Our cocktail culture is changing, says Rob Dvorchik, head bartender at Thompson Rooftop in Toronto. No longer is whipping up a sippable concoction left to the pros; everyone can become a mixologist with a little bit of humour and some trial and error.
To get an idea of how you should be brewing some gold medal worthy alcoholic beverages for your family and friends, we caught up with Dvorchik to chat about mixology trends and where the world of cocktail making is headed. Let's just say, according to him, we're in for a lot of fun.
Check out some of his awesome tips on making your own cocktails and how to entertain guests below. And learn more about his work -- and one of the hottest patios in the city (Thompson Toronto) -- here.
Make Your Own Cocktails In Barrels
One of the hottest trends for cocktails in 2012 is barreling your own cocktails (i.e. mixing up a concoction then letting it age in oak barrels just like you would wine). At the Thompson Toronto, Dvorchik has barreled a Side Car, Negroni, Blood and Sand and a Margarita. Simply grab your favourite drink, mix it up in a barrel and age for a bit before serving to your guests. Dvorchik ages his drinks about a week. "There’s a level of trial and error to barrelling -- it's similar to making your own beer or wine."
What You Need To Barrel
"I make a mixture of vodka water to sterilize my barrels. Simply fill the barrel up to the brim with a four-to-one water-to-vodka ratio, let it sit for four or five days, drain it then fill the barrel with whatever cocktail you want." To find a barrel, check out Thousand Oaks Barrel Co. or Charton Hobbs.
Cocktails Aren’t Just For Ladies
Thanks to 'Sex and the City,’ many men have strayed away from ordering typically "girly" drinks like the Cosmo. But all that’s changing, says Dvorchik. "Guys couldn't drink specific things because of the way they looked… People thought men had their own drinks. Now the line is blurring. Women are becoming more confident at bars -- calling their liquor or brands… or ordering harder drinks." Case in point: the “it” beverage for this summer is the Old Fashioned, which is a traditionally "male cocktail" -- largely because of its placement in movies/television shows like 'The Artist' and 'Mad Men.'
The One Alcohol To Star Mixing With
"Everyone says vodka is the first alcohol you should start mixing and experimenting with, but it’s very hard to mix well," says Dvorchik. "Unless you're using a good character vodka, something that adds flavour to the drink, the cocktail won’t hold up." He suggests playing with an alcohol like rum, which is fun to make cocktails with because it has so much flavour. It also works well with any type of fruit or spices (either will bring out the rum’s flavour -- whether you use golden, dark or white rum). Tequila, because it’s herbal, can bring its own dimensions to a cocktail, which makes it a fun alcohol to play around with, too.
The Ratio Mix
To make a good drink, you should have a sweet element (a sweeter variety of alcohol), a sour element (lemons or limes), an astringent (a liquor) and a bitter (something like cranberry juice). If you perfect this balance, you’ll never make a bad cocktail, says Dvorchik.
Examine Everything Before You Mix
One of the biggest mistakes a first-time cocktail maker can make is to skip tasting all of the elements of their drink before they pull everything together. "It’s important to taste everything before you throw it all into a shaker. I know some people don’t do that -- they’ll think the recipe calls for something, but they won’t know what it tastes like." You need to taste everything on its own, says Dvorchik -- even strong alcohols like vermouth; this will help you get a sense of how powerful an ingredient is.
Add Interesting Elements To Your Cocktail
Elderflower, Bitters and Sazerac are all coming back into vogue as things you should be using in your cocktails -- they'll give 'em extra oomph. Vermouth is also hot at the moment. Wondering how to use these elements in a way that's not overpowering? Dvorchik uses an atomizer to gently spritz stronger elements onto the glasses of his cocktails.
Serve Basic Food
The flavours in food can overpower a cocktail, so when serving appetizers to guests, stick with items that are seasoned simply. “It’s super hard to match cocktails with food, but it’s also a fun challenge if you’re really up for it… Cocktails have become gastronomy.”
Look To Things You Love For Cocktail Inspiration
Want to make your own cocktail recipes? Look to things you enjoy for inspiration. For example, Dvorchik loves Hemingway, so he tends to concoct smokier cocktails that the author may have sipped on. Similarly, a chef at the Thompson Toronto came up with a pumpkin pie-esque drink because he loved his grandmother’s dessert dish so much.
The Next Big Trend: Having Fun With Cocktails
"There are so many fun cocktails that came out of certain eras that people don’t drink anymore," says Dvorchik. Things like Sex on the Beach or other fruity drinks have gone out of vogue, but this mixologist sees them coming back. This is largely because patrons in London and New York, two cities that set our cocktail trends, are diving into "tiki bar" or fruity beverages at a rate they haven't before. Tequila is also having a moment as a "hot" and "most-requested" alcohol.
Accessorize Your Cocktails
Have fun with garnishes! Slice up strawberries with a sharp knife (watch your fingers!) and lay them on the rim of a glass. Or add alcohol-cured cherries to fruity beverages. Use quality ingredients and never be afraid of having fun decking out a drink with garnishes -- "Cocktails are supposed to be fun and frivolous," says Dvorchik.
Shake The Heck Out Of Your Drinks
Dvorchik says you should mix drinks with a ton of vigour. Use a lot of ice -- an entire glass full (this will keep the drink cool without actually watering down the alcohol). Be sure to double strain your beverage once you're done shaking it -- this will ensure any seeds from small fruits don't seep into your cocktail. Also, don’t worry about shaking a cocktail too much -- unless you’re making a cocktail that calls for a certain number of shakes (something that’s supposed to be frothy).
Best Alcohols To Stock Your Bar With
These are Dvorchik’s choices for the best alcohols to have on hand (money is no object!):
Gin: Plymouth Gin (Tip: the original martini recipe calls for this alcohol.)
Rum: Appleton (aged 21 or 32 years) or Over-Proof (from Jamaica)
Rye: Sazerac (from Kentucky) or any vintage, boutique-made rye