Learn From The Pros How To Give Your Party The Mixologist’s Touch?
Ever watch the uber talented bartenders at popular restaurants and bars? (dare I say hipster hangouts?) They craft cocktails with genuine creativity and daringly push the envelope to dazzle your taste buds much like chefs do in the kitchen. They are called mixologists. They are more than bartenders mixing drinks. They create flavor profiles and ingredient combinations that elevate any cocktail from simple to unforgettable which garner easily $15-$25 per drink!
It takes years of practice and studying to perfect their craft so please don’t assume these tips will instantly get you a job at a haute bar. I’ve learned some tricks from the best in the business and my goal is to help you give your parties and cocktails at home that elevated touch that can make any gathering special.
Featured below are some of my favorite Orlando restaurants and bars which serve some of the best cocktails in town. Go visit, enjoy a few libations and pick up a few tips from their experts.
What is Mixology?
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Mixology” is the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks.
There’s more to it than that. The Art of Mixology is all about high quality, great taste and visual appeal. The drink must not only taste good, it must look good too. It should be “mahvelous” in every way.
The Courtesy Bar, Orlando’s first craft cocktail bar, continuously dazzles locals taste buds with inventive libations.
Here are my simple tips to entertain like a mixologist.
1. Red, White and Bubbly.
Think Red, White and Bubbly. It’s important to have house wines on hand to entertain friends at all times. This concept is not just for restaurants. I have my favorite red, white and bubbles ready to pop and pour so I don’t stress out when friends come over.
Select wines that are easy drinking on their own with some light snacks and a cheese board, but can also easily transition to pair with any meal. You also want to choose wines within your affordable price point so that you don’t hesitate to open another bottle. I always say “Don’t Wait to Drink The Good Wine” but you don’t want to pop open the Dom Perignon to have mimosas do you? Bubbles like prosecco, cava or asti are perfect for entertaining.
I’m a fan of CK Mondavi and Family wines for easy entertaining because they are not only very affordable but of high quality in their price category. The winery is family owned and run for four generations since 1943. They create wines to enjoy every day for any occasion. You can make any day a party when you open a bottle of wine. I am a CK Mondavi Ambassador because I drink these at home. My favorite varietals to have on hand for entertaining in the fall and holiday season are Chardonnay, lightly oaked with citrus aromas and notes of apples and pears, and Scarlet Five, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The full-bodied wine is their signature cuvee for good reason. It will stand up to a thick juicy steak or elegantly play with your fine cheeses. During Spring and Summer I prefer the Pinot Grigio for its fresh tropical flavors. Whatever your favorite varietal of wine is, keep a few bottles ready to go to entertain on a whim.
2. Keep It Fresh.
Use fresh ingredients in your cocktails wherever possible. Fresh herbs, spices, fruits and pressed juices not only taste better but they are better for you. I use fresh apple cider in my Southern Apple Pie Sangria and it makes a big difference in flavor. Together with fresh apples and fresh ground spices it makes the flavors of the season pop!
3. Think Like A Chef.
Mixologists today are chefs in the front of the house. They are constantly thinking of how to combine different spirits, mixers, ingredients and spices to create the most flavorful cocktails. They create their own shrubs, syrups, juices, bitters and garnishes. Although some of these require a bit more time and skill, most are not difficult to make and there are some quality brands you can buy ready-made.
At Loews Sapphire Falls Caribbean inspired Strong Water Tavern, bartender Brad Pickle creates his own shrubs and a variety of rum cocktails worthy of a pirate’s dream. This Rum Revival cocktail featured a blueberry basil shrub that gave the cocktail a unique layer of flavors.
I created an apple pie spiced simple syrup to give my Southern Apple Pie Sangria those spice notes that immediately conjure visions of warm apple pie out of the oven and orange leaves on the trees. It was incredibly easy to make and better yet store in the refrigerator for use in everything from my morning coffee to my after dinner cocktails.
4. Quality is Important.
Use the highest quality alcohol you can afford, especially when serving straight up or with a small amount of mixer. When you are creating mixed drinks, like a sangria or punch, you don’t need to use the most expensive but it is still important to use spirits with the highest quality in that price point. This is another reason why I like having CK Mondavi wines on hand because they are not only 100% All American, they are of great quality and value. Perfect for parties. To sip on their own, pair with foods and mix in drinks. Making a mimosa with Dom Perignon is foolish. Choose your spirits and wines accordingly.
