August 25, 2022
Today on SIRIUSXM satellite radio, SIRIUSXM’s Dahlia Kurtz and Sommelier Matt Steeves were talking tips for making your very own signature cocktails. Checkout the full segment here.
Signature cocktails are a great way to complement a party, to build on a specific theme, and celebrate a special occasion. With endless combinations possible it’s easy to make your own signature cocktails following a few basic cocktail principles.
Cocktails can be made in all sorts of different styles from tropical-style/frozen drinks (margheritas, daquiris, pina coladas, F’Rosé, etc.), spirit-forward cocktails (Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned, Martini, Bee’s Knees, 20th Century cocktail), Champagne cocktails (French 75, Champagne Cocktail), Muddled cocktails (Mint Julep, Mojito, Strawberry & Basil with Vodka, etc.), and picking the style you want often depends on a variety of considerations, starting with your preferences and taking into consideration how many you’ll be serving, ease of preparation, and purpose (aperitif, post dinner, pool party, etc.).
Many cocktails can be prepped ahead of time, leaving only the task of combining some of the ingredients, adding ice, and serving. Others are a bit more complicated, may involved blenders, muddling, dry shaking, etc., and those do take a bit of time so may or may not be suitable for the event you’re hosting.
In the world of craft cocktails the most important thing alongside knowing your audience is ensuring balance and harmony in the drink. Great cocktails have all the flavours working in harmony, no single flavour dominates the others, similarly with sweet and bitter, these should be balanced out to offer a refreshing and enjoyable cocktail that makes you want another sip.
Additionally, knowing when you want to serve this cocktail is key…is it for a pre-dinner aperitif or to enjoy after dinner, while hosting a pool party, or maybe for a toast at a wedding. Generally speaking, after dinner you may want something a bit sweeter whereas an aperitif cocktail may show best on the drier side, and for a pool party, well the sweeter the better generally!
The art, or science really, of balancing the sweet, bitter, and alcohol(s) in a cocktail takes some practice and good news is it’s easy to tweak the ratios to suit individual preferences. Someone likes a slightly sweeter cocktail, simply reduce the bitter component (often lemon juice) and increase with the sweet component (spirit and/or sugar). Getting familiarized with how much to tweak takes some practice and small tweaks work best.
One of my favourite cocktails to serve is a Negroni, or variations thereof. Negronis have three key ingredients: Campari, Sweet Red Vermouth, and Gin, all in equal parts (1 to 2 oz of each) which naturally create a very well balanced cocktail. Add bitters and orange slices/twists for flavour and garnish, and a splash of club soda to fill up the glass and you’ve got yourself a terrific spirit-forward cocktail. You can easily prepare this cocktail ahead of time just requiring ice, garnish, and pouring it making it a super handy craft cocktail to serve to many quickly! And if you’re not a fan of Gin, swap it out for a Canadian or Irish Whisky or Kentucky Bourbon (now you have a Boulevardier), or Vodka (now you have a Milano) and you’ve got some unique twists on a classic Italian cocktail. And like any craft cocktail, feel free to play with the ratios based on individual preferences and acknowledging that no two Sweet Red Vermouths or Gins are alike, so making tweaks to your recipes are encouraged to suit your palate/preferences. I find a classic Negroni is a great spirit-forward cocktail to experiment with and consider as a base for crafting unique signature cocktails.
A Canadian Mule (Canadian Vodka and spicy Ginger beer with a splash of lime juice) is a terrific iced cocktail to serve in the summer. Refreshing and easy to make. Add some mint sprigs and/or lime wheels as garnish and boom, you’ve got a delicious and refreshing chilled and fizzy cocktail that’s balanced and full of flavour.
At the local grocery store you may find a few offerings of Ginger Beer and they’re all quite different. My preferred Ginger Beer is Fever-Tree, I find it’s super spicy and that shows so well in a Vodka-based cocktail. Their motto is “If ¾ of your drink is mixer, mix with the best”… I couldn’t agree more. Same goes for the spirits you use. Quality inputs makes for a great cocktail. It’s tough to make a quality and well balanced cocktail from low quality ingredients, so just don’t do that.
