Understanding basic bartending skills and learning the basics of Martini’s and cocktail mixology will go a long way in making your entertaining adventures more successful. If you have not yet read about our home bar essentials, we suggest you do so first to get a grasp of the tools you’ll need to mix and make fantastic martini recipes and classic cocktails..
What is in a cocktail?
A cocktail is an alcoholic beverage served with ice, mix and/or juice. When making a cocktail it is less important to use designer vodkas and gins! Since you are serving a cocktail with lots of ice and usually a lot of mix in no way can you taste the difference of a high quality alcohol! Designer vodkas and gins are meant to be drunk straight or on ice without mix! Stop wasting great alcohol on mix and ice.
What is in a Martini?
Martinis are always made with two ounces where as a cocktail is made only with one unless requested otherwise.
A martini is made with much less mix or juice and is not served with ice. This generally makes martinis much stronger than cocktails. Martinis can be weakened by shaking them over ice furiously thus breaking up the ice to help water it down.
The first thing you will need for a great martini is a great vodka and/or Gin. This is where you cannot skimp on price. As the classic martini is basically pure alcohol with no mix, a fine Vodka or Gin will stand head and tails above your average generic alcohols. Save those for late night mixed drinks or for your designer martinis.
If the classic seems too boring for you then consider looking at the infused vodkas available today. You can get a wide variety so start with a few and if you are feeling adventurous,
you can infuse your own. Look for some of these flavors:
Types of infused vodkas:
- Vanilla Vodka
- Black Currant Vodka
- Raspberry Vodka
- Lemon Vodka
- Mandarin Vodka
- Pepper Vodka
- Espresso Vodka
- Caramel Vodka
Various liqueurs ideal for a home bar
Now that you have your infused vodkas, it is time to think liqueurs. There is wide variety available and will vary widely depending where you are, there are products arriving on the scene daily so here is where you can get experimental. Look for the following:
- Alise Liqueur
- Apple Sour
- Passion Fruit
- Banana Liqueur
- Blue Curacao
- Baileys Cream
Again availability will vary depending on where you shop and where you are located. You are not limited to this list but they will make a great bar foundation!
Mix it up!
Mixes and juices come into play now and if you stock your home bar properly, you can almost create any libation you wish. Juices will take some of the heat from the alcohol and add some
natural sweetness to your drink. If you don’t entertain on a regular basis you can buy frozen juices in most flavors and open them accordingly. Carbonated drinks will add fizz to your concoctions and can also add sweetness if desired.
Juices and mixes you cannot live without!
- Cranberry Juice – Cranberry cocktail can work as well but it is blended with other juices
- Orange Juice
- Pineapple Juice
- Grapefruit Juice
- Fresh Lemons
- Fresh Limes
- Lime Cordial
- Soda Water
- Cola/Diet Cola
- Seven Up – This is also known as lemon Ade to our English & Australian friends.
- Ginger ale – Great with Rye whiskey and mixed with beer
- Clamato Juice – For the Canadians*
- Tomato Juice
- Simple Syrup – Simply a combination of sugar and water
- Sweet & Sour (lemon/lime mix)
You most likely have heard martinis as being dry, extra dry, wet or even burnt.
If you aren’t really sure about what it all means then aren’t you glad you found us!!!
Wet – This refers to a sweeter martini which really means more vermouth. This disguises the intensity of whatever alcohol is the major player! A wet martini is much easier to drink.
Bruise- It is wrong to shake a classic martini. It should be stirred unless asked
to be shaken. When a martini is shaken the ice breaks and remains in the mixture where it will eventually melt and result in a weaker martini. This is why shaking a martini is also known as bruising it.
Dry - This is your typical martini where little vermouth resides in the cocktail. A stronger punch!
Extra Dry – This is for the real players where no vermouth should be found in the mix. Essentially we have a straight drink here chilled and served with a tasty garnish.
