Making Good Cocktails Great

cocktail garnishes

Secrets to a Great Cocktail


If you want to make restaurant or bar quality cocktails at home you will need to follow a few tricks of the trade. Cocktails can be quite expensive at a bar and the reason is that they use the best quality of spirits and mixers available. They will also make their own simple syrup (sugar syrup used to sweeten a drink) and use as many fresh ingredients as possible.


spirits for cocktails


Always buy the top shelf brands of a spirit to get the authentic taste of a drink. A $10 bottle of cheap scotch will not taste the same as the $40 or $50 top shelf label. Yes it sounds expensive but if you want to recreate that drink you love only the best will do.



Look around for sets of cocktail glasses, martini, Tom Collins and tumblers so you can make the drink and serve it in the right glass. This will enrich the experience for you and your guests. Check out local garage sales and thrift shops. People often get rid of glassware as they move house. Always serve a cold drink into a chilled glass as it will keep colder longer and if you are serving hot toddies and other warm drinks, heat the glasses in the oven or in a sink full of hot water. Don’t forget to dry the glasses thoroughly if warming in water.



Always measure out alcohol and sodas according to the recipe. An amount is specified for a reason. Every good liquor store should keep measures on hand. They are not expensive and will help with measuring correct amounts. They usually come in a full ounce and half ounce size.


Cocktail shaker

Not all cocktails are shaken and the general rule is it if has simple syrup or fruit juice it will be made in a shaker. Many other cocktails are simply stirred to lightly mix the ingredients. The heavy simple syrup needs more than stirring to incorporate it into the drink as do egg and cream. Most cocktail shaker sets will come with a strainer as the ice is often left behind.


Ice cubes

One size fits all? No they don’t. If you want your drink to stay cold longer and the ice cubes not to melt too quickly use large ice cubes. It looks good in the glass and won’t dilute the drink but will keep it cold to the last mouthful. For a rustic look in whiskey drinks freeze a large chunk of ice in a cake tin and chisel pieces off.


Other ingredients

Using fresh juices and fruits will always be the best option. Always have limes and lemons on hand, strawberries, oranges, even herbs. In this case fresh is definitely best. If you are confused over whether to use lime or lemon juice if a recipe calls for citrus the best thing to remember is: Lemons for brown and dark spirits and limes for clear spirits. For example a Whiskey Sour uses lemon juice and lime is always used with Tequila.


Simple Syrup

Make your own simple syrup by adding 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Cool completely then chill.  This can be made ahead and frozen or kept in the fridge for a few weeks.



Never dismiss a garnish as a waste of time or fruit as it can enhance that drink with a subtle flavour. A slice of lime on the side of a Gin and Tonic will add a subtle note of citrus that can make all the difference. A slice of lemon on a Whiskey Sour can be squeezed in a for more intense citrus hit or left on the side for a subtler hit.


Remember that we eat and drink with our eyes first and if a drink looks fantastic and the quality ingredients have been used it will taste fantastic.


cocktail garnishes

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