Category Archives: how to

Tales of the Cocktail 2015 Recap

tales blog header 1

For the first time ever, Lisa and I went to Tales of the Cocktail! Tales is the world’s premiere cocktail event – about 20,000 people head to New Orleans for the week-long annual show in July. Attendees are usually bartenders, writers, liquor brand reps, craft cocktail enthusiasts, public relations folks, marketing people, “founders” of the craft cocktail movement – even restaurateurs or hospitality folks.

Though we had a good idea of what to expect from the event from the schedule we’d received, it’s hard to summarize the vibe of Tales until you’re in the midst of it. For 5 days, we learned, partied, ate, and drank our way through the conference, and here’s what I thought of the experience:

My Favorite Parts

  • Because we were podcasting daily from the show, we had a great excuse to talk to some of the biggest names in cocktails, like Dale Degroff, David Wondrich, and Chris McMillian. They couldn’t have been kinder to us.
  • It was great connecting with other liquor writers, many who I admire very much, like Leslie Jacobs Solmonson of 12 Bottle BarCocktail Whisperer Warren Bobrow, Bit by a Fox’s Prairie Rose, Camper English, Fred Minnick, and Natalie from Beautiful Booze.
  • I had a great time working together with Lisa and discovering New Orleans with her as first-time visitors. If we met you at Tales, I’m sure you’ll agree that Lisa is much more fun to hang out with than me.
  • Interviews that were unforseeably and awesomely well-timed. We talked to Ivy Mix, who won “American Bartender of the Year” at Saturday night’s Spirited Awards, and we interviewed Sean Kenyon, whose bar in Denver won “Best American Cocktail Bar” (Kenyon himself won Best Bartender last year, too).

My Biggest Surprises
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Book Review: The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending

seekers guide to bartending

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” -St. Francis de Sales

This is one of many quotes that begins each chapter of Jennifer Crilley’s 2014 book The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending. The Seeker’s Guide is similar to the “For Dummies” series, acknowledging that readers have basic bartending skills and are working towards their goal of being a bartender.

An easy read, The Seeker’s Guide incorporates Crilley’s personal stories of challenges, joys, and spiritual growth as a bartender. It’s helpful to know that the book was written by someone who has spent twelve years tending bar.

seekers guide to bartending ipages

The book is very relatable, and each short chapter is filled with personal insights, fun facts, illustrations, simple tips, scientific facts, and perspective shifts. To top it all off, a related activity is placed at the end of each chapter for the readers application. You’ll find everything from insight into how to be a better bartender to overcoming fear, controlling emotions and interacting with customers, to managing tip expectations and money management.

The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending could really be called New Age Bartending based on the content – Crilley writes from personal experience with the clear intention of sharing this knowledge with hopeful bartenders. This is a great read for the up-and-coming bartender. Buy The Seeker’s Guide to Bartending here.

Editor’s note: this is the first post by our new team member Andrew Moore. Welcome to Simple Cocktails, Andrew!

What is Vermouth? (Part 3)

vermouth bottle illustration part 3

Now that we’ve defined vermouth as a fortified, aromitized wine and talked about the different types of vermouth available, in this final installment of “What is Vermouth?”, I’ll give you some vermouth cocktail recipes to try and talk about how to care for your bottles.

As you look at cocktail recipes, pay attention in the cocktail recipe as to which type of vermouth you need – I’ll always specify sweet or dry here, occasionally maybe red or white, but remember that distinction is as important as whiskey or vodka in a drink.

Try these cocktails with your vermouth:

Sweet vermouth:

50-50 Martini

Dry vermouth:

Finally, proper storage of your vermouth is very important. Always store open vermouth bottles in the refrigerator, ideally not more than 1-2 months. Unfortunately, many bars don’t heed to this rule, and their vermouth-based drinks have a bad taste as a result. Because vermouth is made with wine, it has a limited shelf age once it’s opened and will become bitter and sour when spoiled.

