Newly Rebellious, Part VI: Finding, Recreating, and Inventing Recipes
It’s nearly impossible to find an alcohol-oriented blog without drink recipes, and there’s a reason for this: inventing, tweaking and sharing recipes is one of the most rewarding parts of participating in cocktail culture. Be forewarned, however, that many bartender-bloggers pride themselves on posting lots of recipes using particularly expensive or arcane ingredients – it’s an easy way to show originality in a crowded field. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, it can be frustrating for many newbies, as hunting down and buying a whole bottle of something unusual and pricey just to try out one drink isn’t a time- or budget-efficient way to get a good grounding in mixology. (The Rebel Bartender doesn’t promise to stick entirely to grocery-store ingredients, but the majority of the recipes here should consist of relatively easy-to-find and easy-on-the-budget items – in large part because the Bartender’s budget doesn’t stretch that far in the first place!)
Now that you’re familiar with some of the classics, you can start branching out – the Internet is a wonderful resource for new drink recipes. Here also you will see the benefits of your course in the classics: because you’re familiar with a lot of flavor combinations, you’ll be better able to pick and choose recipes that are likely to be good. This is the Internet, after all, where filters and objective standards are minimal; and while there’s no shame in trying a recipe, discovering it’s crap, and pouring it down the drain, reducing those incidents to a minimum is helpful to one’s liquor budget.
During your hunt for new recipes, chances are you will see a few different measurement systems. The Bartender writes her recipes in fluid ounces, because she’s an American and that’s what she’s used to; however, you’ll likely find recipes written in centiliters, milliliters, or just generalized “parts”. People do the latter in order to make their recipe easily scalable; usually, for a standard-size drink, a “part” is 1 fluid ounce (American) or 2 centiliters/20 milliliters (metric, about 2/3 a fluid ounce), although of course it depends on who’s writing the recipe. Google is an excellent tool for converting between systems – just type “25 ml to oz” in the search bar and it’ll pop right up with the equivalent. If you don’t have internet access at that moment, however, you can just go with a bartending rule of thumb – three centiliters (or 30 milliliters) is about equivalent to one fluid ounce. Sometimes, in more casual recipes, you’ll see an ingredient given with no measurement (i.e. for a screwdriver: 1.5 ounces vodka, orange juice); that’s usually an indication that you put the other ingredients in first, then fill the glass with the last one(s).
Branding (using specific brand names such as “Cointreau” instead of generics like “triple sec”) can also cause some confusion, largely because of the differing reasons behind the practice. Sometimes a recipe’s author will put in specific names simply because it’s what they’re used to or because they’re trying to promote a specific product. Other times they’ll put it down because the flavor of the cocktail actually depends on that specific ingredient – Grand Marnier, for instance, qualifies as a triple sec but has a very different flavor from DeKuyper or Patron Citronge. Generally speaking, the more distinctive (and, often, expensive) the ingredient, the bigger a difference a substitution will make to the flavor of the drink (with certain exceptions) and therefore the more likely it will be called for by name. If you don’t have a particular brand of liquor handy, it’s perfectly okay to substitute, but just be aware that the effect on the resulting drink can be anywhere from subtle to dramatic – so try the substitution yourself before serving it to a friend. (As you experiment with different ingredients, the knowledge gained will serve you well here; a drink might call for Absolut Citron, but if you dislike the medicinal flavor of Absolut and find Skyy Citrus to be sweet and pleasant, swapping it in is a no-brainer.)
This probably feels like a lot to take in all at once, but honestly it’s not hard to keep in mind once you’ve played around with mixing for a while. The joy of mixology is that it’s less a science than an art. Once you’ve got the basics down, start tinkering! Try adding your favorite ingredient to a drink, or swap out a disliked component for one you enjoy better, or just toss together a bunch of liqueurs that seem like they’d complement each other and see what happens. Many of your favorite recipes will likely be discovered this way, so experiment, compare, take notes, and write down your discoveries. Keep a notebook or a card-file full of your favorite recipes. Develop a signature drink (or three). Take risks, and have fun!
We’ve now covered every topic necessary to send the beginning mixologist out into the world, and if you’ve stuck around this long, both your future guests and the Bartender thank you. However, there’s one more entry planned in this guide; and (as is appropriate for a finale) it’s simultaneously the most frivolous and the most important one. Tools, technique, knowledge, and showmanship will get you making decent (and hopefully, eventually, fantastic) drinks. But remember, humans are visual creatures, and much like in cooking, the difference between “Huh, this is a good drink” and “Holy crow, this is amazing!” is often nothing more than a shade or two of color and a pretty garnish. And since one of the purposes of The Rebel Bartender is to address the artistic value inherent in mixology (read: to make drinks that really impress our friends), this guide would not be complete without at least a peek into the wide variety of presentational touches that can really make that “Wow” factor happen. And that, dear friends, is what’s in store – if you’ll bear with us for one more week.