Cocktail basics with Barmini’s Juan Coronado

cocktail basics with barminis juan coronad barmini
Avant-garde chef Jose Andres opened barmini, his “cocktail lab” in Washington D.C., with a clear vision in mind. “He wanted to pay tribute to the golden era of cocktails by stressing great service and hospitality,” says Juan Coronado, Think Food Group’s cocktail innovator and barmini’s principal bartender. “At barmini, the bartenders have a conversation with you. Tell us what you like and we craft a cocktail based on your interests.”

The reservations-only lab currently serves 110 drinks, all invented under the watchful eye of Coronado. The bartenders at barmini constantly experiment with cutting-edge techniques. They smoke spirits, dehydrate rhubarb sticks to keep them year-round, and test the rotovap (a Heidolph rotary evaporator) that can extract the aroma and flavor of anything. Coronado likes to use it for the Veruca Salt cocktail, a roasted peanut spirit with pineapple syrup.

But cocktails don’t need to be complicated–sometimes simple is best. “People think that cocktails are difficult,” he says. “But I guarantee that you can make amazing cocktails with things you find at home.”

Before walking The Manual through three easy cocktail recipes, Coronado shared his thoughts on:

  • Bartending books: “The Savoy Cocktail Book is the one I have read the most. It’s about all the cocktails at the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel. It’s a gem, a classic. On the newer side, I’m reading The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart who is basically a mad scientist. It a fun book that teaches you about every aspect of cocktails.”
  • Overlooked spirits: “Curacao used to be a popular. It’s a sugar cane based liquer with an orange flavor—it’s delicious with orange juice. But it’s making a comeback. Pierre Ferrand, a company known for cognac, makes a fantastic curacao. Also, aquavit is a beautiful spirit. It’s the national spirit of Sweden created by Vikings back in the day. You can make anything with it. For one cocktail called the Scandinavian Cup, I infuse aquavit with coriander seeds and it absorbs the floral flavor so well.”
  • Essential tools: “Everyone should have a shaker, a bar spoon and a strainer. These tools last forever. And don’t buy a whole cabinet of alcohol. You don’t need all of that. Be basic. A good rum, gin, vodka and bourbon—that’s all you need.”

Now you have the basics down, onto the drinks you can make at home:

Stirred tea-infused cocktail: “Let’s say you have chamomile or jasmine tea. And some kind of vodka or rum. In my case, I always have rum. Take one bottle of rum and infuse it with six bags of tea. Let it sit for a little, then mix two ounces of that and two ounces of ruby red grapefruit juice with two ounces of Curacao or Cointreau. Pour into a high ball with ice and stir. Remember, stirred cocktails have a logic to them—they are different than shaken cocktails. When you shake a cocktail, you break the ice and dilute it. Stirring keeps the integrity of the spirit because you’re not adding water to it. You’re just chilling it.”

Cucumber honey martini: “If you look in your cabinet, you might find honey. And if you open your refrigerator, you’ll have some sort of vegetable—let’s say cucumbers. Take equal parts honey and hot water to make honey syrup. Then macerate pieces of cucumber in cocktail shaker with 1 ounce honey syrup and 1 and a half ounce of gin. Throw in one ounce lime juice, shake, and strain into martini glass with a wedge of cucumber.”

Banana daiquiri: “You don’t need a blender for this. Put half a banana in a shaker with tons of ice, a little water, two ounces of rum, and one ounce of simple syrup–which is just water and sugar. Squeeze in lime and shake vigorously.”

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