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Cocktail Essentials and Basics for Home Bartending

I considered naming this blog post Cocktail Making For Dummies because that aptly describes where I feel my capabilities lie with home bartending.  My level of expertise ends with the gin and tonic which happens to be my favorite drink.  I’ve mastered that!

Patio and rooftop season presents the perfect time for me to get out of my cocktail rut and expand my horizons.  The only problem was I didn’t know where to start and I don’t like wasting time or money. Therefore, I enlisted the help of someone excelling in the cocktail field, David Mor, Beverage Manager for Cindy’s restaurant in Chicago. Known for its magnificent views, Cindy’s is one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago. However, while one may come for the views, you’ll stay for the drinks! They even offer a nice spirit-free cocktail selection.

I initially met David at an event for wine and spirits.  His approachable nature and enthusiasm for cocktails and spirits were both exciting and the reason that he was the only person I reached out to for assistance.  I was grateful for the opportunity to pick his brain regarding all things cocktails starting with basic components and essential supplies needed for the home bar.

His openness during our conversation regarding his start in bartending was refreshing. He explained, “my background is in purely home bartending.  I did not start at this bougie awesome bar where I learned the eccentricities of Japanese spirits. No, I bought a bunch of books, made a bunch of drinks at home and ¾ of them failed because I wasn’t using the right ingredients, proper ice or tools.”

Myths Dispelled

He expressed that cocktails need not be overly complicated and making great drinks is definitely something that many are capable of. Several cocktail myths were dispelled early on in our conversation, namely:

You need an endless supply of bar tools at home:  One only needs a few items to get started.

  • 1 Mixing Glass
  • Lg Shaker
  • Sm Shaker
  • 1 Bar Spoon
  • Jigger (Measuring Unit)
  • Strainer

You need to buy the most expensive ingredients: “Obviously if you use higher quality products it’s going to taste better but if you don’t know how to mix them properly it’s not going to be balanced and you’re not going to be able to appreciate it regardless”

The more ingredients in the cocktail, the better: “I think people believe that you need six ingredients…..You can, and there are some nice punches that you can make that do involve many components, and I encourage people to do that because I do think it’s fun to break out of your comfort zone.  But the first thing that I learned was the foundation of cocktails. 

He recommended starting with a cocktail book that has really solid recipes that you can trust. “No shade to Pinterest, I love it for all things decor and fun gift ideas but for the purpose of making cocktails try a reputable cookbook from trustworthy bartenders who’ve accumulated good recipes”  I too love Pinterest but I must admit, I haven’t had much luck with the cocktail recipes. My last attempt at a punch was a miserable fail.

Classic Cocktails

David trusts the recipes in the following books and feels they have a long list of classics to choose from.

  • The Craft of the Cocktail
  • Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s guide
  • PDT cocktail book

The majority of classic drinks featured in these books can be executed by just having gin, whiskey, and brandy on hand along with your major mixers like Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth, a bitter, and syrup.

“Every classic cocktail is the foundation of all modern drinks that we do.  We’re just taking recipes that have always worked and adding in our own ideas to amplify it.”

An example of a few classics are a sour, an old fashioned and a highball.

  • Sour:  Spirit, citrus, sugar
  • Old Fashioned: Spirit, bitter, sugar, water
  • High Ball:  Spirit, tonic or soda

Once you have the basics down then add in your own flair and personality.

Perhaps you’d prefer to put a spin on an Old Fashioned? ” If you want to make an old fashioned totally different take a walk down the Binny’s aisle where there are bitters and find a bitter flavor you don’t typically use.  You can find cola bitters, chocolate mole bitters etc…it’s all the same idea, bitters are all the same except fruits, herbs, and spices that they masquerade them with.  You can change the flavor profile with a few dashes of something.  Then maybe choose a rye whiskey instead of a bourbon to make it a bit spicier.”

