A Cocktail Pro Explains How to Make Better Cocktails

Beer & Cocktails, Drink, Entertain, Learn, Meet

The Passport to Chile, an easy-drinking grapefruit-and-pisco cocktail from bartender Matt Friedlander. All photos by Kelly Puleio

 

Cocktail writer Maggie Hoffman had had about enough of delicious bar drinks that sounded impossible—or expensive—to concoct at home. When she dreamt up her new book The One-Bottle Cocktail, it was with most of us in mind. Every single one of the 80-plus recipes she features, from bartenders around the country, relies upon one bottle of alcohol. That’s it. No bitters, tinctures, or liqueurs. So if you have a bottle of gin, a couple of limes, arugula, and fennel, you can make yourself a Gin Rocket. More of a bourbon person? Consider Newton’s Law, an on-the-rocks mix of dark brown sugar, bourbon, lemon juice and apple butter that sounds ideal for autumn.

 

Book author Maggie Hoffman.

 

Hoffman reached out to bartenders around America to make the book, testing each in her Bay Area kitchen as her daughter went to the playground with the nanny. She only kept the recipes that worked—drinks that require just the things in your pantry, or the addition of a few fresh elements to your weekly grocery shopping list. Because why spend hundreds of dollars to host people for cocktail hour, or take the edge off a long day?

 

A “grilled” margarita decked out with toasty lemon wheels.

How’d this book occur to you?

There were a few reasons. I started the drinks part of the food website Serious Eats many, many years ago, maybe 2012 or 2011, and had been scheming for a few years before that. I started writing about all different kinds of drinks. People wanted cocktail recipes and how to DIY stuff. People who read Serious Eats are generally comfortable in the kitchen but younger people in smaller kitchens on a budget or older people on a budget … [simple] things would be really popular. The beauty of internet is you can see what people read. People were frustrated by how out of reach some cocktail recipes have gotten because of the ingredients.

 

When I go to a bar I go to drink something I can’t make at home. In 2012 … I was receiving all the cocktail books that were coming out. For a while it felt like every one was from a bar. They were beautiful and fun to read but when you went to make a cocktail, you couldn’t. [I was] realizing that the home bar was different. If you’re going to the grocery store for dinner, you want to plan a cocktail that—you’re picking up the ingredients at the grocery store or have them in your pantry. It makes it much less expensive. The truth is that when I went out for drinks with my Ten Speed editor she was complaining that a book needs to be something interesting three years later. I mentioned that one of our most popular posts was “What to do with a bottle of gin and a trip to the grocery store?” She was like, “How quickly can that become a book?”

 

The genius “El Gallito,” a vodka-based Bloody Mary riff that uses strained juices from pineapple, lime, tomatoes, and adobo chiles. (The pulp becomes a salsa!)

What were some of the most surprising flavor combos bartenders sent your way?

The savory drinks, like rum with fresh ginger. Instead of adding a pinch of salt, in the Hoy-Hoy! bartender Liam Odien uses soy sauce. It’s not enough to make it taste like soy sauce. It just adds a savory base note. I would have been like, “Ooh, that’s scary,” but it’s so delicious. Similarly, there’s a fall drink… with radicchio in it. There are a lot of vegetable drinks.

 

Any favorites?

For the summer and for daytime drinking, the El Gallito is a pitcher drink you make, like a super-light Bloody Mary. Instead of using thick, gunky tomato juice you use cherry tomatoes. A little bit of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle adds a roasty savory note. It’s got fresh pineapple, lime, and cilantro. You blend it and strain it. The liquid that comes out is your mix—plus vodka or reposado tequila—but you don’t throw anything away. The solids you strain off is salsa. You put that in a bowl with chips for a really delicious fresh pineapple salsa. Then you have your drink that’s light and spicy. That’s sort of my perfect brunch situation. It’s really seasonal and I hope it gets people thinking seasonally.

 

Buy the book here!

What stops people from making drinks at home?

A few things. I think a lot of it is cost and storage space. … There’s always one more thing you need. I think people love to be creative in the kitchen and forget that drinks are cooking things, too. The way bars do it is intimidating. You go to a bar and it’s, “What’s in there?” “Oh, these 25 things.” They’re making 100 of these things in advance. At home, you can make a drink with almond milk, lime juice and marmalade. My eyes were opened to the beauty of pantry ingredients like tea, jam, and marmalade. Those are so much cheaper than buying apricot liqueur.

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