There is an art to cocktails to be sure. Recipes are written carefully to pr the most pleasing balance of flavors. Much like baking, it is a science.
I have never been a great baker. When we were kids, my sister and I went through a “cornbread” phase. I use quotation marks because we never once set out to bake cornbread. Rather, we tried (unsuccessfully) to bake batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies.
To our chagrin (and to all who had the misfortune of eating these cookies), every batch had the gritty consistency and salty flavor cornbread. While I am tempted to call it remarkable that two young girls could fail with such regularity, it was not as amusing at the time.
As bakers, we failed to grasp the importance of ratios. I knew that I liked sugar, it was unimaginable that a cookie could not be improved with the addition of more sugar.
Cocktails are no different. We all have our preferences, and we give our favorites a heavier pour. For me it is citrus and bourbon. Beware, if I ever make you a drink with either of those two ingredients (God forbid both) you may not taste anything else.
That is my plug for measuring ingredients and obeying ratios- you will do well. And if this is your aim, do as I say and not as I do.
In reality, I habitually dishonor the science of mixology. To begin, my bar is rarely stocked with all the necessary ingredients, with one exception. On any night of the week you can find a half peeled orange in my fridge- I am never without the makings of an old fashioned.
As for the rest of the world of cocktails, I do what every great bartender does- I improvise.
When I flip through a cocktail book, I scan for drinks with ingredients I have or can imitate. For example, this week I made a Leap Year. I had most of the ingredients, but I used my last lemon yesterday, so I substituted limes. Easy.
But sometimes I will get a hankering for a drink for which I don’t have a single ingredient. A few weeks back I craved a margarita before realizing I neither limes nor tequila. Undaunted, I managed to make something that bore no resemblance to the margarita, but it did the trick.
So let this be my encouragement to you to experiment. Keep in mind the tried and true ratios (2:1:1 liquor, tart, sweet), and shake it up. Chances are, you will likely make a few unintentional batches of cornbread, so to speak.
But I would bet you can still find someone who will drink it while you try again.
2 oz gin
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and pour into a chilled glass.