All great artists—from painters and poets to cellists and chefs—begin by studying the classics in their chosen field,” writes Alex Day in the introduction to Cocktail Codex, win-ner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Book of the Year. Then they “emulate and practice those classics until they’ve developed their own signature style and can create original works.” Day, one of the owners of Death & Co. among other impressive hospitality credentials, is of course applying the principle to bartenders, but anyone can become a masterful mixologist by following the same tack. All that is required to begin with is plenty of time—which most of us have at the moment—and a properly equipped home bar.
According to a survey conducted by Bacardi Limited, over the holidays just past, one in four Americans were planning on making cocktails at home while 53% of respondents planned to drink more cocktails over the festive season in general. With service at bars necessarily limited, it’s safe to say most of them will be breaking out their shakers and coupes. So how to become truly proficient in the art of mixing drinks?
“For many people, the first strategy in studying cocktails is to memorize a bunch of recipes,” Day writes. “However, it’s a well-known (but rarely acknowledged) secret among bartenders that almost every cocktail in existence today can be traced back to a handful of seminal drinks.”
Master these essential imbibables and you are well on your way to earning those mixology credentials. Many classic cocktails can be “organized into ‘families,’ or groups of drinks cut from the same cloth.” Day notes. “This allows us to grasp a handful of recipes that connect to many more due to their similarities.” A better way to think about them is as “intuitive progressions arising from a handful of well-known templates: the Old-Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Highball, and Flip.”
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