Serving sparking wine is a great idea for any occasion and you can easily craft and serve a unique ‘Champagne Cocktail’ just as easy as pouring a glass of sparkling wine is. From the classic Champagne Cocktail (few dashes of bitters on a sugar cube placed in the flute before pouring your choice of bubbly), or the French 75 (or Canadian 75, the local version with Canadian-based Romeo’s Gin), these are terrific cocktails for toasting and often are a bit more festive than just a glass of bubbly at a party.
Sparkling wine can transform the most popular cocktails too, such as the iconic Mint Julep, famous for the cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. Swap out of the Bourbon for Cognac and Champagne to make a Champagne Julep. Even tweaking the classic French 75 into a French 125 by adding Cognac in place of Gin to this popular Champagne Cocktail. Like a dry Martini…add a splash of Champagne to make a Millionaire’s Martini. How about a classic Mojito…simply add Champagne for a Royal Mojito!
Have a special liquor you like which may form a great base for a Champagne Cocktail? Try it! Often a sugar cube and a dash of orange bitters helps balance it out too. It’s that simple to craft your own signature cocktail. Adding Champagne is such an easy way to transform time-tested cocktails!
Sangria is another wine-based drink that’s easy to serve a crowd but does take some time to prepare in advance, letting the fruit and alcohol steep in the fridge for a few hours at least to create that much loved booze-soaked fruit cocktail we all love! You can easily craft your own Sangria to suit your preferences, adding the fruits, wine, brandy, Champagne, etc., of choice. This makes for a great signature cocktail that perfectly suits showers, brunch and other social gatherings where a low ABV drink is preferred, and offers countless variations making it easy for you to make your own signature Sangria. Remember to only add ice cubes to the glasses you’re serving, never in the pitcher where the Sangria is steeping away in a boozy bath of fruit.
Muddled (and iced) cocktails like the Mint Julep and Mojito are incredible in the heat of the summer. The balance of Bourbon/Rum, lemon juice, sugar, mint, and loads of ice make for one of the most refreshing and sessionable iced-cocktails out there. Craft your own muddled iced cocktail by taking your favourite in season berries and herbs, such as strawberry and basil, add some vodka, a bit of lime juice and honey, and boom! A delicious garden-party perfect muddled cocktail! Use some local Pur Vodka from Quebec and you’ve got yourself a wonderful Canadian signature cocktail from your own backyard!
These cocktails are tried and tested, easily modified to make your own signature cocktail, and will be guaranteed to be enjoyed by all!
Servings: Makes 4–6
- 1 750 ml bottle of Rosé (try Umberto Cesari MOMA Rosé or )
- ½ cup sugar
- 8 ounces strawberries, hulled, quartered
- 2½ ounces fresh lemon juice
- Pour Rosé into a 13″x9″ pan and freeze until almost solid (it won’t completely solidify due to the alcohol), at least 6 hours.
- Meanwhile, bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add strawberries, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to infuse syrup with strawberry flavor. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl (do not press on solids); cover and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
- Scrape rosé into a blender. Add lemon juice, 3½ ounces strawberry syrup, and 1 cup crushed ice and purée until smooth. Transfer blender jar to freezer and freeze until frosé is thickened (aim for milkshake consistency), 25–35 minutes.
- Blend again until frosé is slushy. Divide among glasses.
- Do Ahead: Rosé can be frozen 1 week ahead.
Variations: Vary the amount of sugar and lemon juice to suit your tastes, and changing the Rosé and garnishes too will all make differences in the finished product.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Bitters to taste
Garnish: orange peel
Add the gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and drops of bitters to a mixing glass filled with ice, and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube.
Garnish with an orange peel.
Variations: Add Whiskey, Bourbon, or Vodka and play with different bitters to taste. If you’re not a fan of Gin, swap it out for a Canadian or Irish Whisky or Kentucky Bourbon (now you have a Boulevardier), or Vodka (now you have a Milano) and you’ve got some unique twists on a classic Italian cocktail.
For those who love effervescent cocktails, Ruffino has created the refreshing grapefruit-based Ruby Squeeze, featuring Ruffino Prosecco. The grapefruit wonderfully complements the naturally occurring citrus in the Prosecco, resulting in a vibrant drink that’s sure to impress any cocktail connoisseur.
