We don’t want to throw around words like “mixologist” or anything, but we’ve got to admit: The gap between good bartender and great bartender is more like an epically deep chasm. Frank Caiafa, bar manager at the Waldorf Astoria New York‘s iconic Peacock Alley, is decidedly the latter. He recently went deep on the cocktail knowledge by updating the Waldorf’s 1935 book of cocktails. The new edition of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book contains recipes for truly classic drinks, both well-loved (The Negroni: you know it and love it) and obscure (The Cream Puff Fizz: it’s rum, simple syrup, heavy cream, and club soda, and you want it). Eager to improve our cocktail-making skills, we asked Caiafa for his three best tips for better drinks. Here they are: The Golden Rules of Cocktails—no matter what cocktails you’re making.
Shake it like a salt shaker, then use that salt to rim the glass. Photo: Ted Cavanaugh
Know When to Shake and When to Stir
You can never remember the rules. We can never remember the rules. Thankfully Caiafa makes it easy for us: “Anything with dairy or citrus gets shaken.” Anything else? Stir it. This is no arbitrary rule: Shaking aerates and froths the liquid as it becomes agitated. This produces a lighter, cleaner texture in the finished product. Stirring a dairy- or citrus-based cocktail will result in a heavy, dense, and flat texture. On the other hand, shaking ingredients like clear spirits can cloud the alcohol, muddying both the appearance and the flavor.
Fresh blood orange juice gives this vodka-based cocktail its intense color. Photo: Alex Lau
Always Use Fresh Ingredients
Always. Throw out the squeeze bottle of lemon juice in your fridge door. Dump the sour mix (it’s easy to make your own!). As Caiafa explains, you’re using good liquor (or you should be); why compromise on the second half of the cocktail?
Keep it chill(ed). Photo: Alex Lau
Keep Your Mixers Cold
Sure, you keep your vodka in the freezer like any dutiful cocktail enthusiast. But don’t let your mixers hang out in the pantry. Tonic, seltzer, juice, and the like should all be kept ice cold. If you pour room-temperature mixers over ice, it will melt the ice faster. Logic, yes. But why is this important? “Ice that melts fast dilutes your drink,” explains Caiafa. If you cared enough to get the good booze, use fresh ingredients, and mix it properly, you deserve nothing less than a stiff, strong drink. Bottoms up!