The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess

The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess is dedicated to the creation of quality classic cocktails. Watch as he mixes up cocktail recipes from the past using the best ingredients.


Don’t Use Bad Ice in Your Cocktails - Mai Tai Recipe

19 Nov 14 5    ·   Rum,

Ice has become one of those things that some cocktail geeks can really… well… geek out about. You don’t have to look too hard to find people discussing the science of crystal clear ice, how to make hand-carved ice balls, or various other highly involved details about the ice that goes into mixing the perfect cocktail. As these deep examinations on ice start turning into esoteric exercise, it is easy to start dismissing the importance of ice all together. Ice is just frozen water isn’t it? What’s the big deal? In truth, thinking about the ice you put into your drink is a very important consideration. At the most rudimentary level it is all about size/shape, and temperature. Some bars will use what is referred to as Half-Cube or Crescent ice. These are two slightly different shapes, but about the same size, about the size of a pat of butter. This small and flatish ice will fill the glass with more ice than cubes would which will make the glass look like it is fuller of beverage than it actually is. Since there is more surface area exposed on this shape, it will melt faster as well. The result of course is a flabby drink, and not much of it. Higher end bars will go out of their way to use nice sized cube ice, the larger the cube, the less surface area exposed, and the slower the melt. For serving a drink on the rocks, you can select a size that virtually fills up the glass, but for mixing a drink you need something smaller so you aren’t fighting with the ice when you stir. The most common size is just a little over 1” cube. From a temperature standpoint, at a fairly rudimentary level, ice can be either “wet” or so cold it is “dry”. Wet ice has already started melting, and has a thin layer of water on it, which will immediately go into the drink. “Dry” ice (not to be confused with the CO2 based “dry ice”) is so cold that its surface hasn’t started melting yet. If you touch a cube of “dry” ice, your finger will stick to it because the ice is so cold it freezes to the small bit of moisture on your finger. So, while there is nothing wrong with geeking out about ice, your primary concern is to use nice sized cube which are as cold as possible.

Don’t Use Old Vermouth

12 Nov 14 12    ·   Vermouth, Gin,

There used to be a time when the amount of dry vermouth that would make it into your Martini would have been better measured by an eye dropper instead of a jigger. To this day, you can still find little spray bottles being sold as “vermouth misters” to allow only the slightest amount of vermouth to be added to your Martini. When you are using that little vermouth in your Martini, that means that you are going through your vermouth very slowly, making it very, very old before you make even the slightest dent in it. Vermouth is a wine. And like any wine, it will oxidize over time, which will impact its flavor. Vermouth is what is known as a fortified/aromatized wine (Port and Sherry are simply fortified wines). Fortification simply means adding an alcohol to the wine, usually brandy. This originally was done to help preserve it, the higher alcohol content would make it last longer. Aromatization means that herbs, spices, and botanicals have been added to it. The original intent of this was to produce a supposedly medicinal beverage, with wormwood being the key ingredient of vermouth, which is where it gets its name. These botanicals also had a side-effect of giving the wine a longer shelf-life, not because it reduced oxidation, but because it would sort of mask the effects of oxidation. Even with fortification and aromatization vermouth is still a wine, and so its shelf life, once opened, is limited. Those dusty bottles of vermouth you might have on your shelf are not going to do anything good for any drink you use them in. This could be part of what leads to the fear that some people have of vermouth, and hence the gymnastics they may go through to use as little of it as possible in their cocktails (the Martini specifically). You owe it to yourself, and the guests you are serving, to use as fresh of a bottle of vermouth as you can. This will mean buying as small a bottle as possible and keeping it refrigerated when not in use. If you have any doubts about the age of that bottle, then relegate it for use in cooking, where it works quite well.

