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.
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.
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.
Eduardo's Cocktail Dos and Don'ts
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
*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.
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
*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.
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.
- 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.
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!