A young and upcoming mixologist once told me he first learned how to mix cocktails the moment he learned to make fresh lemonade. At the time it sounded quaint, but I didn’t fully understand what he meant. Now after picking up the new book, DIY Cocktails, I have a better appreciation for his meaning.
Created by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren from Drink of the Week, DIY Cocktails sheds light on the sometimes mysterious topic of balancing drink ingredients.
Rather just providing recipes, it focuses on dissecting the fundamental ratios that are the building blocks of so many drinks.
The book covers 10 different ratios that allow you to make hundreds of drinks. Each ratio helps illustrate not just the what, but the why–showing how a balance of flavors is achieved.
Now I understand how, just like with making fresh lemonade, the heart of mixology is understanding the alchemy of balancing flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, strong, weak, and so on.
Besides allowing you to geek out on the cocktail front, I quickly discovered that this knowledge has a fair amount of practical application as well.
Seeing the parallels between different drinks gives you a framework to feel more comfortable ad-libbing your own boozy concoctions. In DIY Cocktails, the authors encourage you to try ingredient substitutions, which is sometimes a necessity in a home bar.
For example, armed with the knowledge that an Old Fashioned is “9 parts strong and 1 part sweet” with a dash of bitters, I was emboldened to try making this classic cocktail with Brandy instead of the requisite Bourbon.
The result was a resounding success. Was it something I would order at a bar every night? Probably not. But was it a passable substitution given that it was Wednesday night at 9:30PM and my bottle of Makers had just gone dry? Absolutely.
It was this same knowledge of fundamental cocktail ratios that allowed me to preserve my sense of manhood the other night in a Mission bar after my friends ordered me a cosmo as a joke. Ignoring my request for a gin martini, my friend snickered as he brought me a froofy-looking pink drink.
At first I was miffed.“What the hell is that?” Then after a moment of reflection, I remembered that the cosmo shares the same fundamental ratio as some other manly drinks, like the sidecar. With that insight, I was able to not only tolerate the cosmo, but actually enjoy it. In my mind I was no longer drinking a girly drink, I was enjoying a close cousin to the margarita. Booyah.
DIY Cocktails includes a wealth of other information for the aspiring home mixologist, including a rundown of the pros and cons of various mixers (I now have a clear appreciation for the distinct value that seltzer, club soda and mineral water each bring to the table). It also includes ridiculously easy recipes for making your own infused liquors, bitters and fruit syrups.
My only criticism of the book is that it’s paperback and doesn’t stay open by itself, which is inconvenient when you’re using it as a reference while making drinks. I’m also worried about how long its going to last in paperback form. If they come out with a hard back version, I’m definitely going snatch it up. I’m going to have this book for a long time. I want it to last, dammit.
Beyond that, it’s a beautifully designed book. Easy to read, nice to look at, and full of colorful pictures and ideas that inspire you to bring out your own inner mixologist.
Note: the links to DIY Cocktails in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission (at no increased cost to you) if you buy it through the link. But I only do affiliate links for items I really believe in, and this is one of them.