How to Choose Proper Glassware - Sazerac Cocktail

30 Oct 14 8    ·   Cognac, Absinthe, Rye Whiskey,

When it comes to glassware, it can far too often come down to simply using what you have on hand. In a pinch, there may not be anything wrong with that, but even when you are simply making a drink for yourself, you deserve to do things properly and serve it up right! Wine drinkers have long known that different wines taste better in particularly shaped glassware (Thank You Riedel!) In much the same way choosing the right glass for your cocktail can make a big difference in the final results. With cocktails it isn’t so much the nuances of the flavor profile, but instead it is the functionality of the form, the visual presentation, size of the drink, comfort, and elegance as well. Drinks that need to be served with ice obviously need to be in a larger glass than those that don’t. Iced drinks should also be served in glasses with more vertical sides like a typical “Rocks” glass as opposed to an angle-sided “Martini” glass. Many times, the cocktail glassware you might see for sale in various houseware stores, while well intentioned, only exacerbates the problem. Most of the “Martini” style glasses you will see for sale are designed to hold 7, 8, 9, or even more ounces. When you think about a true Martini, it is mostly booze, with a little water from the melting ice. A properly sized Martini will only be a little over 3 ounces of liquid once it is made. If you put this into a 9 ounce glass, it will look like an insignificant drink, which may lead you to pour WAY too much into the glass. Even a “sour style” drink like a Cosmopolitan, should only be around 4 ounces when it is properly made, which is still too small for such a large glass. So even if you are simply preparing to make drinks for yourself at home, you should gather a small collection of glassware so you can treat every drink you make properly. For tonight, Lucullus dines with Lucullus!

Sour Mix: Just Say No - Daiquiri Cocktail

22 Oct 14 11    ·   Rum,

As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For bartenders, that “hammer” can come in the form of “sour mix”. For sour style cocktails (such as Daiquiri, Margarita, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, etc.), the proper balance between sweet and sour is important to achieve. You can add just a quarter ounce too much tart citrus juice to a cocktail and send it over the cliff. So imagine the value of getting that “just right” balance ahead of time, in bulk, and then being able to turn out well-balanced drinks that much quicker, without having to be as concerned about getting the recipe right. One of the problems of course is that not all sour style cocktails are created equal. Even a great sour mix, made from scratch, won’t work well in multiple recipes. Probably the only time that a sour mix “batch” is appropriate, is for a catering type of operation or event. This would be where you either know you are going to be slammed all night with people ordering a specific cocktail, or you have to use untrained staff. In such a situation you can have the “right” sour mix for the couple of drinks you’ll be offering, make it easier for untrained staff to get the recipe right, and take a little less time doing it. Sour mix was not created as a cocktail ingredient, but as a cocktail shortcut. The next time you see a recipe that calls for “sour mix”, realize that you will be far better off looking for another recipe.

When to Shake and When to Stir a Cocktail

16 Oct 14 3    ·   Vermouth, Bourbon, Rye Whiskey,

This is one of those galvanizing issues that can really show that you take quality cocktails even slightly seriously. Shaking a Manhattan is like serving your guests instant coffee. There, I’ve said it. The question about When to Shake and When to Stir still confuses many, more so when you see contradictory information about this in different recipes for the same drink. The rule to follow here is really quite simple. “Stir drinks that are made with transparent ingredients, shake drinks that include cloudy ingredients.” The reason for this is mostly due to aesthetics. Drinks served in a beautiful clear glass, look better when they themselves are clear and transparent. Shaking a drink will often make it cloud up, and make it unappealing. Often it will also put a scummy looking foam residue on the top which makes it even more unappealing. If the drink already includes cloudy ingredients (such as a citrus juice, cream, or egg white) then no amount of stirring will make it clear, so go ahead and shake it. A corollary of our simple rule, is this: “It is rarely wrong to stir a drink, but often wrong to shake it.” Which makes it all the more surprising when you see bartenders who not only shake all of their drinks, but don’t even have the tools necessary to stir a drink if they wanted to. So the next time you find yourself making a Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, or Derby, take a little extra time and stir it instead of shaking it.

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