Burnt -Now this is serious game for classic martini lovers. This is to be absolutely sure that this cocktail is really dry. A small amount of scotch is put into the glass and swirled so that it remains on the glass. The excess is poured out and the chilled cocktail is then poured into the scotch drenched glass. Ouch that’s good!!
Up, Neat, Straight – This basically means no ice in your drink. Do not confuse this with not using ice to prepare your drinks
On the Rocks, Over Ice- This denotes pouring your martini over ice. You should pour the martini first then add some of the ice from the tumbler you used to make the drink. This is the classy way to do it and the alcohol will have melted a little into the ice making your drink that much more enjoyable
How to properly Garnish Martinis & Cocktails
Garnishing your drinks properly is as important as what goes into them nowadays. Gone are the days of the Umbrella in your drink or a pineapple slice in your Pina Colada. Garnishes can make
a cocktail and quite often be a primary ingredient. Below are some essential garnishes and how you should slice them for best use.
- Olives – Pimento stuffed Olives are probably the most well known, experiment with Blue Cheese stuffed olives, whole marinated olives, garlic and almond stuffed olives and spicy olives! The primary garnish in any great Martini, Its brine is also necessary for dirty martinis
- Maraschino Cherries – Used widely in tropical drinks, Pina Coladas, Mai Tai’s, Old Fashions and of course the manhattan.
- Pickled Pearl Onions – These make the classic Gibson Martini
- Orange Slices – These are best sliced, they are great for tropical drinks, as mash for old fashions and of course with any drink made with Orange Juice
- Limes – It is best to cut these in 1/8ths or wedge like so they can easily be squeezed to release their juice. They are absolutely necessary for juicing in order to make a proper margarita.
- Lemons – Cut these the same as limes, you can also use the skin for zests in martinis and slice the skin in thin strips as twists
- Cranberries – Usually come in their own juices, great for cranberry mixed drinks
- Celery – Cut into 4 stalks for Bloody Mary’s & Bloody Caesar’s
- Pickled Beans or Olives – Use as an alternative to celery!
- Cocktail Shrimp – These are also a lovely treat in Bloody Mary’s and Caesar’s!
- Bacon? Maybe in a a breakfast Caesar!
- Rock Salt or Coarse salt
- Refined White Sugar
- Gold or Silver leaf – This edible material is a fabulous way to add glam and sparkle to any clear martini A great rule of thumb for those who are not sure which garnish to use for a particular drink. Try this simple rule: If you use a juice in a drink then it should be garnished with the same fruit or garnish.
Tools of the cocktail trade
Now that you have all the ingredients, it is time to gather all your essential tools. Well start with glassware and instruments. Any great martini or cocktail starts with the glassware. It is vitally
important that you use a proper Martini glass for all your martinis and the appropriate sized glass for short and tall cocktails. A proper martini glass is important as most martinis are not served with ice. Therefore the stem keeps your hands from warming the prized liquid! Its wide brim makes it easy to drink from and its sexy styling’s keep you looking good too. You will need a proper beverage dispenser or tumbler to mix all the alcohol, juices and ice together. Tumblers usually come with strainers as well to properly strain your ice with. Below are a few kinds we recommend as essential.
- Cobbler – A 3 piece shaker consisting of a tumbler, stainless steel or glass, a shaker lid and a cap for shaking. This model is useful for home bartenders as it takes some of the difficulty out of proper straining, shaking and pouring. It is also easier to clean. If you choose the glass models, you will know exactly how much liquid is in your tumbler
- Boston – A 2 piece shaker involving both a stainless steel & Glass tumbler with one fitting into the other, excellent for shaking except the 2 components can become vacuum sealed, if this
happens, lightly tap the stainless steel tumbler on the edge of a counter or surface to release the glass tumbler. You then can strain the liquid using the 2 edges of both tumblers. It is easier to buy an additional strainer for this purpose though
- Pitcher – The Pitcher is great if you are making a large batch of martinis at once. If you choose the pitcher route though, be aware to also buy a nice glass stir stick to help create that elegant effect
- Strainer – A metal device that wraps around the shaker or tumbler. It allows for the alcohol & Mix to strain without large pieces of Ice getting in the martini Ice Bucket – The 2nd most important part of a martini, after the booze, is temperature and the only way to achieve this is with a close supply of fresh Ice. Look for ice buckets that come with lids and tongs to keep your ice both cold and protected. You do not want to use dirty ice ever, so be very careful with this
- Mixing Spoon – This is an elongated spoon, about the same head size as a teaspoon but is swirled through the middle. This swirled handle makes it easy to quickly stir your martini and its length will help you reach the bottom of the tumbler.
