Curious about how the professionals make cocktails at home? Wonder no longer. From pre-freezing glassware to emulsifying egg drinks, here’s 20 expert-backed tips, tricks and hacks you can adopt to make bar-standard drinks in your kitchen…

No matter how well-versed you are at knocking up an Old Fashioned or a Daiquiri from the comfort of your own home, nothing quite beats the finesse of a bar-side serve. The question is: why?

Turns out, there’s more to making a cracking cocktail than just combining measured liquids in the correct order. But you don’t need loads of fancy kit and obscure ingredients to achieve them – all you need is a little know-how. We asked bartenders, brand ambassadors, and other knowledgeable drinks industry folks to share their hacks for making the best possible cocktails at home. Here’s what they had to say…

You’ll need ice, lots and lots of ice

Ice

Use more than you think you need

“There is one rule that I always stick to when making cocktails at home: Use good ice, and a lot of it,” says Renaud de Bosredon, Bombay Sapphire UK brand ambassador. “Using just two ice cubes in a Gin & Tonic or to stir a Martini will only add water and won’t cool the drink down properly. Don’t hold back. The more ice, the better!”

Filter before you fill up

“Ice is often overlooked as an ingredient, but in certain cocktails it can add up to 50% of dilution, so you want to be using the best quality ice possible,” says No. 3 Gin brand ambassador Ross Bryant. “Water quality is different all over the country, so anyone making ice in a hard water area should filter their water first before freezing.” 

Freeze your own large format ice 

“You can do this by filling a take-away container full of ice and leaving it to freeze, use a serrated knife to then cut it into nice big blocks,” says Dan Garnell, head bartender at Super Lyan, Amsterdam. “This will help keep the drink cold but won’t add too much dilution.” 

Know the difference between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ ice

“If your ice is ‘wet’ – i.e. wet on every side, it has been out of the freezer for a while – it will dilute your drink quicker,” says Bryant, “whereas ice cubes taken straight from the freezer are ‘dry’ and will dilute your drink slightly slower.”

Manhattan Duke

Manhattan: 2 parts rye, 1 part vermouth, dash of bitters

Methodology

Resize drinks via ‘parts’

“Try transforming measurements in parts instead of ml or ounces,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “For example, a Manhattan will work with 2 parts base spirit, 1 part modifier and a couple dashes of bitters. Instead of 50ml/25ml or 60ml/30ml, there’s less to remember, and it’s easier to adjust according to the available glassware.” 

Introduce new flavours slowly

“You can always add more, but you can’t remove,” says Osvaldo Romito, bartender at the Megaro Hotel in London. “If you’re not sure, just start with a little bit and add more as you go.”

Look to physical cues

“Shake or stir until the temperature has reached an equilibrium,” says Talapanescu, “until you see condensation on the stirring glass or frost on the stainless steel shaker.”

Dry shake egg-based drinks

“When making drinks that contain egg, you must first ‘emulsify’ the egg,” says Bryant. “To do this, you must first shake all your ingredients without ice. Once shaken, open your shaker and add ice in order to chill and dilute your drink.”

Ask yourself, is that garnish really essential?

Garnish

Identify the essentials

“Garnishes can be divided into two: aromatic enhancers and aesthetic enhancers,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “Do not omit the aromatic ones such as citrus zest, mint, or a spray. The rest can be left out.”

Dehydrate wheels of fruit… 

“These are so easy,” says Karol Terejlis, bars manager at Baltic and Ognisko, both in London.  “Put your oven on 70 degrees celsius and dry slices of orange, mandarins, tangerines, lemons and limes for around 8 to 10 hours. I also dry out strawberries and raspberries for the same time, then blend them to make a powder. Good for garnishes with a strong colour!”

…Or alternatively, freeze them

“Pre-freeze fruit slices,” suggests Metinee Kongsrivilai, Bacardi rum UK brand ambassador. “This will help reduce food waste as it preserves the fruit, but it’s also great for chilling your drinks and it adds to the drink’s presentation. This would be most effective with perfectly diluted drinks.”

Utilise kitchen kit

“Potato peelers will cut you great citrus peel twists,” says David Eden-Sangwell, brand ambassador at Old J Rum. “The Y-shaped peelers are the best for this and will leave most of the bitter pith behind.”

Terri Brotherston in action

Prep

Chill the glass

“Making drinks without ice?,” says Eden-Sangwell. “Chill the glass with ice and water while you mix the drink and empty just before pouring the drink in. This will keep your drink cold for longer.” Alternatively, pop your glass in the freezer for a couple of minutes.

Pre-batch your ingredients

“If you are making multiple drinks, prepare in advance,” says Terri Brotherston, whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory UK. “You can make a small batch of sugar syrup in advance and store it in the fridge. You can juice two or three lemons or limes beforehand and keep it in a jug. It means your ingredients are already to hand and will make it a much smoother, more enjoyable process.”

Keep bottles in the freezer

“If you’re more of a stirred-down, spirit-forward – dry vodka Martini, for example – kind of person, whack that pre-diluted spirit in the freezer,” says Nicole Sykes, bartender at Satan’s Whiskers in London and Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition 2020 UK Winner. “That way you’ll get consistently ice cold Martinis with a great texture, straight from the bottle and you don’t have to panic if you don’t have any ice. Pour straight into a pre-frozen glass.”

Blend your cocktail

“Utilise that blender,” says Sykes. “For really quick, consistent and cold drinks, stick your favourite cocktails into a blender, add 10ml more sugar syrup – which you can also make in your blender using equal parts caster sugar and water by weight – and blend with supermarket ice to make a slush!”

Pre-batch your cocktails

“I’ve got bottles of pre-batched drinks ready to go,” says Bartender Paul Mathew, owner of Bermondsey bar The Hide and founder of Everleaf, “including a Negroni, a Last Word (just add lime and shake), and a Diplomat (my wife’s favourite) – plus plenty of Everleaf for non-drinking evenings and aperitifs.”

The Nightcap

Sometimes, the best tip is just to keep it simple

Creativity 

Create your own cordials

“Experiment with home cordials,” suggests Garnell. “For instance, after doing fresh orange juice in the morning, boil the husks in a mixture of water, orange juice and spices such as clove, cinnamon or nutmeg. Leave it to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and strain – you have your own spiced orange cordial!”

Try a milk wash

“Add one part spirit to a bowl and one quarter of its volume in lemon juice,” says Adam Rog, senior bartender at The Four Sisters bar in Islington. “Pour your spirit and lemon mixture into milk and watch it curdle. Once split, usually after 10 minutes, run it through a filter – try a microfibre cloth or some kitchen towel, as you’ll want it to catch the curds but keep the lactose. After this, you can add whatever flavours you think best. We milk wash coffee liqueur and add vodka, sugar, vanilla essence and cacao to create a smoother take on a White Russian.”

Or, just keep it simple

“One of my favourite cocktails to make at home is a Negroni,” says Ben Flux, bartender at Merchant House in London. “It’s simple, but a bartender’s favourite! Add a sustainable twist with Discarded Cascara Vermouth and spent coffee grounds to create a cold brew Negroni.”