When it comes to home bartending, bringing your cocktail game from good to great is in the little details. While you can buy better spirits and have the fancy bartender tools, if you’re not focused on the other aspects like syrups, garnishes and bitters, you’re missing out on the key elements of a great cocktail.
While it may seem daunting to think about starting from scratch with speciality ingredients, it’s not as hard as it seems, and will make your cocktails truly your own creation at the end of the day.
Here are a few options that will help you avoid the generic store bought products:
Bourbon Soaked Cherries
Forget maraschino cherries, they are awful anyway. These homemade bourbon soaked cherries work amazingly in Manhattan’s and Old Fashioned’s, and are also great gifts.
- 1 cup bourbon
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 1-inch strip orange peel
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 pound cherries, pitted
Method: Combine the bourbon, sugar, orange juice and orange peel in a small saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Combine the bourbon mixture and the cherries in a 15-ounce sterilized container and seal. Allow the contents to cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator. Chill for at least three days before using. The cherries will keep for up to 2 months.
Hibiscus Simple Syrup
Add the refreshing quality of hibiscus to simple syrups to help elevate gin and vodka based cocktails to a new level. Omit the hibiscus for a straight simple syrup recipe.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 0.5 cup dried hibiscus petals
Method: Combine water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugars are dissolved.Take off heat and add hibiscus petals, let soak for a maximum of 15 minutes. Strain out petals and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Thai Chili Tincture
Think of this like an essential oil for your cocktail. This Thai chili tincture will add a spicy kick to any cocktail that suits a more robust profile with just a few simple drops.
- 3 oz dried Thai chili
- 8 oz vodka
Method: Infuse chilies into vodka for 3 days, shaking occasionally. Strain into a dropper.
Bitters are an essential part to many great cocktails, and as with most recipes, there are a ton of variations you can play with once you get the hang of creating your own. Here’s a good place to start.
- 1 medium lemon
- 1 bottle grain alcohol
- 40 drops gentian extract
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 piece fresh ginger, cut in half
- 4 whole allspice berries
- 4 whole cloves
Method: Using a vegetable peeler, remove lemon zest in strips, leaving the whites behind. Combine lemon zest and all remaining ingredients in a quart jar with a tight lid. Close and store at room temperature. Let steep 14 days, shaking the jar every other day. Using a coffee filter, strain alcohol from spices and store in a jar in a dark, cool place.