I hope this has been a helpful series and that it’s taught you a little more about recognizing, buying, and using vermouth well in your cocktails. Let me know in the comments some of your favorite vermouth-based cocktails, and enjoy!

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

For more reading on vermouth, including regional distinctions, please visit our friends at Vermouth 101.

What is Vermouth? (Part 2)

vermouth bottle illustration part 2

In Part 1 of our series “What is Vermouth?”, published earlier this week, we defined vermouth as a fortified, aromitized wine. Today, we’ll give you some information about the different types of vermouth that are available.

As I said previously, there is a big taste difference between cheap and quality vermouth – it’s a good idea to spend as much as you can afford. That being said, though, I regularly buy Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi vermouth, both tried-and-true and just under $10 a bottle.

More important than the brand, though, is the type of vermouth you buy: sweet or dry. Usually, sweet vermouth is red and dry is white, but occasionally you’ll get a curveball, like Vya Whisper Dry, a slightly sweet (but still dry) white vermouth, or Dolin Blanc, a sweet white vermouth (used in the White Martinez recipe, shown below).

white martinez with hendricks

Unfortunately, the color of the vermouth is not necessarily going to make it easy to differentiate which style you’re buying. As I’ve noted, a white vermouth can be sweet or dry, a red can be syrupy sweet or quite bitter.  Often, the type of vermouth may be printed in Italian or French.

So here is a brief guide to vermouth names, though a better option would be to ask a helpful local liquor store employee for help (which is what I do). Other than the typical dry-white and sweet-red, you might also see: rosso (Italian for red), vermouth amaro (a bitter vermouth, like Punt e Mes), bianco (sweet white), blanc (sweet white), extra dry, rouge (a paler red), rosé (a pink vermouth, think White Zinfandel), or ambre (a copper/orange colored vermouth).

Now that we’ve (hopefully) got the proper vermouth for our home bar, the final step is using it and taking care of it…

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

What is Vermouth? (Part 1)

vermouth bottle illustration part 1

I’ve told you that vermouth is one of the first 5 bottles you should buy for your home bar because it’s used in classic cocktails like the Martini and the Manhattan. Most people, however, have no idea what vermouth is, or that some vermouth tastes much better than others. So today, I’ll define vermouth for you and in my next post I’ll tell you what to do with it.

Vermouth is a fortified, aromitized wine. 

Vermouth is wine (red or white) that’s fortified through the addition of hard liquor (usually brandy). Other familiar fortified wines include Port, Sherry, and Madeira. Because they’re fortified, all of these wines are both higher in alcohol content and more “shelf stable” than regular wine – lasting several weeks before they need to be replaced. Vermouth is unique from these other fortified wines, though, because it’s also aromatized with herbs, spices, tree bark, seeds, and sometimes more.

Because of the complexity of vermouth, every element in the bottle affects the taste of the final product. The type of wine, the quality of the brandy fortifying it, and all of the aromatics contribute to the flavor, and the taste can vary greatly as a result. A vermouth can taste sweet, bitter, dry, herbal, cheap, syrupy – it can take on just about any flavor profile that you can imagine.

contratto vermouth

Here on the blog, I’ve covered some really high-quality vermouth, like Contratto (pictured) and Vya, and I’ve also used Trader Joe’s $4 vermouth from time to time, too. As I said in my Contratto post: “the extra money spent on a quality bottle of vermouth makes such a massive difference in the quality of my home cocktails, it’s impossible to ignore the value of it.”

Put simply, a better vermouth tastes better, and if you’ve ever shuddered at the taste of a $5 bottle of vermouth, then try something like Carpano Antica Formula, which will run you more like $30. When you taste them straight or maybe on the rocks like pictured above, the quality difference is very clear.

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

7 Essential Bartending Tools

home bar tools

While there are dozens of bar tools available from liquor stores to housewares, there are really only 7 tools that you need to get your home bar started (other than liquor and ice). Here’s what I recommend.

