Savor the End of Summer: Create the Perfect Craft Cocktail

With the right tools and some bartender tips, you too can make a delectable bespoke cocktail.

Making cocktails isn’t just a job. Done well, it’s an art. Creating amazing cocktails with the perfect balance of ingredients is one expression of the art of cocktails. But even with an on-hand recipe, there is also a degree of craft and skill involved in mixing up that perfect cocktail. Or so the HGTV/DIY Network team learned during a recent trip to Atlanta’s cocktail-centric dining destination JCT Kitchen & Bar

Manhattan Cocktail

Manhattan Cocktail

Two variations on a classic Manhattan cocktail.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Two variations on a classic Manhattan cocktail.

Our team spent an admittedly very enjoyable day learning how to make cocktails and then sipping them with some of JCT’s signature Southern treats: truffle Parmesan fries, pimento cheese and deviled eggs with Benton’s ham. There, expert beverage manager and drink-impresario Eduardo Guzman guided our team on the essential tools and the proper technique involved in creating a well-balanced cocktail.

Cocktail Essentials

Cocktail Essentials

The essential tools you need to mix up craft cocktails: (left to right) spoon; a strainer (three versions shown here); cocktail shaker; jigger (a large and small are shown, one will do); mixing/pint glass.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

The essential tools you need to mix up craft cocktails: (left to right) spoon; a strainer (three versions shown here); cocktail shaker; jigger (a large and small are shown, one will do); mixing/pint glass.

Southern Specialties

Southern Specialties

An array of Southern delicacies featured on the menu at JCT Kitchen.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

An array of Southern delicacies featured on the menu at JCT Kitchen.

Eduardo's Cocktail Dos and Don'ts

Mixologist Eduardo Guzman

Mixologist Eduardo Guzman

JCT. Kitchen bartender Eduardo Guzman offers tips on mixing up craft cocktails.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

JCT. Kitchen bartender Eduardo Guzman offers tips on mixing up craft cocktails.

Making a Cocktail

Making a Cocktail

Bartender Eduardo Guzman offers tips on mixing up the perfect craft cocktail.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

  • Start with the cheapest ingredients first when making a cocktail. That way if you make a mistake, you are throwing away the less expensive ingredients rather than your premium liquor.
  • Refrigerate simple syrup to avoid mold.
  • No time to make fresh-squeezed juice for your cocktail? Eduardo likes Indian River for a fresh-substitute, and it has no added sugar.
  • For liquor infusions, choose a mid-range spirit. Don't go too bargain basement.
  • Do your bartender a solid: don't ask her to recreate that delicious signature cocktail you had at another restaurant. Go with a classic, or choose from the house cocktail menu.
  • Always smell your mixing glass and shaker before making a fresh cocktail, to make sure there is no lingering spirit, juice or other odors/flavors that will mar your cocktail.
  • Always start with clean tools.
Eden Project Cocktail

Eden Project Cocktail

The Eden Project cocktail.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

The Eden Project cocktail.

The three cocktails we learned to make: the saucily-named Make My Day, Eden Project and Moon Tide were all created by Guzman, whose job—lucky him!— is brainstorming cocktails at three must-visit Atlanta restaurants, JCT Kitchen, The Optimist and Beetlecat, all part of local chef Ford Fry’s dining empire.

Any one of these cocktails would make for an ideal end-of-summer tipple to sip on a porch or deck while enjoying those last, sweet days of the season. And with their blend of interesting ingredients like spicy serrano peppers and botanical elements like cucumber, basil and dried hibiscus, they are also an amazing way to incorporate your garden into your cocktail repertoire. Guzman grew up in his native Mexico enjoying fresh limeades made from the fruit on his family’s backyard tree. He just offers this advice when working with fresh garden herbs: don’t be too aggressive. “Herbs are very delicate,” he cautions. “And pay attention to the freshness of ingredients,” says Guzman, to ensure your cocktail turns out beautifully.

Eden Project

  • 1.5 ounces Pimm’s #1
  • .75 ounces cucumber/basil agua fresca*
  • .5 ounce lemon juice
  • .5 ounce simple syrup
  • .25 ounce Herbsaint

*Cucumber/Basil Aqua Fresca

Mixing a Cocktail

Mixing a Cocktail

The proper tools and ingredients add up to making the perfect cocktail.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Moon Tide Cocktail

Moon Tide Cocktail

The Moon Tide cocktail from Atlanta's The Optimist restaurant.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

The Moon Tide cocktail from Atlanta's The Optimist restaurant.