- Pour Spout – This device allows air to flow into the bottle while producing a steady stream of alcohol from the bottle. A good bartender can eye ball an ounce of liquor, give or take, using this device. If you are so inclined, when pouring a drink, count 1 steamboat and you will have poured roughly one ounce.
How to properly make a martini
It is important to understand a few martini tips & techniques that you must know before making your drink. These are absolutes and should be followed always, with some obvious exceptions!
Always chill your glassware – If you can, put your vodka and gin on ice or in your freezer, the same goes for your glassware. A chilled martini glass can make or break your drink. If you do not have the facilities to pre chill your glassware may we suggest filling your glass to the brim with ice, pouring in water (soda water works best) and letting it sit for a minute or so. This will give your glass that frosted effect. Only remove the ice and liquid moments before you pour your martini
The Tumbler – Fill the tumbler up with ice. Pour your alcohol and mix into the tumbler over the ice. As the mixture is poured over the ice the drink continues to cool. Remember the colder the better as the martini is poured without ice in most cases, so it is vital that the drink be made as cold as possible.
Stirring – Shaken or stirred? Stirring is extremely important for those who appreciate a really good classic martini. It is absolutely important not to shake the tumbler unless the guest prefers it this way. Stirring is a gentle way to mix all of the martini ingredients together without bruising the drink by breaking up all of the ice which will essentially weaken the drink!
Shaking – A quick way to chill the mix. This will melt the ice faster and quickly mix the alcohol and juices. Be aware that shaking your martini will bruise Gin & Vodka. This will oxidize the alcohol, essentially giving it a cloudy color. Many people enjoy this technique, think James Bond, many more do not! Again it is always safest to ask if you are making straight up classic martinis
Post Shaking – All professional bartenders will shake the tumbler with the ice over the martini before serving the drink. They do this to shake ice chips into the drink which have broken off during shaking. It creates a nice crystal effect on top of your martini.
Straining – A technique where you use a strainer to separate the ice from the liquid while pouring your martini. You can use the tumbler/strainer technique, the tumbler/tumbler technique or inverted glass tumbler where you insert a glass into the tumbler and strain the liquid using the tapered end inside the wider opening. This is not the best way but easy when you have limited tools and is always better than your fingers
Jigger – Measurement tool used to measure an equalized pour. They can come in 1oz, 2oz or double sided in 3/4oz & 1/1/2oz sizes. They are also known as shooter glasses
Pour sizes – Martinis can vary between 1oz & 3 oz. A great pour should not be over bearing and you should be able to taste the mixture. The easiest way is to use the 2oz rule. If it calls for parts, think of splitting your martini down by 2. i.e.; 1 part when a recipe calls for parts, use an ounce as 1 so 11/2 parts vodka means, 11/2oz vodka, pretty simple
Basic Cocktail Measurements
- 1 dash = 2 to 3 drops
- 1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz
- 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon = 1/2 oz
- 1 pony = 1 oz or 1 part
- 1 jigger = 1 1/2 oz
- 1 cup = 8 oz
- 1/2 fresh lime = 1/2 oz
- 1/2 fresh lemon 1/2 to 3/4 oz
Find More Martini & Cocktail Recipes