Making Bloody Marys and Hot Toddies at home always sounds good in theory. But in practice? They just never seem to turn out quite like they do at your favorite bar. But that’s not because you’re a miserable failure of a home bartender. More likely than not, it’s because you were a little heavy handed with one ingredient or because you were working from a subpar recipe. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your mixology dreams just yet. Here are seven classic cocktails you’re probably making wrong—and tips on how to fix the errors of your ways.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Using cubed ice and not enough mint.
The herbal and refreshing Mint Julep is a gem of a whiskey cocktail. Often, though, it ends up tasting like nothing more than a glass of cold, sweetened bourbon. To keep your Julep from falling into mediocrity, there are three helpful tips to keep in mind: First, use finely crushed ice—it should resemble what you might find in a snow cone. Second, use a high-proof bourbon that won’t be overpowered by the simple syrup. And third—and most importantly—garnish with a larger sprig of mint than you think you should. If you’re not getting a huge whiff of minty freshness with every sip, there’s not enough mint.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Using pre-made sour mix.
Don’t even think about buying pre-made sour mix to make your Whiskey Sour—that’s the fastest way to burn out your taste buds and ruin what is otherwise a ridiculously delicious drink. Instead, make a batch of your own sour mix in advance with fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. Then, make sure you’ve got the right whiskey for mixing—here are a few of our favorites. It may sound like a lot more work, but it’s all worth it in the end for Whiskey Sour perfection.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Not adding enough spices, sweeteners and citrus.
Whiskey and hot water do not a Hot Toddy make. In order to squeeze as much healing power and warmth out of this steaming cocktail as possible, be sure you’re mixing in plenty of honey, lemon juice and spices. Our favorite way to incorporate just the right amount of spice into this delightful cold remedy is by garnishing with a clove-studded lemon peel. The cloves are just strong enough to add a little something something to the Toddy, while making it look just a little fancier than usual. Once you’ve mastered the classic, there are plenty of ways to tweak the recipe even more.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Topping it with soda water and muddling a cherry into it.
Though it’s almost fully recovered its former 1960s glory, the Old Fashioned fell into the same sweet, fruity trap as Daiquiris and Cosmopolitans during the ‘80s and ‘90s. To avoid making the same mistakes bartenders of that unfortunate era did, be sure to skip the soda water and muddled cherry. Keep it simple: whiskey, sugar, bitters, orange peel.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Not tasting while you're mixing.
Of all the classic cocktails, the Bloody Mary is the easiest to screw up, from over (or under) spicing to not using enough citrus juice. The most important tips to keep in mind when making your Bloody are to use quality ingredients and taste as you go. Then, once you’ve mastered the mix, the next step is making a delightfully salty bacon straw.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Serving it straight up and skipping the garnish.
Often touted as one of the easiest classic cocktails out there thanks to its simple, equal parts recipe, the Negroni still manages to elude some mixologists. While it may look pretty served up in a coupe glass, this kind of presentation does little for the drink. Once the mixture of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth starts to warm, it becomes particularly bitter and flat. Served on the rocks, the drink stays chilled and will become properly diluted as the ice melts. And don’t forget to add an orange peel garnish—the citrus oil will help cut through the bitter flavor of the amaro and add some necessary brightness.
What You’re Doing Wrong: Using Triple Sec instead of agave or simple syrup.
Like the Old Fashioned, the Margarita went through some dark times in the ‘80s and ‘90s. At some point, it became the widely accepted practice to use Triple Sec in the recipe instead of simple syrup or agave syrup. But if you want to get the most out of your Marg, you’ll drop the orange liqueur right now. Simplicity is the key.