While creativity behind the bar is certainly encouraged, there are some rules that must be followed for flawless crafting of cocktails:
Whiskey sours and Manhattans have been favorite whiskey cocktails for decades, with good reason. Whiskey just works better with certain ingredients. Know the basis of your classic cocktails, and you will be better equipped for experimentation.
A good cocktail celebrates the flavor of whiskey, without trying to disguise it. Use a generous hand with the spirits and be stingy with the rest of the stuff and your cocktail will be a win every time.
Sure, a “straight” bourbon may seem like the epitome of sophistication, but ice serves two distinct purposes. For one, it chills the drink. Secondly (and arguably more important), it slightly dilutes the whiskey and helps to release the flavor.
Boxed juice and bottled sodas contain a long list of ingredients that typically don’t belong in a whiskey cocktail. Use fresh ingredients instead for a better tasting (and healthier) cocktail.
A great cocktail will not contain more than two or three ingredients. Any more than that and you are complicating the art of drink making, and taking away from the fun of it.
The whiskey cocktail should taste just as good at the last sip as it did on the first. This can be accomplished by blending flavors that work well together so that a single one does not dominate. Don’t rely on a strong drink that makes you not care how it tastes by the time you see the bottom of the glass. Instead, focus on making cocktails that are just as good to the last drop.
A whiskey cocktail should look as good as it tastes. Even a small touch like a sprig of mint or a frosted glass will make a big difference in how it goes over.
Sure it looks cool to shake the drink with vigor before straining it into the glass, but that is only necessary when you are mixing the whiskey with a fruit juice. With anything else it is not only overkill, it is killing the flavor of the drink. Cocktails that do not contain citrus rely on the aroma of the whiskey, something that is better enhanced with a simple stir around the ice cubes.
There are dozens of variables that can change the flavor of a cocktail. Don’t obsess over these - embrace them. If you can’t find the exact type of orange called for in a drink recipe, use tangerines. Who knows? Your cleverness could lead to the next whiskey cocktail classic.
Whiskey cocktail making is a science of sorts, relying on specific ingredients, exacting technique, and creativity to be a success. Combine those elements when you’re behind the bar, and you will be well on your way to becoming a mixology master.