The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess
The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess is dedicated to the creation of quality classic cocktails. Watch as he mixes up cocktail recipes from the past using the best ingredients.
23 Aug 12 12
This cocktail was believed to have been named after Douglas Fairbanks Sr. If that was the case, then why is it “Fairbank” and not “Fairbanks”? An alternate story says it was named after Charles Warren Fairbank, who was Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president.
Interview with Tom Bulleit of Bulleit Bourbon
13 Oct 11 3
Robert had the great pleasure of sitting down with Tom Bulleit of Bulleit Bourbon at Needle and Thread above Tavern Law in Seattle to discuss Bulleit's newest product, Bulleit Rye.
Interview with Bill Samuels Jr. of Maker’s Mark
2 Sep 09 5
During a busy visit to Seattle, Bill Samuel's Jr., President of Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky, was kind enough to sit down for an interview with Robert at Daniel's Broiler. Bill talks about how he wasn't the best rocket scientist and the real reason his dad made him President of Maker's Mark back in 1975.
E**X**R and Ginger
28 Jun 11 12
What do you do when a new product arrives that you have never mixed with before? Start by tasting it and comparing it to what you know. Then, mix up a simple cocktail that will express the nuances and characteristics of the spirit or liqueur. The Bitter Truth E*X*R is wonderfully sweet with characteristics of an Italian amaro. It pairs perfectly with a spicy ginger beer!
Interview: Sean Harrison and Desmond Payne
20 Jul 09 8
As if our coverage of Tales of the Cocktail 2009 could get any better! In this very special episode of The Cocktail SPirit with Robert Hess, Robert sits down for an exclusive interview with Sean Harrison, master distiller of Plymouth Gin and Desmond Payne, master distiller of Beefeater and now Beefeater 24. Together they have decades of experience crafting some of the world's finest gins. And, Robert has about the same amount of experience drinking them!
Dry Martini Cocktail
16 Jul 07 1
It is time perhaps that we tackle that quintessential cocktail, the Martini. This drink originated in the late 1800's, and quickly became one of the standards, alongside the Manhattan. The pre-prohibition Martini however was different from what you might expect today in many ways, and frankly it was a lot better for it. NOTE: Ok, so you got me pontificating about the Martini so much that I messed up making the dry Martini in this episode. I should have added a dash of orange bitters to the dry Martini cocktail just like I did to the sweet version.
Bainbridge Island Iced Tea
27 Oct 12 12
Ever wonder what we do with the leftovers from all the cocktails we make during a Cocktail Spirit shoot? Bainbridge Island Iced Tea of course!
Choose the Right Garnish - Bijou Cocktail
27 Feb 15 0
It can often be easy to overlook cocktail garnishes, especially when you are making drinks at home. But since the first "taste" somebody gets of a drink is through their eyes, a properly prepared garnish can make a big difference. Often, the garnish is also an important flavor ingredient, even if a very subtle one. The lemon twist can be an excellent dual purpose garnish, providing both a bit of visual interest as well as adding citrus oils which can accentuate the drink. Including a wedge of the same citrus that went into the drink, as a garnish, can also be a useful tool for the customer. If the drink is slightly too sweet, the accompanying wedge can be squeezed into the drink to make it a little tarter. Garnishing simply for the sake of garnishing however can sometimes get out of control. You don't want to over garnish a drink so much that the guest feels like they have to fight through it to get to the drink, or that it is so precarious that the guest has to pluck it out of the drink and set it aside immediately. - Robert Hess
Pre-Chill Your Cocktail Glass - Rob Roy Cocktail
12 Feb 15 1
Have you ever gone to a bar, ordered a drink, and once you picked it up, the glass felt warm? Fine restaurants will typically pre-heat your plates before the meal you ordered is added to them. It only makes sense; if the plates were cold, then it would quickly suck the heat out of any food that was put onto it. It’s called Thermal Transfer. If Thermal Transfer can turn hot food cold, then it only makes sense that it can also turn cold drinks warm as well. It takes very little effort to pre-chill your glass. The best bars will have specialized glass chillers so that their glassware starts its journey as cold as possible. Even if a glass chiller is more than you can muster, it is easy enough to simply add some ice and a little water to your cocktail glasses before you start mixing up the drink. - Robert Hess
