It’s June 25, 2017 in Portland, OR. As it turns out, this is an incredibly hot time of the year for this area. It’s also a popular weekend to get out of town and enjoy some of the fleeting Oregon sun while it’s available, so our numbers are depleted. Our third meeting had 3 people in attendance. This being the case, I held a vote and we decided that some cold cocktails would be a great way to beat the heat. Plus, the members who showed up had been given cocktail shakers as gifts but never had a chance to use them.
Whiskey has a great history of cocktails and a few modern favorites that any whiskey drinker should give a shot at least once. I’m not a bartender, but I’ve made my fair share of cocktails. Here’s a couple of tips if you’re going to host a cocktail hour at your house, especially if you’re focusing on whiskey-based cocktails.
- Don’t use crap whiskey, but also don’t buy anything really expensive.
If you use Jack Daniels or Evan Williams, you may be able to mask the taste with too many ingredients, but that’s a good way to get a sugary hang over and not actually enjoy your drink at all. At the same time, if you shake Baker’s into your cocktail you’re not really going to notice the subtlety of the whiskey that brings it its price. For this party, we went with Bulleit. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, and Bulleit rye is a great base for a cocktail.
2. Prepare your ingredients before your guests arrive.
Slice your lemon wedges, make your simple syrup, zest your orange peels, and parse out portions of mint. Make sure that when it’s time to shake the next cocktail you’re ready to shake it.
3. Don’t be condescending.
If you’ve done your research and practiced enough to know what you’re doing, some guests may appreciate knowing some of the finer points of what you’re doing. However, a cocktail party is not a great time to impress people with your knowledge. Be a good host, help people have fun. That’s what drinking is all about, after all.
4. Shake it like you mean it.
Some people say to only stir a drink. I disagree. Shaking a drink breaks apart ice and waters down a drink to some extent. Since most cocktails use more than a standard pour of liquor, you’re getting plenty of alcohol as it is. Shaking some water off of the ice into the drink chills it, makes it taste better, and does not kill off any of the alcohol that started in there. When you shake it, shake it really hard.
5. Have more than liquor.
Cocktails are stronger than a standard pour. Be prepared to give people some water and food that will help them out a bit, especially if you have some lightweights or people who just don’t drink all that often. For our party, my wife made some mint-julep cupcakes that paired really well with our last drink.
Cocktail 1 – Old Fashioned
The old fashioned is a classic. It’s simple and delicious. It’s basically sugar, bourbon, and maybe some bitters. It’s a cocktail that some say is as old as Old Faithful making it an American classic. Here’s how to make it.
- 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Notes: some like to garnish this cocktail with a lemon. Typically, it’s served over a large whiskey ice ball. A drink this old is perfectly fine to add to. Get creative with it.
Simple syrup is made by putting 1 part sugar and 1 part water into a sauce pan and heating on low until it reduces about 50%. It’s as simple as its name and is a great addition to your cupboard to make you look like a pro.
Cocktail 2 – Manhattan
This is my favorite drink of all time. As a caution, this is the drink that everyone orders and drinks a little different. My recommendation is to experiment on your own and figure out what you like before you order one or make one for a friend. I prefer to go extremely light on the vermouth and the bitters. Here’s how to make it.
- 2 oz rye whiskey (I use bourbon sometimes, but I’m not much of a traditionalist)
- 1/4 oz sweet vermouth (I think this is waaaay too much and recommend just a splash)
- 1 dash of Angostura bitters
Notes: This drink is normally stirred over a large ice cube and garnished with a cherry.
*** My signature cocktail – The lychee Manhattan
If you want something really unique, find a bottle of lychee Soho and replace the sweet vermouth with it. It’s a little flowery and doesn’t need the cherry garnish.
Cocktail 3 – mint julep
This is basically the best summer cocktail ever. It’s cold, sweet, and if you do it just right, the mint is perfect. It’s important not to skimp on the sugar or you’ll have a mint drink instead of a refreshing cocktail. Shake this until your arm hurts a little.
- 10 mint leaves, muddled.
- 2 oz simple syrup
- 2.5 oz bourbon
- Seltzer Water (optional)
Notes: Muddling mint is important. It releases a lot of the chemicals in the leaf that are aromatic and the process brings most of the flavor to the cocktail. To do this (with clean hands) simply press the leaf between the butt of your palms and twist a few times. This requires a significant amount of pressure, but over muddling turns the leaves into mush. You are looking for the leaves to remain mostly intact and turn a dark green color from the original light green.