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Building Drinks: Legitimate Technique or Easy Way Out?


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Now that I actually take a shift per week behind a bar, I can see the appeal of building a drink, counting out the speed pours as the booze splashes atop rocks ice in the glass: speed, speed, speed. But, really, an Old Fashioned glass does not a mixing tin make: you can't get the rotational velocity in a stumpy glass you'd like, and invariably you're going to sacrifice quality. A quick stir in a mixing tin, strained over rocks ice: that gives a superior drink every time.

Or am I missing something? Save for "X on the rocks," is there a drink that justifies this short cut?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Well I think calling it a short cut is sort of a loaded way to describe the technique. I definitely think there are drinks that are enjoyable because of how the evolve in the glass while drinking them, due to mixing, dilution, temperature, etc. That said when building a drink in a glass I'm more likely to add the ice last after putting all the liquid ingredients in to ensure a more complete level of integration, usually after a brief swirl in the glass.

edit: spelling

Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Or am I missing something? Save for "X on the rocks," is there a drink that justifies this short cut?

Um, maybe an Old Fashioned?

Seriously, I don't understand how preparing a drink in the mixing tin makes a superior rocks drink. Can you enlighten me?

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Well, last night at home, I built a mezcal Old Fashioned but had a devil of a time getting the demerara syrup to combine well in the small glass. If I had stirred it in a tin first and poured it over the rocks once it was combined, I wouldn't have had a 1/4" layer of syrup at the bottom.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, given Andy's description of the technique: mix in the glass and then add ice. I've always thought "build" implied "over ice." I'll have to see what my books say.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Negronis are, to my mind, a drink where build technique shines. Build it in reverse order of specific gravity (gin, Campari, vermouth) and give it a single stir. It will slowly blend naturally. By the time you finish drinking it will not be the same drink you started, but it's delicious all the way through. A little journey.

Of course, I like 'em stirred and up, too.

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, given Andy's description of the technique: mix in the glass and then add ice. I've always thought "build" implied "over ice." I'll have to see what my books say.

That's how I've always understood it, too. It's just not how I actually do it.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Built, on-the-rocks Negronis, just as Kohai suggests, are wonderful. At this point, I don't make them any other way (and I prefer the Cinnabar Negroni recipe, with its 2X portion of Campari, heavy dashes of orange bitters and a nice fat orange twist).

And now I'll reveal myself as the complete heretic I really am: I (really, really) like built, on-the-rocks Margaritas. Yep, it's true.

Don't worry, I do know how to make them "properly" -- shaken, strained, etc. -- and used to do that all the time. So here's how it happened: A nice, cold, sour Margarita made with a good reposado is pretty much the only cocktail my wife enjoys (along with the occasional Diablo and the very occasional Mai Tai). One night about a year ago, I made hers as usual (proper technique, served up in a cocktail glass, etc.) and then decided I wanted one too, but was honestly too lazy to go through the whole process again. So I did what I sometimes do when I'm lazy and want a quick Marg in the middle of Family Taco Night and just filled a rocks glass with ice, poured in 1.5 oz of tequila, 1 oz Cointreau and .75 oz lime juice (we likes 'em sour), quick stir, small pinch of Kosher salt on top (yep, right into the drink itself, although preferably mostly on the ice as in a Paloma; told you I was a heretic) and a lime wedge garnish. She tasted hers, asked me for a taste of mine, and declared in no uncertain terms that she liked the built-rocks version better. Having never done a side-by-side test in this manner, I did the same tasting -- and promptly agreed with her. Don't know why, but in that moment we both realized that we absolutely prefer them this way, and I haven't shaken a Margarita since.

Don't hate! :)

Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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At the risk of restarting the whole ice thread, I think the temperature of the ice would make a big impact on the difference between built and pre-chilled (shaken or stirred).

If you are straining out the "used" 32 degree ice and pouring it over fresh -10*F ice, that drink is colder, will stay colder longer, and will melt more slowly than if you just built it.

With 32 degree bar ice, the difference would be much smaller, and related to things like thermal conductivity, mixing efficiency, water on the ice, and so forth.

It may be me, but I find very few drink improve with additional melting. I usually like the beginning of my drinks more than the end, unless I drink them quickly. Up drinks get warm. Rocks drinks get watery. Things have improved considerably since I bought some smaller glasses of both types.

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, given Andy's description of the technique: mix in the glass and then add ice. I've always thought "build" implied "over ice." I'll have to see what my books say.

That's how I've always understood it, too. It's just not how I actually do it.

This is how I do it too. I add all ingredients, make sure it's all integrated, add ice, stir, add more to make sure all the liquid's in real close proximity to ice, and drink. Of course, I'm no bartender; this is just what I've always done. It doesn't really make sense to me to do it any other way (unless speed is required, but that's not the case for me).

nunc est bibendum...

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Another advantage to the ice-last method is that sometimes (often, even) the liquid being poured in can be deflected by the ice and splash back out of the glass. This does no one any good and since theres no accurate way to tel how much was lost, it can even necessitate starting over.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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That's true, but adding ice to a glass full of liquid (especially large chunk ice) can also cause splashing - remember doing cannonballs off the diving board?.

And for what it's worth, though it's willfully heretical, my house recipe for Margaritas is on the rocks. To my taste, it's the optimal way to enjoy what is, for me, the quintessential summer cocktail. But I don't build them, rather shake-strain onto ice.

Edited by Kohai (log)

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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Some drinks, like Old-Fashioneds, seem to respond well to the ice-last rule. Perhaps it's a factor of the increased viscosity of the sugar syrup when it gets cold? But they seem easier to mix when the ice is not present.

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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I put the cubes in the metal half of a Boston shaker and slightly tilt the glass to slide them into it gently. The shaker helps shield the top of the glass and catches any splashes.

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I build Negronis and Gimlets and I don't see why there would any advantage to any other method. But I suspect many bars build a lot of drinks that ought not to be made that way. Too often I've gotten drinks that weren't even mixed--you can see the stratified layers of ingredients in the glass. The mixing is left to the customer. Classy.

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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