Double Strain Your Cocktails - Old Cuban Cocktail
29 Jan 15 1
Anyone who mixes up a drink knows that an important step is straining the drink into the glass. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, some of them better than others. Every bartender should at least have a hawthorn strainer on hand which fits their mixing glasses and tins. In many cases however, it is also useful to have a small fine-mesh strainer on hand as well. A fine-mesh strainer comes in handy for when you want to “double-strain” your drinks. Many people always double-strain a shaken cocktail as it will hold back any little ice-shards that result from hard shaking. Some people on the other hand like the little bits of ice that will dot the top of their drink. Double straining can also be used for keeping citrus pulp or pieces of muddle fruit or herbs out of the drink; you don't want little green specks of mint on your teeth! While not a critical step in preparing great cocktails, double straining is a technique that can help take your cocktails to a finer level of quality. To demonstrate the double straining technique, I chose to make a Old Cuban Cocktail, first created by Pegu Club owner, Audrey Saunders. - Robert Hess
Learn the Foundational Cocktail Recipes - Trident Cocktail
22 Jan 15 3
I think there is probably nothing more important for making truly great cocktails than understanding the “Foundational” cocktail recipes. By taking the time to master those cocktails which represent the basic and classical foundations, you will not only better understand all of the other cocktails which are based on them, but you will be better prepared to experiment with creating your own recipes. In any culinary school, one of the first things that will be drummed into the students are the classic recipes. In French cooking school specifically, students are carefully taught the foundational sauces. Once you understand these sauces, you can then add additional herbs, spices and other appropriate flavorings to tailor the sauce to the specific needs of the moment. The cocktail world is no different. The classic cocktails can often be thought of in the same light as the foundational sauces of French cuisine. The recipes I will typically encourage people to master are Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Manhattan, Martini, Whiskey Sour, Sidecar, Margarita, Daiquiri, Negroni, Bloody Mary, and Mai Tai. Even in this list, we have drinks which are based upon one another. The Whiskey Sour, Sidecar, Margarita, and Daiquiri are all very close variations of one another, with the Mai Tai being closely related. So even here, understanding how one of these cocktails is just a slightly different expression of another, and how the flavor profile changes due to those differences, goes a long way in better understanding that style of cocktail in general. - Robert Hess
Measuring is Important - Floridita Cocktail
15 Jan 15 3
There are two distinct camps that bartenders often segment themselves into, those that free-pour and those that measure. Personally, I am a strong proponent of measuring. I feel that the only mildly valid argument against it, is that measuring takes a little longer, and so in a very busy bar it might slow things down. While it is possible to train yourself to be fairly accurate at the free-pour, it is also possible to train yourself to be fast enough at using a jigger that it doesn’t matter. I have no intention of settling this debate here, but I do feel it is valuable to emphasize the importance of properly measuring your ingredients. For some drinks, the proper measure is more important than others. One-Quarter of an ounce is not a very big measure, and it can be easy to accidentally over or under pour by that much when mixing drinks. Drinks such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Martini are such that being off a little bit may not be very noticeable, but when mixing drinks with tart citrus, or intense ingredients like Chartreuse, that 1/4 ounce can make a big difference. I think many bartenders see it as a rite of passage to feel they are skilled enough to free-pour, while others see it as a sign of how serious they take their craft that they carefully measure everything. Feel free to make up your own decision on this issue, but hopefully you realize that whether you free-pour or jigger, being sure you get the precise measure is important for making great cocktails.
