As the Richmond weather becomes increasingly palatable, so does the idea of throwing a springtime party. Every good shindig comes with cold, crisp libations, but the thought of creating that ideal celebratory drink can seem impossible.
With the help of Brandon Day, director of marketing at locally-made Belle Isle Moonshine, cocktail creation requires few steps and few ingredients; ratios, ingredients, and presentation are all made simple.
Any solid cocktail starts with quality ingredients. If the everyday vodkas have become boring or the burn has become a turn-off, Day said, craft moonshine makes for an easy transition from the infamous alcohol. Belle Isle Moonshine has a smoother aftertaste, and requires only a small ratio of citrus and either juice or soda to create a complete cocktail.
The key to a great cocktail is the golden ratio, Day said. Eyeballing proportions is a thing of the past. Starting with the goal of a six-ounce drink, the ratios are easy to remember. Start with two ounces of the chosen spirit, add a splash of citrus such as lemon or lime, and top with a mixer, such as soda water or lemonade.
“Some people try to mask it with sugars,” Day said. “That’s where we’ve tried to be really intentional. Our products never have any artificial colors or flavors. It’s fresh and real ingredients.”
These sugary drinks can also lead to the ever-dragging hangover. By using fewer, higher-quality ingredients, though, that problem can be avoided. The rule of the golden ratio can also save you from that afterburn that is often the result of including too much liquor or lower-quality imbibements (i.e. rail drinks). Looking for flavors in the liquor to match the mixer can help to overpower the flavor of the alcohol itself, Day said.
“Don’t always look for burn in a cocktail,” Day said. “It’s supposed to be sessionable, and you should be able to drink it recurrently.”
Much like the alcoholic burn, to ice or not to ice is another common cocktail-making dilemma. When making single drinks or batched cocktails, ice should be added after the drink is created to avoid watering down the drink, according to Day and Robert Dvorak of Belle Isle Moonshine.
With self-serve stations, a bucket of ice with a scoop is an easy, presentable, and convenient way to keep drinks cold, especially when batched cocktails are the centerpiece of the party drinking scene.
Ratios work in the same way in batches as they do for single drinks. A single 750 milliliter bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine includes 25 ounces, or just about 12 cocktails, Day said. If you’re stuck at ABC without a clue of the appropriate amount of alcohol to purchase for a party, that ratio can help with the decision-making process. Per 25-ounce bottle, 50 ounces of a mixer such as lemonade or soda will complete the ratio, topped with any citrus flavor to complete the drink.
When batching the cocktails, flavors are always going to be different, so tasting periodically can help you decide what may need to be added, Day said.
After the cocktail is taste-tested, presentation can take the drink from simple to special. Citrus floaters, edible flowers, and herbs add just enough garnish to batched drinks, and may be sipped through hay straws that also add flair to the drink. Hay straws are made from from recycled wheat stems, the part of the plant that can’t be used for anything else, Day said. Not only are hay straws eco-friendly, but they’re economical and can be ordered online for low prices.
“When you’ve mastered a really simple cocktail, it’s really easy to add a visual to the cocktail by adding a garnish,” Dvorak said. “It’s so simple but so colorful, and really entertaining.”
While still using these methods, Day emphasized that the continuation of learning and experimenting is key to great cocktail creation.
“We’re lucky as Richmonders to live in city that has an amazing food and beverage scene, and there’s so many brilliant bartenders out there that have a really wide range of knowledge,” Day said. “We’re huge advocates for going out, trying new things, ordering off the cocktail menu, and asking how to incorporate it into your own cocktail-making at home.”
Belle Isle Moonshine produces their popular Honey Habanero infusion, which can seem intimidating to those who may not reach for the spicy drink at a party. However, Dvorak emphasized that a spicy mule can become palatable to anyone with enough citric acid to deteriorate the burn of the pepper. Just like their other infusions, such as Blood Orange and Ruby Red Grapefruit, the Honey Habanero requires the same few ingredients to make a cocktail that anyone could enjoy.
Day considers it a misconception that high-end or fancy mixers are necessary to make a delicious drink.
“Basics can get you just as far,” he said.
For your next event, keep the ingredients simple yet high-quality, adhere to ratios, select a creative garnish, and continue to have fun experimenting with mixtures. Cheers!