2 parts Ruffino Prosecco
1½ parts fresh grapefruit juice
1 part Campari
¾ parts honey syrup (2:1 honey to water)
Build the cocktail in a highball glass with ice. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.
Variations: change the sparking wine, drier, sweeter, add more or less of the mix components (grapefruit juice/orange juice, honey syrup), and increase the Campari for a more bitter profile.
There are so many options when it comes to Sangria. Most common in Spain and Portugal, it normally consists of red wine, fruit, a sweetener, and a small amount of Brandy or Grand Marnier. Chopped fruit can include orange, lemon, lime, apple, peach, melon, berries, pineapple, grape, kiwi, mango, and just about anything else! A sweetener such as honey, sugar, syrup, or orange juice is added. Instead of Brandy, other liquids such as soda water or lemonade may be added. Sangria is steeped while chilled for as little as minutes or up to a few days, making it a great drink to prepare in advance of your party so it’s full flavored and ready to enjoy as soon as your guests arrive.
Today, I’m recommending a Sangria Slushie…super easy to make, and a major time saver when it’s time to enjoy as they’re ready to roll, just remove from the freezer, blend, and serve!
- 1 bottle red wine (try a Valolicella Ripasso)
- 1/3 c. Brandy (such as St-Remy VSOP)
- 1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tbsp. honey
- Orange wedges, for garnish
- Pour the Valpolicella Ripasso wine into empty ice cube trays and freeze overnight.
- Combine Valpolicealla Ripasso ice cubes with Brandy, orange juice, and honey and blend until smooth.
- Pour into glasses and garnish with orange and lime wedges.
Variations: Change the red wine for an LBV Port, swap out the Brandy for Bourbon, all ways to make it your own.
A favourite iced cocktail is the Moscow Mule. This cocktail became popular during the vodka craze in the USA during the 1950s. The Moscow Mule is made with a high quality vodka, a spicy ginger beer, and lime juice, garnished with a slice or wedge of lime. It is usually served in a copper mug. I like to mix my Mules with premium Canadian vodka, thereby transforming them into Canadian Mules. Look for local spicy ginger beer also, such as Fever-Tree Ginger Beer to add that sweet and spicy extra kick to this popular summer cocktail.
1/2 oz. lime juice
2 oz. vodka (Quebec-based PUR Vodka)
4-6 oz. ginger beer
Squeeze lime juice into a Collins glass (or Moscow Mule mug) and drop in the spent shell.
Add 2 or 3 ice cubes, then pour in the vodka and fill with cold ginger beer (not ginger ale, although what the hell).
Variations: Swap out the Vodka for Gin to add an additional layer of flavour complexity in this popular cocktail. When you add Gin the name becomes a London Mule or Foghorn.
New York Sour: A twist on the classic Whisky Sour, this one incorporates a velvety smooth and full bodied red wine to add additional flavour and texture to this delicious spirit forward cocktail.
Instructions: Combine 2 ounces Rye or Bourbon Whiskey, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, and 1 ounce simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover, and shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Gently pour 1/2 ounce fruity red wine (such as California Cabernet or Malbec) over the back of a spoon held just above the drink’s surface (or down the spiral part of a bar spoon) so wine floats on top. Garnish with Luxardo cherries.
Variations: Switching out the Rye for another Whiskey or the Redemption Bourbon; adding egg whites to the shaker for additional creamy froth, and playing around with the wine choice, or even a Port for a sweeter version. Lots of variables to adjust to make it your own signature cocktail.
And naturally there are some wild cocktails out there, with exotic origins, like the Porn Star Martini… I can’t say I’ve ever tasted, or even seen one poured, but the combo does look enticing…
Not my cup of tea but for the right occasion this could really impress!
Lastly, there are lots of great beer based cocktails too. One of my favourites is an Imperial Stout and vanilla ice cream float.
So here’s wishing you lots of creativity and enjoyment as you craft some signature cocktails of your own! The sky is the limit so blend and create away! Your guests will love you for it!