Expert: What I Know About … Cocktails

A creative cocktail master shares secrets of his trade.

Who: Ramon Miranda

Age: 35

Job: Bartender

Experience: I sit on the other side of the bar from Ramon Miranda, a bartender and waiter at Corso 32. He’s served at Edmonton dining spots such as Characters Fine Dining, Red Ox Inn and Murrieta’s. He also works as a clerk at Crestwood Fine Wines & Spirits. Every drink he pours is garnished with a story – including tales from more than a decade of travel to cities such as Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas to learn the craft of the cocktail. He also likes to share his recipes for drinking vinegars and home-made cherry bitters. To taste his creations, you’d swear he had a masters in mixology, though Miranda doesn’t think much of the title. “The term mixologist gets thrown out a lot,” says Miranda. “I think it was just filling a void in the age of the celebrity chef and the molecular gastronomist. People needed a cool, new phrase but, at the end of the day, I’m a bartender.”

–  “Cocktails are meant to prepare the palate. You start with a cocktail [apertif], have wine with your dinner, then finish off with a cocktail [a digestif]. With an apertif, you’re looking for more acidic flavours to make your mouth salivate. With a digestif, you’re looking for more sweet flavours to settle everything down.

–  “When you look at matching a wine with a steak, you need something with a lot of tannins to match the juiciness. It’s the same thing with a cocktail; you’re looking for the necessary acidity to cut through the heaviness of a dish, like with a cream or cheese-based pasta. A cocktail can do that just as easily as a glass of unoaked wine can.

–  “[In restaurants] you try to stay seasonal, which is the way that cocktail lists are going too. In the winter, people are looking more toward sweeter things like whiskey and rum, and in the summer you’re looking at things like gin – in my opinion, the ultimate summer liquor – that are a little more herbal.

–  “There should be three things you want to have in a cocktail: You want to have your base spirit – so your whiskey, gin or bourbon – a sweet aspect and a bitter aspect. Then you have to find a balance of  the three.

–  “Chill the glass first to prepare the vessel you’re going to be drinking out of so it’s cold. Make sure there’s ice in whatever you’re shaking it in, and that you’re pouring over ice all the time. It’s the same with stirring. A steadfast rule is that drinks that have bases [like bourbon or whiskey], you stir, and for drinks that use fruit juices, you shake.

–  “Shaking has two purposes: To cool the drink and to add foam. Foam creates an airiness to the drink, making it lighter and easier to drink. If you’re adding fruit juice, it also creates a nice, refreshing aspect. When you notice the shaker getting frosty on the outside, you know the drink is ready. And if you’re stirring [a drink], about 30 stirs is adequate. “In my experiments at home, there are two ways you can fix [a recipe gone wrong]. One way is with acidity. Lemon is used for harsher acidity, lime, for not so much, and orange for a sweeter acidity. If a drink is too harsh or too sweet, you can add lemon to balance it out. The other is with carbonation.

–  “When you think of any singer, they always love the old stuff before they progress. It’s the same thing with cocktails. I see novice bartenders trying to be too innovative. People have been drinking cocktails since the 1800s, so there are tried-and-true recipes you just can’t beat. Learn the basics first; go to steadfast recipes before going to something new, and use the best ingredients you have available to you. Learn how to make a good Sidecar or Manhattan first before you mess around with being creative.

–  “I wouldn’t suggest a bartending school to anybody. I guess they give you the basics, but they won’t make you the best. The best way you’re going to learn anything is to do it. There are so many books out there, and in the age of YouTube, you can learn to do anything.

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