Take one quart of basil with no stems, 2 sliced cucumbers, 2 quarts of water and combine all ingredients in a blender and then double strain the mixture.

In a cocktail shaker, combine all the ingredients, add ice and shake well. Strain over crushed ice and garnish with a cucumber wheel.

Moon Tide

  • 1.5 ounces hibiscus-infused Half Moon Orchard gin*
  • .5 ounce Dimmi Liquore
  • .5 ounce lemon juice
  • .5 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of Regan’s Orange bitters
  • *Hibiscus-infused gin
Stirring a Cocktail

Stirring a Cocktail

Believe it or not, the proper stirring technique is a fundamental part of making cocktails.

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Believe it or not, the proper stirring technique is a fundamental part of making cocktails.

*Use one bottle of gin of your preference and 2 cups of dried hibiscus flowers. Let the flowers steep in the gin for 1-2 hours, up to 6 hours. If you let them steep for longer it will make the gin bitter.

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake well. Pour over a big cube in an Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with an edible flower.

Make My Day Cocktail

Make My Day Cocktail

JCT Kitchen beverage manager Eduardo Guzman created the delicious, spicy Make My Day cocktail that combines passion fruit puree and serrano pepper-infused tequila.

Photo by: Emily Schultz

Emily Schultz

JCT Kitchen beverage manager Eduardo Guzman created the delicious, spicy Make My Day cocktail that combines passion fruit puree and serrano pepper-infused tequila.

Make My Day

  • 1.5 ounces serrano pepper-infused reposado tequila*
  • .5 ounce passion fruit puree
  • .75 ounce simple syrup
  • Pinch of sea salt

Cocktail Sipping

Cocktail Sipping

The best part of any cocktail-making lesson: tasting!

Photo by: Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

Chris Tsambis/Abstract Pictures

*To 1 liter reposado tequila add 3-4 serrano peppers sliced (the quantity depends on the spice level of the pepper of course; if it is too hot then use fewer peppers in the infusion). Infuse for 48 hours, then strain peppers and seeds (if you leave it to infuse longer, it will become green and spicier).

Build all in the ingredients into a shaker, add ice and shake well. Strain over crushed ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a bit more sea salt.

Bonus Round!

Sure a new-fangled craft cocktail is what keeps cocktail culture alive and interesting, but there is always room for the classics. Why not treat yourself to a perfectly balanced Manhattan and let the day's cares fade away.

Classic Manhattan

  • 1 ounce Dolin Vermouth
  • 2 ounces Old Overholt rye whiskey
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir the ingredients with ice, strain and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers!

Stay tuned for more adventures in Atlanta indie crafting, design and other good times as the DIY/HGTV team continues to explore the city's creative class!

Next Up

5 Garden-Fresh Summer Cocktails

These warm-weather sips are sourced straight from the garden.

Summer Games Sips

Serve one of these refreshing Brazilian cocktails while you watch the Games.

Horrifyingly Good Halloween Cocktail Recipes

Add punch to your Halloween party with one of these bright and bold DIY cocktail recipes.

DIY Game Day Ginger Beer Cocktails

Getting ready for the big game? Here’s a recipe that you can make day-of for fan favorite cocktails.

Summer Goodness: Make a Rustic Blueberry Crostata

Make this delicious buttery tart with your freshly-picked blueberries.

Say Cheese! How to Create a Killer Cheese Tray

Celebrate the stinkiest of holidays on National Cheese Day June 4th with a cheese tray that shows off your fromage finesse.

Easy Summer Appetizers From the Garden

These quick, no-cooking-required garden kebobs are perfect for a last minute picnic or unexpected guests.  

Pick Your Own Fruit This Summer

Pack the family in the car and head to the farm for berries, peaches and more.

How to Turn Tea Cups into Cocktail Glasses

Make happy hour just a little fancier by upcycling old tea cups into stemmed cocktail or wine glasses.

Ahoy Matey! It's National Rum Day

There's no better day to discover the hottest spirit out there: rum. It's great up, on the rocks and in these spirited cocktails.

What We're Loving Now

We're crushing on these trends, recipes and DIYs.

More From the Archives

Browse through our archives to discover "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" projects, cool hacks and  genius DIY ideas.

Read Our Previous Posts

Meet the Team

About the Team

Get to know the crafty, creative writers and editors behind DIY's Made+Remade blog. 

Go Behind the Blog