The Grown Ass Woman Diaries: How To Mix A Proper Cocktail

At my next grown-up shindig, I want to serve up something besides wine and beer.

May 10, 2013 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

I’m no Don Draper when it comes to alcohol. I’m pretty much the polar opposite. Total lightweight, if we’re being blunt. In fact, there were a block of years (maybe 10) that I didn’t drink at all. I was that chick rocking the cran-spritzer at the club before switching to straight-up water after I stopped caring about how I looked.
 
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My no-drinking thing wasn’t a deliberate, overarching decision. It came about more as a series of small choices based on where I was at different times in my life.
 
For instance, in college, I tried to do the “Man, I’m so wasted” thing, but that was ridiculous, and I knew it back then. Of course, those were the days of crazy-strong, syrup-sweet mixed drinks in large red, plastic cups and made with the full intention of knocking you clean out. And let’s not even get into all of the gross, bitter beers or the literally-on-fire shots.
 
Right after graduating, I moved to NYC and started working at a women’s magazine (fashion department), so I sampled whatever drink was The Thing of the moment. Then it was Cosmos, which worked for me because it didn’t feel like an immediate punch to the head and I could nurse it while looking fab holding a fancy stemmed glass.
 
This worked for four or five months -– a couple party seasons -- until my pocketbook had a word with me about spending close to $8 on drinks that I routinely left sitting half-full on the edge of the bar. I went back to my cranberry specials, which were also helping maintain the optimal health of my urinary tract.
 
Then, after a brutal run-in with some corrupt chicken, I became a full vegetarian. Eating green and clean naturally extended to what I drank, so water it was. I ran with that for years. However, I did fall off the wagon -- if you can even call it that -- a couple years ago and have had two or three sips of wine and champagne here and there. But by this time, my tolerance for alcohol had shriveled to the size of a walnut. 
 
Actually, I only recently started drinking wine properly (i.e., more than two sips) again last year, and that’s because I took a birthday trip to Italy. When in Rome. (Or anywhere beautiful, luxurious, ancient, and delicious).
 
I may be a low-limit soldier, but that doesn’t mean I pass judgment on those who do drink (responsibly, of course). In fact, when we host dinner parties and grown folk hang-outs, I like having a bar table set up with a mix of things. I usually go with the basics -- beer and wine -– but the spirits are there too. They typically get passed over, but they are there, ready to party. My guess is people just want to keep it simple. Asking for an Old Fashioned with lemon bitters at someone’s home is a bit extra.
 
Or maybe not.
 
What if there were a couple signature cocktails available at my next shindig? How complicated can it get? I decided to ask an expert to show me how to make a classic cocktail and check that off my I Got This list. So I visited the popular restaurant and bar Grant’s in West Hartford, CT,  to get schooled by mixologist John on how to shake and stir this thing up right.
 
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Here’s what I learned:
 
We opted to make a Cucumber Collins, John’s take on the Tom Collins (which is gin, lemon juice and sugar). As he tells it, the basic components for cocktails are: spirit + citrus + sugar. For this drink, here’s what how equation plays out ingredients-wise:
  
  • Crop Harvest Earth Organic Cucumber Vodka
  • Lemon juice
  • Simple syrup*
  • Club soda
  • Cucumber slices for garnish
  • Highball glass
 
The two common mistakes when it comes to messing up a cocktail, John says, is over-pouring and not balancing your portions. The biggest tip he offers to anyone trying make a good cocktail is simple: “Go for quality. Use quality spirits, fresh juices and homemade syrups.” Johns says. “Nothing artificial, ever.”
 
1. Grab a separate mixing glass. You’ll blend all your ingredients in this before adding the ice. So pour in 2 oz. Cuke Vodka; 1 oz. lemon juice; and 1 oz. simple syrup. (*To make simple syrup, the ratio is 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. Boil your water and then add your sugar. Done.)
 
2. Add ice. Cover with your shaker glass (the legit stainless steel one or just another glass that can cover your mixing glass) and shake rigorously for 10 seconds.
 
3. Strain (again, use an official bar tool strainer or MacGyver up one from what you’ve got in the drawer) the mixture into an ice-filled highball glass.
 
4. Fill with club soda. To “fill” means just a quick pour to top off the glass.
 
5. Garnish with cuke slices and lemon wedge.
 
6. Enjoy and consider round two. I, as you now know, will be tapping out after the third sip.