DIY Craft Cocktails: How to Up Your Home Cocktail GameJun 03, 2022 07:00PM ● By GINA BIRCH
Sitting at the bar of Chartreuse, Southwest Florida’s newest craft cocktail hotspot, it’s mesmerizing to watch bartenders like Carlos Cabrera slap, shake, stir, and ignite all manner of ingredients to create picture-perfect cocktails with exquisite flavors that most patrons could only dream of making at home.
This Prohibition-inspired bar in downtown Bonita Springs is the brainchild of Danielle Dyer and her three partners. Opened in June 2021, Chartreuse continues to elevate the local cocktail scene.
Dyer encourages her staff to use fresh ingredients, unique spirits, and lots of creativity when crafting both classic and inventive cocktails. The results are tangible, and locals can’t get enough of what this classy cool space is serving up.
After settling into one of the comfy chartreuse-colored bar stools (Dyer’s favorite color), I was an attentive student as Cabrera let me in on a few bartending secrets for home, while offering a step-by-step tutorial on mixing the Southside, a famous favorite of Chicago gangster Al Capone.
It takes five ingredients, one that might surprise you.
He begins by adding ¾ ounce of both simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. The equal portions balance the sweet and sour flavors. Next comes two ounces of a London Dry-style gin. “A botanical gin would overpower the cocktail. It’s mint forward with undertones of citrus,” he explains.
The surprise comes with a pinch of salt—“Just like in cooking, seasonings elevate flavors,” he says. “Add a little salt to brighten things up.”
The final ingredient is a handful of mint, about 12 to 15 leaves. While some bartenders muddle mint to extract flavors, Cabrera prefers to break the leaves with ice, using what he calls a “hard shake.” Too much muddling can add a bitter component.
After putting the mint in the shaker, add a generous portion of ice and then “shake it with intention.” He adds with a smile, “You’re not rocking a baby. You are waking it up.”
He then double-strains the cocktail into a coupe glass using the standard Hawthorne strainer found on most shakers and a fine mesh strainer to capture any smaller particles of ice or leaves.
For the finale, he slaps a sprig of mint in his hand to release its oils and uses it as a garnish along with a thin wheel of fresh lemon. The cocktail is perfectly balanced and refreshing, one that goes down easy and all-day long.
When attempting craft cocktails like this at home, you want to keep in mind that it’s the little things that make a big difference. Cabrera offers the following five tips for DIY bartending.
Always measure ingredients. It’s a common mistake not to measure, but a quarter of an ounce can make or break a cocktail, especially when dialing in the sugar.
Use ice right out of the freezer. The cubes sitting in your ice bucket may be convenient, but they are usually wet and can overdilute your cocktail.
Squeeze juices for mixing. Fresh is best. Citrus oxidizes as soon as you cut it and can begin to taste bitter the longer it sits.
Don’t forget the garnish. It hits all the senses—appealing to the eye, offering aromas and a perception of the flavors you’re about to taste. Garnishes can also be functional, brightening up a cocktail.
Spring clean your bar. Spirits have long shelf lives but can still go bad if overexposed to heat and sun. Check for freshness and always store fortified wines such as vermouth and Cardamaro in the refrigerator.
What about smoky cocktails?
At Chartreuse, Cabrera uses a culinary smoker to fill the inside of an oversized glass dome. When the dome is lifted a comforting campfire smell wafts through the bar. He says smoking the cocktail after it has been made affects flavor perception more than the flavor itself.
For a more flavorful infusion, smoke the inside of an empty glass first, then add liquid.
The popularity of smoky drinks has led to the development of some great home gadgets, including one from Stündenglass that is a chemist’s dream. Its unique Beverage Cloche ($149.95) is engineered using physics, so the heat produced is gentle enough not to change the temperature of delicate beverages, while still delivering rich flavors. It looks impressive too.
There’s nothing quite like sitting at a bar with friends, watching a skilled mixologist meticulously and ceremoniously build a beverage. But if you choose to stay in for the night, there’s no reason to settle for less than an ordinary cocktail. Cheers to crafting your own.
Gina Birch is a regular contributor to TOTI Media. A lover of good food, good drinks, and a fun time, she is also a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.
Grand Marnier Grand Old Fashioned
- 1 part Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
- 1 part Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
- 3 dashes aromatic bitters
- Large ice cube
Combine aromatic bitters, Grand Marnier, and whiskey in an old-fashioned glass. Add large ice cube and stir until cold and well incorporated. Garnish surface of liquid with orange twist, expressing oils over glass rim.
Tanteo Tequila Dove Love Paloma
- 2 ounces Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 2 ounces grapefruit juice
- ½ ounce agave nectar
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass Garnish with a lime slice or a Jalapeño slice.