Not All Recipes Are Good Recipes - Cosmopolitan Cocktail
8 Jan 15 3
Just because you see it in print, doesn’t mean it is a good recipe. Similarly to when good recipes can result in bad drinks, the flip side of that is when a recipe is just flat-out bad to begin with. One thing that is important for any bartender (or consumer) to realize, is that not all recipes are “good” recipes. This problem is only exacerbated by the plethora of cocktail books that have come out on recent years. Often in an attempt to differentiate themselves, they go to great lengths to try to publish recipes that other books haven’t used. This can sometimes mean they are either dredging up long forgotten recipes that should never have existed in the first place, or trying to create new recipes through what often appears to be little more than a random recipe generator. There are several ways that recipes can go bad. The typical bad recipe will start with a failure to understand the fundamentals the make for a good cocktail. There are several facets to this, which include: using quality ingredients, proper proportions of ingredients, proper usage of ingredients, and proper methodologies of making the drink. All of these are due to trying to create a new cocktail recipe before you should. Next there is just being downright sloppy with how a recipe is communicated, and leaving too much up to the imagination of the reader. And probably the biggest reason for bad recipes out there, is that many times the creator is more interested in making a drink that is “good enough” to get somebody drunk on, and not “great enough” for somebody to enjoy. NOTE: In this video, when describing the “original” Cosmopolitan, I forget to mention the defining ingredient of the drink, the cranberry juice! NOTE #2: And if you are interested in a “random recipe generator”, you’ll get a kick out of The Mixilator by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. It attempts to randomly produce cocktail recipes (and names!) by loosely using the cocktail structures described by David Embury in his book “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”.
Product Choice is Important - The Sidecar Cocktail
11 Dec 14 7
I recall one of the first times I went to the liquor store to “stock my liquor cabinet”. It was a tad daunting to try to make sense of all of the different bottles of booze and understand what I was needing. And the price range, wow! At the time, I didn’t really have any true knowledge of brands and quality variations, but I knew enough to realize that just because there might be a brand that I had heard of through their marketing efforts, didn’t necessarily mean it was a good product. Since there were several different products I needed to buy, and a budget to deal with, the $20+ products became less and less appealing. Knowing that with wines, price wasn’t really a useful measure of the quality, I assumed the same could be true with spirits, and so I tried to be selective on finding “bargain” priced bottles. At first, I thought it was just the recipes I was using which were making my cocktails lackluster. Thankfully I did the right thing when it came time to replace a depleted bottle, I intentionally bought a different brand, and since I only needed to buy one or two on this visit, I was able to buy something a little more expensive. My cocktails quickly improved. This isn’t to say that all of the good spirit choices have to be expensive ones. There are lower-cost products that you can use which can make cocktails as good, if not better than, their costlier counterparts. And sometimes, even if a more expensive product will make a better cocktail, is the difference noticeable enough to warrant the expense? Courvoisier, is a great cognac. Their VSOP costs, say $45 per bottle, but their VS is more like $25. A sidecar made with the VSOP will be a better drink, but will it be twice as good? If you were to compare them side by side, you’d probably pick the VSOP as the better drink, but you’d still really enjoy the VS as well. So in this case there is nothing wrong with going with the less expensive Courvoisier VS. Cointreau is a triple sec, and most recipes for a Sidecar simply list “Triple Sec” as an ingredient. Cointreau costs, say $34 a bottle, while you can get a bottle of triple sec for around $10. The difference here however can be quite amazing. Not only would you clearly identify a Cointreau Sidecar in a side-by-side comparison, but you might be hard-pressed to finish the one made with triple sec after this discovery. So selecting products you are going to use in your cocktails, realize that your choices will make a difference.
