juice to liqueur, just more of each.

Regardless of the absolute numbers, ratios are important. When you’re baking a cake, it’s not critical that your measuring spoons are crafted to space-shuttle precision; it is critical that your set of measuring spoons is accurately proportioned to one another, or you’ll end up with a cake that’s flat as a brownie.

So once you know what a really good Jack Rose tastes like (2 parts applejack, 1 part lemon or lime juice, 1/2 part grenadine; shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass), and you’ve made it a time or two by the book, you can riff on the recipe according your taste. I tend to like sours and herbal cocktails, so I’m liberal with citrus and bitters. But some days I have a sweet tooth and add an extra dash of syrup.

Another important measurement every drinker should know is his/her alcohol tolerance.

Image: Dreamstime.com

Image: Dreamstime.com

I’m not talking about the legal limit (though knowing what it is in your state is probably a good idea on general principle). I mean, how much alcohol can you take in before the pleasure is outweighed by a fuzzy head and twisted tongue? By embarrassing behavior or unpleasant mishaps? By snoring during the movie?

This will vary according to circumstances, so pay attention to how your flavor profile and tolerance changes before or after eating, seasonally, when you’re stressed, etc.

Identifying your own tastes and limits – How much vermouth is too much? How strong a drink can I tolerate and stay awake through a rom-com? – will make it easier for you to make, order, and even invent new drinks. You’ll have a core set of cocktails that you’re good at making, so you can always whip up something that suits your mood without having to think too much. And you’ll be able to order something you know you will enjoy from any drinks menu, saving money and the disappointment of choking down a cocktail you dislike because you can’t bear to let alcohol go to waste. (We’ve all done it…)

Image: dogtime.com

Image: dogtime.com

The true measure of a good cocktail is how much pleasure it gives you in the moments you are drinking and how much it enhances your pleasure in the event you’re engaged in. The more you know about your own drinking preference, the more confidence you have in your mixology capabilities, and the more recipes you have in your book, the more pleasure you’ll take from every cocktail engagement – from a solo sip of toasty bourbon after work to a fruity, fizzy brunch Bellini.

Cheers to a happier happy hour!

p.s. I cannot stress this enough: Do not give any dog alcohol, any time, for any reason.

There are many theories as to the origin of “clinking glasses” to toast before drinking… Many, many theories. But the best explanation I can find for the modern-day practice (for it didn’t originate with Viking drinking horns or medieval feasts) is provided at Snopes.com:

…beyond mere aural pleasure, the act of touching your glass to that of others is a way of emphasizing that you are part of the good wishes being expressed, that you are making a physical connection to the toast.”

That is enough for the GrogDog, who enjoys a convivial toast with friends and family even more than drinking at home.

Whether or not you’re clinking, however, the right glass is important because you want to experience the flavor and/or scent of the cocktail, have the right size to accommodate – not overwhelm – the drink, and not feel silly drinking a martini out of a jelly jar. (On the other hand, if all you have are jelly jars, go for it!)

Since GrogDogBlog is about simplifying your drinking experience, here are the three types of glasses you will use most often making cocktails at home: the cocktail (or martini) glass, the tall glass, and the short glass.

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You will note that the glasses pictured do not match, and if you zoom in you may even see water spots. That’s because except for the cocktail glass, these are glasses I use every day for all kinds of drinks besides cocktails – they’re just glasses. The cocktail (martini) glass is one of a pair I chose from a housewares store for their lovely wide bowls and thick, sturdy stems – a must in a household full of dogs (or children, or adults with clumsy fingers). The testament to their utility is that I’ve had them more than a decade and haven’t broken one yet.

The point is, you don’t need to invest a fortune in glassware to make and enjoy good cocktails. I’ll post more later on the coupe, flute, and rocks glasses, but until then, clink your glasses – whatever they may hold – with friends and enjoy!

As promised in my previous post, all the tools you really need to make most drinks at home are probably already in your kitchen:

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A shaker/ strainer consists of a large mixing cup, a top with holes in it, and a 2-oz cap.

  • A shaker/strainer with a tight-fitting 2oz cap
  • A teaspoon (the kind you already use for regular eating; chemistry-grade precision isn’t required)
  • A tablespoon (ditto)
  • A long-handled wooden spoon or the “tamper” for your juicer/blender
  • A dishrag or sponge (you sometimes will spill things, even if you haven’t started drinking yet)

You will see pictures of “bar sets” that also include a measuring spoon, ice tongs, one of those paddle-shaped strainers with a spring around the edge, and maybe an extra mixing glass. You can certainly purchase an entire set (or use the various tools if you already have them), but they’re not critical to making your pre-dinner cocktail while you’re winding down from your hellish commute, the kids are asking you about their math homework, the dog is chasing the cat around the kitchen and all you want to do is have a damn drink, for pete’s sake!

This basic kit will get you started on your happy hour quickly and without fuss.

Next: The foundational spirits