5. A Dash of Bitters
A dash of bitters goes a long way. Bitters was a long forgotten bar “condiment” mostly used in Old Fashioned cocktails. A bottle of Angostura bitters usually sat all dusty and lonely behind the bar. That all changed when the craft cocktail movement started to make what’s old new again. I love the Peychaud’s, Bitterman’s and Fee Brothers bitters selection because a tiny dash will give your cocktails that special touch to take them to the next level.
Have fun with your glassware. Use vintage-looking cocktail glasses or a variety of sizes to keep your party interesting. You can pick up single glasses at discount home stores and garage sales. It’s ok if they don’t match as long as they have a certain feel and style to them that goes together.
I will also mention that although I love mason jars, we can all agree there’s a time and place for them and they have been excessively overused in recent years. If you’re doing an outdoor picnic, perfect. If you want to class it up, go with a nice rocks glass or coupe.
The Dinner Party Project in Orlando hosts unique small group dinners bringing strangers together around a beautiful dinner table. Go to an event, always held in a different location, meet new friends and pick up some party planning tips from expert party planner and owner of TDPP, Dana Marie Roquemore. I attended an event held in the furniture /housewares department of Bloomingdale’s in Mall of Milenia. We were treated to tequila cocktails in vintage glasses from her own collection with fun print linen napkins. Doesn’t this look fantastic?
7. Ice is Nice.
Mixologists know that good ice is key to a good cocktail. You see the pros shaving blocks of ice into all sorts of shapes but that’s impractical for easy entertaining at home. Instead, I add clean filtered water to a fun mold to get giant spheres, tubes or squares and it instantly takes your cocktail from “meh” to “wow!” These also melt slower and therefore your drink does not get diluted.
Crushed ice works well for rum punches and tropical drinks.
Another fun trick is to add fresh fruit and herbs to your ice cubes for color and a great visual. You can also make ice cubes out of juices and wine for further impact on the flavor of your drink.
Don’t forget the garnish. It is that final touch that dresses up your drink. The classic garnishes include sliced oranges, limes, lemons, cherries and cocktail onions but mixologists like to get more creative. Candied fruit, sundried fruit, peppers, herbs and spices can amp up the flavors and aromas but mostly the visual component. In my Southern Apple Pie Sangria I used a spiced sugar rim, a cinnamon stick and slice of green apple to give it the fall flavors, smells and look even before you taste the cocktail.
Edible flowers and petals make for pretty garnishes. Capa Steakhouse at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort makes the best and prettiest Gin & Tonic and signature cocktails in town.
Candied ginger and fresh rosemary gave this ginger tequila cocktail a wonderful scent at Plancha at Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
Paddlefish mixologists make some gorgeous drinks. Their Southern Sangria inspired my Southern Apple Pie Sangria and this Margarita garnished with smoked black salt on the rim, blackberry and a jalapeno slice is not your everyday margarita.
How about veggies in your drink? At DoveCote in Downtown Orlando, that’s what you get in their flavorful bloody Mary. Their bar program is also second to none with house-made root beer, absinthe and vermouth cocktails.
9. Have a Story.
To entertain like a mixologist and make your party and your cocktail more memorable, have a story. It’s easy to do some research online and find a bit of trivia and history on the cocktail you’re making or the wine and spirits you are serving. Sharing this with friends will not only make the tasting experience more enjoyable but also much more memorable.
My fall Southern apple pie sangria was inspired by the homemade apple pies my big sister used to make when I was a kid. It was the only recipe I ever made out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook she gave me when I went away for college. That cocktail was much more special because of memories it conjured not just for me but for my friends.
Armando Rosario, Director of Mixology for Southern Glazer Wine & Spirits writes in his book “Twelve Cocktails” that “the study of cocktail history is necessary to learn key information to help you memorize not only each cocktail’s specific ingredients, but how the cocktail is made and why it was created.”
At Waldorf Astoria Orlando, mixologist Justin Newman uses smoked peppers and a flamed chartreuse liqueur to give the glass a smoky note that takes the flavors of this creamy rich margarita to the next level. He created the recipe for a company wide competition held in California. He decided to take the margarita to the next level and hearing him talk about his inspiration is a part of the fun you don’t want to miss.
I hope these tips will inspire you to get together with family and friends, celebrate life, enjoy great food, wine and cocktails any day of the week. Don’t make excuses and put off entertaining at home to an elusive someday. Make Someday Happen today!
Disclosure: Although I am a CK Mondavi Ambassador and have been a media guest of the various establishments mentioned, this post was not sponsored and I was under no obligation to write it. All opinions are my own. As always, I only share with you experiences worth celebrating and products I love to inspire you to go celebrate life and #MakeSomedayHappen one bite, sip and trip at at a time. To learn more about my guidelines read my disclosure policy.
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