Clear ice is not the way to better cocktails, and more interesting cocktail lore gets debunked, finally.
There are a lot of mysteries that surround the world of cocktails. After all, part of the magic of sitting at the bar is watching a bartender turn citrus, spirits, and sugar into a delicious one of a kind drink. But taking on the bar at home can be intimidating. If you’ve ever set out to craft a delicious drink at home, you’ve likely been confronted with a series of questions.
So to shed some light on things, we sat down with Jeffrey Morgenthaler, an award-winning bartender from Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, and has worked behind the bar full-time since 1996, working his way from neighborhood taverns and college nightclubs, to fine restaurants and upscale cocktail bars. Most recently, he managed the seven-time James Beard Award-nominated bar program at Clyde Common, and the highly celebrated Pepe Le Moko.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler: False! That glass was purportedly around well before Marie Antoinette was born. It's an... interesting story, however, and I suppose it comes from this idea that Champagne is the ultimate luxury and something extremely decadent. And what could be more decadent than sipping from a glass modeled on the queen's body?
JM: As I always tell my guests when I'm behind the bar - there is almost never a direct correlation between the price of a spirit and the quality of a spirit. And more importantly when making cocktails, using the right spirit is always what's most important. Sometimes the right whiskey for a cocktail is really expensive - for example in my Amaretto Sour recipe it's important to use a cask-strength bourbon, and those tend to be pretty pricey. But, say, for an Old Fashioned my bourbon of choice is Elijah Craig, which is very reasonably priced.
So in short, there's just so much more to it than how much that bottle costs.
JM: This is one of my favorite myths. Absolutely false. If, for some reason you could alter the chemical composition of gin simply by jostling it, then every shipment that crosses the Atlantic Ocean from England to the States would be completely ruined. Now, it is true that shaking a Martini will increase the dilution (i.e. more water in the cocktail) which will take away some of that drink's signature "bite". But I'm almost certain that this myth started as a joke, which someone eventually took seriously and started spreading around as gospel truth.
JM: Haha, oh this one again? There are really only two factors that will affect your drink when it comes to ice: the temperature of the ice, and the quality of the water you use to make it. Find the absolute best quality water you can - here in Oregon that water just happens to be directly out of the tap. In other places, you might want to pick up a couple bottles of your favorites. And set your freezer to the absolute lowest setting to get those cubes as cold as possible. I use the Tovolo one-inch cube silicone trays at home and they're the perfect size.
JM: Outside of temperature and water quality, anything else is just set dressing. Big cubes, clear cubes, spherical cubes, and large ice spears all look very cool, but they don't do a thing for the flavor and dilution of your drink. So don't get hung up on the shape or size of your ice and if anyone tells you otherwise, have them come talk to me.
JM: Probably not a myth! Copper definitely brings its own flavors and thermal conductivity to the party. And to be very honest I really enjoy drinking out of a copper Moscow Mule cup. But don't let it ruin your day if you don't have access to a set. The Moscow Mule is a delicious cocktail when made properly, regardless of the vessel it's served in.
JM: It sure does do something to those oils, that part is not a myth. But "tastier" is certainly subjective. I personally find the burnt oils from an orange peel to be less enjoyable than the bright, fresh oils you get from squeezing a peel over the surface of the drink without the pyrotechnics. But it's certainly another cool technique and I know that a lot of people enjoy the flavor. For me, I'll take my Negroni without the fireworks, please.
JM: This is sort of a myth and not a myth. How you shake is definitely essential. You need to shake very hard, and very quickly, and then strain that cocktail immediately. That much is very true. As for whether you shake in 3/4 time or on the half beat? That makes no difference. I've seen so many bartenders over the years describing how they move the drink through the air and how much of a difference that makes in the flavor or texture and I'm convinced none of them have ever taken a basic high school level science class. Use very cold ice cubes. and shake it as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds and I promise you that you'll be drinking professional-grade cocktails at home without all of the inane theatrics.
JM: Mostly true! Fresh herbs contain tons of flavors and aromas that don't get released until those cell walls are broken. But I always laugh to myself when I see bartenders slapping their herbs on the back of their hands or making a big show of clapping loudly with the herbs in the palm of one hand. Just give your fresh mint bouquet a little squeeze before you garnish your drink and I promise that those aromatic oils will fill the room, again without all the silly theatrics.