“Also, instead of doing a classic gin and tonic; why not infuse your gin with strawberries to make a strawberry gin and tonic? In addition, you can add a sprig of rosemary.  You now have a totally different cocktail from the 2-ingredient classic drink.”

So basically relax, have fun, and go with what inspires you! Sounds easy enough to me! (Click here for a few summer cocktail recipes that David gave me to try at home!)

Curating the seasonal beverage menu for a restaurant like Cindy’s keeps David busy.  I asked a few questions about his inspiration and drink preferences:

CBNT Cocktail

What inspires you when designing cocktails for the masses?

“Seasonality-If I’m making a drink in July it’s going to be something totally different than I’m making in November.  Because the ingredients that I’m craving at that moment will be really fresh, tiki flavors verses autumnal and savory flavors. I’m heavily influenced by art, I used to be an actor.  I love musicals and music and so I let songs influence what I’m working on. If I’m listening to jazz I tend to make stirred cocktails. If I’m listening to pop summer music I make crushable margaritas, fun sours, and mojitos.  And then I tend to be very influenced by the women in my life and I’ve named a lot of drinks after them.  I have drinks on the menu named after my best friend and my mother.  Women who’ve had a great impact on me……I’ve always wanted to pay homage to them on any menu that I put together.

What do you drink at home?

I drink sherry, a lot of gin, I love Japanese Whiskey, and Sake…..I have a general appreciation for most categories of booze.

Is there anyone that you look up to in the field?

I attribute why I bartend today to 3 people: one is Ashley Smith who taught me the foundation of bartending and not to get ahead of myself, basically, you can’t come up with the most creative cocktail in the world if you don’t understand the classics first. Another is Julia Momose, the bar creator at Kumiko.  She taught me to finesse and polish, and that everything matters.  This was from afar, I follow her on Instagram.    I felt challenged to take my craft more seriously…..everything really matters. Stephanie Andrews, the cocktail director at Billy Sunday (also the recipient of the Jean Banchet Award for Best Mixologist.) She inspired me to learn how to take myself a little less serious, be a real professional in this industry, and gain traction by my creativity.

What kind of questions should we as patrons ask when ordering a drink and may be unsure of what to order?

I think there’s a question that we should not be asking and that’s “what’s good here?”  It’s such an open-ended question and difficult to answer, although innocent.  My good will not always be your good…I love Negroni but you may hate gin so it belittles the point of the question because I’m not able to give you what you want.  Therefore, it’s better if you’re able to give as much information as you can and pinpoint what you’re in the mood for. Something like “I’m into refreshing and fruity, or I prefer gin-forward drinks” This will make your life and the bartender’s job so much easier. 

What can guests expect at Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant

My hope is that they come in and are pleasantly surprised by everything but the view. They’re going to love the view, it’s gorgeous!  I think they should expect that the pictures are true to life, it’s a beautiful experience, I hope that they taste some of the best drinks in the city.  Our wine program is exquisite and we have a lot of local brewery offerings.  Cindy’s is a Chicago friendly establishment.  We’re located in a historical building with a lot of roots in Chicago and the community.  I hope they see the story that we’re telling through the menu, what a true Chicago summer experience is like; an oasis. Cindy’s isn’t a place just about the view It’s truly a restaurant first and the view is like the dessert.

David’s passion for hospitality shines, it’s beyond obvious that he loves what he’s doing! I picked up on that the first time I met him. “I think that I have a beautiful job, I get to make people laugh and smile….. You never know what people are going through or what kind of day they had and you have the power to make their day better, at least at that moment. I take that part of hospitality very seriously….. I don’t care if you’re the best bartender in the world if you’re the most hospitable person in the restaurant, we’re going to hire and recommend you.

Be sure to check out Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant, you’ll most likely spot David interacting with guests or joking behind the bar so make sure to say hi!

1 Comment

  1. I love experimenting with cocktails. Thanks for the great ideas and especially for the book recommendations. I can’t wait to dive further!

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