At just about every contemporary cocktail bar, even the simplest-looking drinks conceal complex techniques. As technology becomes increasingly integral to behind-the-scenes production of elaborate infusions, distillations and garnishes, it can seem impossible to create a drink as thoughtfully made at home without access to rotary evaporators and other highly technical machines. But there are a number of tools, and even specific ingredients, that can take at-home drink-making to the next level. The key is probably already in your kitchen.
Infusing spirits can take hours, or even days—but a few household appliances can offer the same effect in a fraction of the time. For a fast track to extra-herbaceous spirits, try packing a high-powered blender with greens and gin or tequila. Blitzing at a high speed ensures that leafy herbs won’t get bruised, while adding a touch of citric acid can keep the spirit from browning, maintaining a bright, green color. Try this method to build the base of a Gin Rickey or Margarita.
For stirred drinks, rather than infusing a base, use the microwave to give the entire cocktail a quick infusion. Popularized by science-minded bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, this technique involves adding ingredients like fresh fruit, herbs and dried aromatics to a pre-batched cocktail, pouring it into a vacuum-sealable bag and blasting it in a microwave. Use this method to impart mellow, rounded flavor to the Manhattan, Vieux Carré or Negroni. Then, while experimenting with the microwave, consider harnessing the dehydrating power of the appliance to make flavor-packed Campari dust or other liqueur powders to garnish anything from a Paloma to a Last Word.
But other techniques can give your cocktail a boost without any appliances necessary. Consider, for example, the many contemporary cocktail menus that show that the ingredients in drinks and dishes have never looked more alike. Whether it’s balsamic vinegar lending an acidic tang to sours and fizzes, or miso paste adding a pop of umami to tropical drinks, a number of flavors, often mixed into syrups, have crossed over from the culinary realm into the bar world.
Certain ingredients don’t even require steeping into a sweetener or infusing into a base. Consider, for example, green Tabasco and gochujang, whose sweet-spicy flavor profiles can be added directly into the shaker to make spicy Margaritas a breeze, while starchy raw sushi rice can unlock roundness and body in Negronis and other stirred drinks.
A final technique, though subtle, is extra simple. Dropping a few coffee beans into the mixing glass can impart nuanced coffee flavor, harmonizing particularly well with the caramel notes often found in sweet vermouth and sherry or the baking spice tones typical in whiskey. As with many kitchen hacks (and cooking in general), this method requires tasting and testing to get the right flavors. French bartender Nico de Soto, who developed the technique, likens it to “putting salt in food.”