When Good Recipes Go Bad – The Old Fashioned Cocktail
4 Dec 14 4
In Hannah Glasse's 1747 cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” the following recipe appears - A Savory Veal Pie: TAKE a breast of veal, cut it into pieces, season it with pepper and salt, lay it all into your crust, boil six or eight eggs hard, take only the yolks, put them into the pie here and there, fill your dish almost full of water, put on the lid, and bake it well. The recipe appears fairly simple and straight-forward, but it is also devoid of enough information to allow somebody who has never made it before really understand how to do it right. How large of a breast of veal is it? What sort of “crust” is supposed to be used? Are the egg yolks supposed to be left whole, or broken up? By “lid” do they mean a physical lid or a lid made of crust? What temperature to bake it at, and for how long? Many cocktail recipes are even less descriptive then Hannah’s recipe above. If we take the Old Fashioned for example, one of the earliest published recipes (not counting earlier recipes simply referred to as “Whiskey Cocktail”) for it is from "Modern American Drinks" (1895) by George J. Kappeler - The Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. Drink recipes by their very nature are of course are far simpler than cooking recipes, but we are still faced with many unknowns here. For example, how large is a “small lump of sugar”? How much water is “a little”? What type of whiskey is expected to be used? When a recipe leaves out important details, it requires the reader to fill in the gaps to the best of their ability, often without having any idea what so ever what the actual thing they are trying to make should taste like when done properly. This means that whatever they end up with, they will consider as “the way it should taste.” And then they teach this to another bartender, who teaches it to another bartender, who… you get the picture. Perhaps more than any other cocktail, the Old Fashioned is the one to suffer the most from bad interpretations of a good, but poorly written recipe, as well as just plain bad recipes (typically based on a bad interpretation of a good, but poorly written recipe). Here is where a solid understanding of a recipe, and more importantly the foundation that it is built upon, can aid the reader in better understanding how to make it properly. That, plus more details is part of what it takes to make a good recipe. Of course you also can run into the problem of recipes that are just plain bad from the start regardless of how they are made.
Don’t Use Bad Ice in Your Cocktails - Mai Tai Recipe
19 Nov 14 9
Ice has become one of those things that some cocktail geeks can really… well… geek out about. You don’t have to look too hard to find people discussing the science of crystal clear ice, how to make hand-carved ice balls, or various other highly involved details about the ice that goes into mixing the perfect cocktail. As these deep examinations on ice start turning into esoteric exercise, it is easy to start dismissing the importance of ice all together. Ice is just frozen water isn’t it? What’s the big deal? In truth, thinking about the ice you put into your drink is a very important consideration. At the most rudimentary level it is all about size/shape, and temperature. Some bars will use what is referred to as Half-Cube or Crescent ice. These are two slightly different shapes, but about the same size, about the size of a pat of butter. This small and flatish ice will fill the glass with more ice than cubes would which will make the glass look like it is fuller of beverage than it actually is. Since there is more surface area exposed on this shape, it will melt faster as well. The result of course is a flabby drink, and not much of it. Higher end bars will go out of their way to use nice sized cube ice, the larger the cube, the less surface area exposed, and the slower the melt. For serving a drink on the rocks, you can select a size that virtually fills up the glass, but for mixing a drink you need something smaller so you aren’t fighting with the ice when you stir. The most common size is just a little over 1” cube. From a temperature standpoint, at a fairly rudimentary level, ice can be either “wet” or so cold it is “dry”. Wet ice has already started melting, and has a thin layer of water on it, which will immediately go into the drink. “Dry” ice (not to be confused with the CO2 based “dry ice”) is so cold that its surface hasn’t started melting yet. If you touch a cube of “dry” ice, your finger will stick to it because the ice is so cold it freezes to the small bit of moisture on your finger. So, while there is nothing wrong with geeking out about ice, your primary concern is to use nice sized cube which are as cold as possible.