  1. Measuring cup. Measuring your liquids for cocktails is essential for making balanced drinks. While I have jiggers and other fancy measuring tools, I use these 4 oz measuring glasses all the time. They’re dishwasher safe and I’ve had them for years.
  2. Mixing glass. Some cocktails should be shaken and some should be stirred. For stirred drinks, a standard pint glass will be fine, though something with a wider base is better in the long run. A Yarai Mixing Glass is elegant and professional, but they’re also $40. I bought a six-pack of 600ml beakers for $14 that I use to stir my cocktails.
  3. Strainer. You really can’t stir drinks (see #2 above) without a strainer to pour the finished product through. The best strainers I’ve found are usually the cheapest. I bought this one for about $4.
  4. Shaker. While most professional bartenders use a Boston Shaker, I’ve found a 3-piece shaker (also called a cobbler) like this one has worked best for me at home. These will run you $10-20.
  5. Knife. You’ll be cutting lots of citrus to pour into your cocktails, so make sure you have a knife to do it with. I have 5 or 6 Kuhn Rikon paring knives, and I love them.
  6. Squeezer. I realize that you can just use your hand to squeeze the citrus for your cocktails, but you’ll get way more juice if you use a squeezer like this one.
  7. Glassware. Using the proper glassware for your cocktail is essential. Save plastic, paper, or other vessels for the frat house. Now that you’re making great cocktails, use the proper glasses.
Photography by Jasmine Nicole.

Flaviar Tasting Kits

flaviar best of 2013

At Simple Cocktails, I get tot taste a lot of different liquors, but most of you don’t have the same opportunity. One option for trying a lots of different liquors (without going broke) is to subscribe to a tasting service like Flaviar.

Flaviar has developed tasting kits that you can either subscribe to or purchase individual packs. Monthly memberships are about $40, and individual tasting packs run $30-50. Each pack includes five 1 1/2 oz vials of liquor and instructions for tasting them. The packs are measured for 3 people to each have a taste, and the box includes a small instruction and tasting notes brochure.

I received Flaviar’s Best of 2013 pack, which includes Aviation Gin, High West Double Rye, Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, Gosling’s Family Reserve Rum, and Mascaro Ego XO Brandy. From what I can tell, the packs regularly include hard-to-find and high-quality liquors like these.

I think Flaviar is an interesting choice for tasting spirits without having to commit to a whole bottle (the Gosling’s Rum alone would run you $70). In Flaviar packs, you’ll taste a wider range of liquors than you would if you went to a store and bought a handful of miniatures anyways, and a tasting is a fun experience to have with guests at your home bar.

Fall Cocktails + Bitters on The Morning Brew (Video)

Here’s the video clip from May 14th of my live segment on The Morning Brew with Larry Ahrens in Albuquerque. Remember you can find the recipes that I made on the show (Mapple Punch and Scotch/Soda/Cranberry) here.

How to: Make Simple Syrup

making simple syrup

Simple syrup is one of the must-have ingredients for your home bar. Liquefied sugar mixes better in cold cocktails than granulated sugar. It’s an essential ingredient in all sorts of classic drinks, like a Daiquiri, Mint Julep, or Pisco Sour.

While you can actually purchase simple syrup already made, it’s cheaper and easier to just make it yourself. It’ll take you 5 minutes and last a few weeks.

Step 1: pour 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of clean water (distilled or spring) into a mixing glass.

Step 2: microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds to a minute, stirring with a fork at least once.

Step 3: stir well again once heated. Allow to cool.

Step 4: pour into a refrigerate-able container. I use these plastic squeeze bottles.

making simple syrup

Here is a great party punch recipe you can use that simple syrup in:

Pitcher of Mojitos

  • In a pitcher with a strainer lid, add:
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 50-100 mint leaves
  • muddle those two indredients in the pitcher, then add:
  • 1 1/2 cup simple syrup
  • 1 bottle white rum
  • 2 limes, sliced into thin wheels (this is just for looks)
  • 1- 1 1/2 liters mineral water. I used the big bottle of Trader Joe’s lime mineral water
  • add lots of ice. Stir.
  • Pour into glasses filled with ice. I use a straining pitcher or a big beverage dispenser to serve them.