What are some of the components to making great cocktails?

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Answered by: Brian, An Expert in the Bartending Category
Bartending is a pretty fun profession. From daily prep and making drinks, to getting to socialize with the cast of guests , whether they be regulars or travelers on visit, makes for a good day at work. But what traps my attention behind the bar is the fact that it allows for creativity. Making great cocktails can be as simple as stirring a great bourbon with simple syrup and bitters, but it can also be as refined as draining egg whites to create a mouth feel in your drink that creates a unique experience. The bar is the spirit of the restaurant, and knowing how to tame the spirits behind your bar will allow you to elevate your cocktails.

Vodka is one of the easier spirits to play with behind the bar. It's a mostly flavorless distillation, so any array of things can be done to tame the bite on it. A favorite drink of many is the Cosmopolitan, which is going to include cranberry and lime juice with a touch of orange liqueur added, creating a sweet, fruity drink that doesn't have the same fire as taking a shot of vodka would.

Whiskeys are another staple in cocktails, and their wide variety of flavors, from the smoked peat the molds Scotch, to the corn mash that sweetens a bourbon, means there's a lot that can be done to make a great drink, but it also requires a little more precision, because everyone whiskey carries a unique taste. A drink I've enjoyed is the Kentucky Mule, a twist on the Moscow Mule. Traditionally made with vodka, lime juice and ginger beer, the Kentucky Mule features bourbon as the spirit of choice. The subtle sweetness of bourbon interacts with the spice from the ginger beer, allowing for a smooth and refreshing drink.

Rum is my favorite spirit to work with because of the variances between rums, and the ability to use almost anything with rum to make a drink. Distilled from molasses, or the by-product of sugar production, rum is a very malleable spirit, but it's best use is in tropical cocktails, such as the Mai Tai. Mai Tai's can be a bit bastardized today, as pre-made mixes are often used, leading to a overly sugary and syrupy drink. Scrap those pre-mixes for fresh lime juice, orgeat, cointreau, equal parts white and dark rum, and you have the original Trader Vic's Mai Tai.

Making great cocktails can be an art form, but like any art it takes practice. Sampling and tasting different spirits, finding the different subtleties, allows for any pallet to be satisfied when you learn the nuances of a craft cocktail. There's a lot to take in, spirits have been a part of our world for a long time, and a lot of refinement and innovation has gone into the craft already. But spirits were created to be shared and enjoyed in the company of others, and expanding that enjoyment is the purpose of a great cocktailer. And of course, always enjoy in moderation.

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