Don’t Use Old Vermouth
12 Nov 14 15
There used to be a time when the amount of dry vermouth that would make it into your Martini would have been better measured by an eye dropper instead of a jigger. To this day, you can still find little spray bottles being sold as “vermouth misters” to allow only the slightest amount of vermouth to be added to your Martini. When you are using that little vermouth in your Martini, that means that you are going through your vermouth very slowly, making it very, very old before you make even the slightest dent in it. Vermouth is a wine. And like any wine, it will oxidize over time, which will impact its flavor. Vermouth is what is known as a fortified/aromatized wine (Port and Sherry are simply fortified wines). Fortification simply means adding an alcohol to the wine, usually brandy. This originally was done to help preserve it, the higher alcohol content would make it last longer. Aromatization means that herbs, spices, and botanicals have been added to it. The original intent of this was to produce a supposedly medicinal beverage, with wormwood being the key ingredient of vermouth, which is where it gets its name. These botanicals also had a side-effect of giving the wine a longer shelf-life, not because it reduced oxidation, but because it would sort of mask the effects of oxidation. Even with fortification and aromatization vermouth is still a wine, and so its shelf life, once opened, is limited. Those dusty bottles of vermouth you might have on your shelf are not going to do anything good for any drink you use them in. This could be part of what leads to the fear that some people have of vermouth, and hence the gymnastics they may go through to use as little of it as possible in their cocktails (the Martini specifically). You owe it to yourself, and the guests you are serving, to use as fresh of a bottle of vermouth as you can. This will mean buying as small a bottle as possible and keeping it refrigerated when not in use. If you have any doubts about the age of that bottle, then relegate it for use in cooking, where it works quite well.
The Trouble with Ice Muddling
6 Nov 14 4
Visit a dozen different bars, and you will most likely see more than a dozen different techniques for doing essentially the same thing. Juicing is one of those things that every bar has to deal with one way or another, and there are countless ways to tackle it, not all of them very good. The “Ice Muddle” is one of the “juicing” techniques I often see used by bartenders to make drinks like the Margarita, Mojito, Daiquiri, and other sour style drinks. It has a certain amount of sound and fury to it, which makes for a good show, but in the end it produces sub-par results on several levels. For some reason it appears to be rather prevalent here in my home town of Seattle, which is why Gary Regan coined the term “Seattle Muddle” to describe it when he was in town to research one of his books. While the ice muddle at least shows a desire to use fresh juices in cocktails, it does so at the cost of not being able to provide a proper measure, and in overly damaging the ice as well. It also is a technique that can only really be done with poor quality “chip” ice, and not the nice large cubes which are preferred. Dry muddling is a better approach to getting fresh juice, and if you then measure the juice properly, it can work quite well.
How to Choose Proper Glassware - Sazerac Cocktail
30 Oct 14 8
When it comes to glassware, it can far too often come down to simply using what you have on hand. In a pinch, there may not be anything wrong with that, but even when you are simply making a drink for yourself, you deserve to do things properly and serve it up right! Wine drinkers have long known that different wines taste better in particularly shaped glassware (Thank You Riedel!) In much the same way choosing the right glass for your cocktail can make a big difference in the final results. With cocktails it isn’t so much the nuances of the flavor profile, but instead it is the functionality of the form, the visual presentation, size of the drink, comfort, and elegance as well. Drinks that need to be served with ice obviously need to be in a larger glass than those that don’t. Iced drinks should also be served in glasses with more vertical sides like a typical “Rocks” glass as opposed to an angle-sided “Martini” glass. Many times, the cocktail glassware you might see for sale in various houseware stores, while well intentioned, only exacerbates the problem. Most of the “Martini” style glasses you will see for sale are designed to hold 7, 8, 9, or even more ounces. When you think about a true Martini, it is mostly booze, with a little water from the melting ice. A properly sized Martini will only be a little over 3 ounces of liquid once it is made. If you put this into a 9 ounce glass, it will look like an insignificant drink, which may lead you to pour WAY too much into the glass. Even a “sour style” drink like a Cosmopolitan, should only be around 4 ounces when it is properly made, which is still too small for such a large glass. So even if you are simply preparing to make drinks for yourself at home, you should gather a small collection of glassware so you can treat every drink you make properly. For tonight, Lucullus dines with Lucullus!
