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In the Spirit

Tips and Tricks

Arsenal for your cocktail Rolodex

By Tony Cross

I love to learn new tricks when it comes to making drinks. Whether it’s from a cocktail book or a YouTube post by a bartender, some of these tips have become mainstays in how I construct a cocktail. Though I could write a year’s worth of columns on everything from “washing spirits” to “how to make your own bitters,” like Sesame Street, I’ll begin with the letter S —  from syrups to saline — and finish at the “bitter” end. Relatively easy to make, these tips go a long way if you love making cocktails at home.

Rice Water Simple Syrup

Before you say “Eww, gross!” hear me out on this one. I was intrigued when I first heard about this for two reasons. First, I meal prep every Sunday and make a ton of rice. Second, I love velvety textures in shaken drinks (one of the main reasons I usually make a simple syrup with a 2:1 ratio). If you have any concerns about rice being a flavor in your syrup, don’t fret — any notes from the starch will be masked by the sugar.

To make: Soak your rice in water until cloudy. Measure 1 cup of starchy water and put it in a saucepan while adding 1 cup of sugar. You can use white sugar, you can use turbinado (I use cane) — it doesn’t matter. Let the mixture simmer, or stir quickly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and bottle. Holds for two weeks.

Super Juice

Super juice will save you money and time. By taking the peels from lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit, and adding acids, water and just a little bit of juice from the peeled fruit, you’ll be able to multiply your juice margins tenfold. Even better, it’ll last weeks. Say goodbye to daily juicing.

To make lemon super juice: Weigh lemon peels on scale (start off with the peels from 3 lemons). Use the same amount of citric acid by weight (if you have 40 grams lemon peel, use 40 grams citric acid). Multiply the weight of the lemon peels by 16.66 to determine the amount of water. Combine citric acid with peels in a container. Seal, shake to coat peels with acid, and let sit for 2-3 hours. A sludgy/oily substance will fill the bottom of the container. Put everything from the container into a blender and use the water to get out the rest of the oils in the blender. (You can use an immersion blender, if you’d like.) Blend water, oils and peels together. Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Juice the peeled citrus, strain it, and add to oleo citrate. Stir, and refrigerate. You’ll notice that lemon will last the longest before tasting any subtleties with the flavor profile. The juice will start to taste a bit metallic and bitter as the weeks go on, but all juices will be great for the first week. Make sure to taste before using/serving.

Salt Solution

This one is a no-brainer. Salt makes food taste better, whether it’s chocolate, soup or fruit. The same applies to cocktails. Try making a daiquiri with a pinch of salt — it’ll make the flavors pop. Or, you can make a simple saline solution. One or two drops will make all the difference.

To make: 20 grams salt mixed with 80 grams of water. That’s it. Put it in a tiny glass dropper bottle and you’re good to go.

Combining Bitters

While I won’t break out the specs on making your own bitters from scratch, I will share a quick and easy tip that I learned from my first Death & Company book way back when. It’s the recipe for their house orange bitters. It wasn’t the first time I’d combined bitters — I previously used Employee’s Only’s recipe for Absinthe bitters — however, the recipe for this orange bitters is much easier. What I love about this simple trick is how you get the sweetness from the Fee Brothers orange bitters, the spices of angostura’s bitters, and the bitterness of Regans. This is a great balance. Try a few dashes in your next old fashioned.

Death & Co.’s House Orange Bitters: Take 100 grams Fee Brothers West Indian orange bitters; 100 grams Angostura orange bitters; 100 grams Regans orange bitters, transfer to an empty glass bottle, seal, and shake. Keep at room temperature; the bitters will hold for one year.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.