Friday, April 12, 2013

How-To Make Better Cocktails!

Lisa J learns how to make a better cocktail
Le sigh. Sometimes this job is just so stressful. The multi-tasking is overwhelming – like trying to sample cocktails and learn about vodka from a world-renowned bartender.

Okay, it’s actually pretty awesome. Last month, I attended a hands-on cocktail clinic hosted by Belvedere Vodka. I got behind the bar to mix (and drink) cocktails with Ali Dedianko – Bartender Extraordinaire and Winner of Belvedere’s 2011 Bartender Dream Job Competition. The event was held at the Martini Club followed by a special vodka pairing dinner at Pure Spirits Oyster House in the Distillery District.
Ali at work

After many years behind the bar in New York City, Ali is travelling around the world to teach cocktail creativity to aspiring bartenders. She showed me some new ways to enjoy premium vodka and add unique twists to classic cocktails. I guess you could call this professional development?

While mixing drinks, Ali shared some of her top cocktail secrets with us. Here’s what I learned from behind the bar:

1. Always use fresh ingredients. 
It's the same principle applied to cooking – fresh produce and freshly squeezed juice are essential for creating a delicious drink. Avoid artificial ingredients, such as liqueurs, and use honey syrups, herbs, and spices instead. To add a kick, try this: smoke a spring of fresh rosemary, shake it in an ice tin, and then mix into a gimlet. 

2. Keep it simple. 
Be creative, but look to the classics for guidelines. They're called classics for a reason, and these recipes are tried and tested. Don't overcomplicate things by adding tons of flavours, especially when using a high quality spirit, like Belvedere Vodka. Check out these cocktail recipes for ideas.

3. Use premium vodka
Poland has strict laws regulating vodka production – one being “Thou Shalt Not Permit Additives.” Unlike European and North American brands, Polish-made vodka like Belvedere is 100% pure – made from water and potato or grain. Without any sugar added, premium vodka has only 65 calories per ounce. Tip: it has to say “Made in Poland” on the label to meet these production standards.

4. Experiment with these secret ingredients:

• Orgeat almond syrup – A classic and delicious ingredient, but supply is scarce and expensive. Rumour has it that Orgeat can be purchased online or at the St. Lawrence Market.  

• Fresh pink grapefruit – The sour balances out the sweet in the drink.

• Premium flavoured vodka – In the 1930s, vodka was marketed as “odourless and tasteless” to businessmen who didn’t want to smell boozy at the office. But it’s a total myth that it’s a neutral-tasting drink! 

5. Drink better. 
You don’t have to skimp on enjoyment to go low calorie. Sip on a tastier drink made with fresh fruits and premium vodka, making it last into the evening. My pick is the Zephyr – a refreshing summer drink mixed with vodka, pink grapefruit, orgeat, lemon juice, and tonic water. It tasted like a lighter Shirley Temple with a citrus, vanilla, and almond twist. See below for the recipe.

The Zephyr

45 ml Belvedere Vodka
25 ml Fresh Pink Grapefruit
15 ml Orgeat
15 ml Fresh Lemon Juice
Top Tonic Water

Shake first four ingredients and strain into highball over fresh ice. 

Top with tonic water and garnish with a wedge of fresh pink grapefruit.

-- Lisa Jackson is a freelance writer and travel junkie. Follow her on Twitter @lisajtoronto.

Photo credits: Kalen Hayman

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