Sour Mix: Just Say No - Daiquiri Cocktail
22 Oct 14 11
As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For bartenders, that “hammer” can come in the form of “sour mix”. For sour style cocktails (such as Daiquiri, Margarita, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, etc.), the proper balance between sweet and sour is important to achieve. You can add just a quarter ounce too much tart citrus juice to a cocktail and send it over the cliff. So imagine the value of getting that “just right” balance ahead of time, in bulk, and then being able to turn out well-balanced drinks that much quicker, without having to be as concerned about getting the recipe right. One of the problems of course is that not all sour style cocktails are created equal. Even a great sour mix, made from scratch, won’t work well in multiple recipes. Probably the only time that a sour mix “batch” is appropriate, is for a catering type of operation or event. This would be where you either know you are going to be slammed all night with people ordering a specific cocktail, or you have to use untrained staff. In such a situation you can have the “right” sour mix for the couple of drinks you’ll be offering, make it easier for untrained staff to get the recipe right, and take a little less time doing it. Sour mix was not created as a cocktail ingredient, but as a cocktail shortcut. The next time you see a recipe that calls for “sour mix”, realize that you will be far better off looking for another recipe.
When to Shake and When to Stir a Cocktail
16 Oct 14 3
This is one of those galvanizing issues that can really show that you take quality cocktails even slightly seriously. Shaking a Manhattan is like serving your guests instant coffee. There, I’ve said it. The question about When to Shake and When to Stir still confuses many, more so when you see contradictory information about this in different recipes for the same drink. The rule to follow here is really quite simple. “Stir drinks that are made with transparent ingredients, shake drinks that include cloudy ingredients.” The reason for this is mostly due to aesthetics. Drinks served in a beautiful clear glass, look better when they themselves are clear and transparent. Shaking a drink will often make it cloud up, and make it unappealing. Often it will also put a scummy looking foam residue on the top which makes it even more unappealing. If the drink already includes cloudy ingredients (such as a citrus juice, cream, or egg white) then no amount of stirring will make it clear, so go ahead and shake it. A corollary of our simple rule, is this: “It is rarely wrong to stir a drink, but often wrong to shake it.” Which makes it all the more surprising when you see bartenders who not only shake all of their drinks, but don’t even have the tools necessary to stir a drink if they wanted to. So the next time you find yourself making a Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, or Derby, take a little extra time and stir it instead of shaking it.
Apricot Lady Cocktail
22 Jan 14 4
In this episode of The Cocktail Spirit, Robert answers a viewers question about using egg whites in cocktails. Specifically, he discusses health concerns as well as how egg whites enhance or change the texture of a cocktail and how to incorporate them. To demonstrate how to incorporate an egg white into a cocktail, Robert dry shakes all the ingredients before adding ice and shaking the Apricot Lady Cocktail briefly to dilute and chill.
A Proper “Frozen” Margarita
17 Dec 13 5
As David Wondrich says in Esquire Drinks, "Cocktails should not remind you of childhood; therein lies problems." Friends coming over for a party? Sure, make a pitcher of Margaritas. Just remember to leave the blender out of it.
Queen’s Park Swizzle Cocktail
3 Dec 13 4
A favorite of Trader Vic, the Queen's Park Swizzle is a rich and flavorful rum based tiki cocktail named for the oasis that was the Queen's Park Hotel, formerly located in Trinidad's Port of Spain. Along with this delicious cocktail, Robert demonstrates proper swizzling technique as well as a quick and easy way to crush ice with common household items, should you not have a Lewis Bag on hand.
Liqeuer, Aperitif & Digestif
- Almond Liqueur
- Apricot Liqueur
- Blackcurrant Liqueur
- Chocolate Liqueur
- Cherry Liqueur
- Ginger Liqueur
- Herbal Liqueur
- Mint Liqueur
- Pomegranate Liqueur
- Orange Liqueur
- Violet Liqueur