Next time you’re at the bar, give your favorite tipple an instant upgrade with these nifty tips and tricks…
- 1. Tell your barkeep to change the record
If your drink doesn’t taste quite right, it could be the music in the bar that’s causing the problem. Research carried out at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory found that high-pitched, tinkly sounds make things taste sweeter, low rumblings increase bitterness, and sour tastes are intensified by sounds that are shrill, spasmodic or discordant.
If you want to test it out for yourself, try tasting the same drink to the different tracks on the Sonic Taste EP by sonic-branding company Condiment Junkie.
- 2. Amp up the umami
Max your Bloody Mary by pairing it with a bar snack that’s high in nucleotides, such as beef or prawns. Nucleotides—organic molecules that form the building blocks of DNA—combine forces with the glutamates in the tomato juice to produce a supercharged flavor hit known in the science world as ‘synergistic umami‘—or, to you and me, something really delicious. Alternatively, order your Bloody Mary with a splash of umami-rich dry sherry to really make those tomato flavors pop.
- 3. Give ‘em a good spanking
If you’re drinking a mojito or a julep, maximize the aroma of the mint garnish by laying it across your palm and giving it a sharp smack before tucking it back into your glass. The impact releases all those wonderful aromatic oils and makes your drink smell amazing. Leafy herbs like basil, sage and lemon verbena also respond well to similar treatment.
- 4. A frosty reception
The martini is one drink that needs to be served stingingly cold. An easy way to increase the chill factor is first to put your cocktail glass into the freezer for at least a couple of minutes (in Japan, all the top bars have freezer cabinets just for glassware). Not only will an ice-glazed chalice keep your cocktail colder longer, it will look really mouth-watering.
- 5. A twist on the hot toddy
If you’re in the mood for a hot cocktail, but feel like a change from the traditional Scotch toddy, try ordering an Old Fashioned—without ice—and topped up with a little hot water instead. The warmth will help to release the sweet vanilla notes of the whiskey and the spiciness of the Angostura bitters, turning this American classic into an aromatic winter warmer.
- 6. Elderflower gets an Asian twist
‘If your bartender runs out of their favorite ‘ketchup,’ St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, and it’s your favorite liqueur too, no worries!’ says Karl Too, owner of the Kuala Lumpur speakeasy Omakase + Appreciate. ‘Ask them to try lychee or lemongrass in your favorite cocktail instead—you’ll be amazed!’
- 7. Get creative with the garnish
Why stick to lemon or lime for your gin & tonic? Flavorists at the Strange Hill drinks agency in London found that Gin Mare, a Spanish gin majoring in Mediterranean botanicals—including olives, basil, thyme and rosemary—actually paired best with a slice of mango and a grind of black pepper (mango is big on the flavor compounds pinene and limonene, which are also found in a high concentration in Gin Mare). Cucumber, smashed lemongrass, rosemary or a twist of grapefruit can all be great in a G&T—ask your bartender to suggest a good flavor match for your particular gin.
- 8. Bitter brilliance
If you enjoy the sting of a bittersweet negroni (and what barfly doesn’t?), then next time around try asking your bartender to stir it with a teaspoon or two of the face-puckeringly bitter amaro Fernet Branca. Minty, herbal and black as espresso, this old-school Italian digestif will make your negroni taste seriously grown-up.
- 9. Small is beautiful
A great big 10oz martini may look tempting, but if you want your drink to be in tip-top condition from start to finish, then a small glass is the way to go. Back in the early days of cocktails, glasses were often a thimble-sized 3oz, but anything up to about 7oz will allow you to see off your drink before it’s gone all warm and flabby. To get around the problem of having to constantly order another drink, some bars serve half-sized martinis in a tiny cocktail glass, with the rest of the drink in a mini-decanter on the side, chilled on a bed of crushed ice so that the drink can be topped up as you go.
- 10. Ring the changes with Cynar
Take your taste buds for a spin by replacing the rosso vermouth in your usual Manhattan or negroni with Cynar (pronounced chee-nar), an Italian digestif made with artichokes. This earthy, burnt-sugar liqueur is not just delicious, it also plays an interesting trick on your palate. Cynarin, a compound found in artichokes, briefly blocks the tongue’s sweetness receptors—a moment later, the sensation returns with a surge.
- 11. A weighty issue
Want to enjoy your G&T even more? Order it in a heavy glass loaded up with ice. According to Professor Charles Spence that extra bit of weight will increase your perception of quality.
- 12. Order an extra wedge
A cocktail served over a mountain of crushed ice is a beautiful thing, but the speed at which crushed ice melts means the drink can quickly end up diluted and flavorless. So next time you order a mojito or a caipirinha, take a tip from Paul Mathew, a consultant for top bars across Asia: ‘Ask for an extra wedge of lime to garnish the glass, and then squeeze it in half way through the drink to keep the flavor as close as possible to that of the first sip.’
- 13. The insider’s sparkle
You’re probably already brand-calling the spirits for your cocktail, but if you’re ordering something like a mojito or a spritz you should give a thought to the brand of sparkling water, too. That’s the advice from Zoe Burgess, head of research and development at the Drink Factory, the flavor lab behind world-famous London cocktail bars that include 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Townhouse. ‘Ask for Vichy Catalan water in any drinks requiring sparkling water,’ she recommends. ‘The natural salt and mineral content in Vichy Catalan adds an instant brightness to any drink.’
- 14. Have an extra helping of ice
There is one simple way you can improve just about any cocktail: use more ice. Whether you’re shaking, stirring or sipping something on the rocks, ice works much more efficiently if there’s a lot of it. Put a couple of cubes in a G&T and they’ll have melted away in minutes leaving your drink all watery. Fill the glass up to the brim with ice and you’ll find your drink stays colder for longer, with minimal dilution. It will taste crisper, too, as coldness helps to preserve carbonation and mask sweetness (which is why flat cola tastes like undrinkable syrup). The bigger the cubes, the better—if you’re sipping something like an Old Fashioned, try having it over a giant ice block or an ice ball to make it a real long-player.
- 15. Dirty or not dirty?
If you like your martini with an olive, there’s a good reason. Strange Hill’s Stuart Bale, a man who has spent many hours in the lab analyzing the flavor science behind one of history’s most iconic cocktails, explains why: ‘It has long been known that salt works as a flavor enhancer. Our bodies crave salt, but it also reduces the surface tension of liquids, allowing more aromatic compounds to escape and our perception of aromas to increase.’ Having said that, Bale believes that olives often risk overpowering gin’s more delicate botanicals, so instead he recommends adding ‘a drop or two of salt solution’ to your martini to get the same effect. Not as sexy, perhaps, but scientifically sound.
- 16. Just say no
If you order a cocktail and your bartender reaches for a dust-covered bottle of vermouth on a shelf under hot lights, give it a miss. Vermouth is at least 75 percent wine and, just like wine, it oxidizes over time. That means it should always be kept in the fridge, out of direct light and drunk within 4–6 weeks.