Insider tips for summer cocktails
Summer time and the livin’ is easy. Or should be anyway. Warm sunny days make us long for friends, fresh air and some outdoor eating and drinking. Planning a summer BBQ or garden party? Turn it into a fruity fun fest by serving a range of fresh cocktails. Cool, colorful and refreshing; cocktails give any party a little extra pizzazz. We checked in with two local cocktail masters in Prague; Zdenék Záliš, bartender at Cloud 9 atop the Hilton Hotel and Martin Kalista from Bukowski’s in Žižkov for tips on creating some tasty concoctions for your guests.
“Simplicity makes a good cocktail,” is Záliš’s number one rule. “If you have too many flavors you can’t organize the taste – more than five ingredients you can’t taste a thing.”
Not only simplicity, but balance is what Kalista recommends.
“The balance of ingredients is important so the drink has a blend of tastes not a majority of something,” he says. “It also depends on what the guests want, always ask if they want a spicier Bloody Mary or a sweeter or sourer Mojito.”
Záliš prefers to make and serve martinis.
“I love martinis, there are many reasons, but mainly because I don’t like to kill my cocktails,” he says. “Pina colodas and other drinks with six or seven ingredients, you don’t taste anything. With martini drinks you can tell how good the bartender is; too much vodka, water, you feel it.”
And he clears up a few misconceptions about the drink.
“What makes a martini is it’s mostly alcohol, few juices and other non-alcoholics in a martini glass,” he says. “A Cosmopolitan is still a martini cocktail even though there’s no martini – it’s the glass.”
Got that? Okay, so here’s the basic recipe for making any cocktail: Ice, alcohol, liqueurs, syrups, juices, garnish, dictates Záliš. What’s rule number one?
“Once ice goes in the tumbler, you have to work fast so it doesn’t melt and add water to the drink,” warns Záliš. And don’t neglect that much enjoyed, but often not properly executed, shake.
“How you shake it affects the cocktail, it’s important but not often taught,” Záliš says. “You don’t want to break the ice because it creates water. Try to slide it (the shaker) in big back and forth motions.”
One of the reasons Kalista likes being a bartender is the opportunity to experiment. He advises home bartenders to do the same.
“Don’t be afraid, it’s always easier to add ingredients than take them out,” he says. “If you are unsure, start with equal amounts (of ingredients) and then change the ratios based on taste.” He says you should first imagine the taste you want to achieve and then choose your ingredients, instead of just throwing things together.
For those looking for something easy and fool-proof for their summer party, Záliš recommends mixing crushed ice, a basil or mint leaf, Pastís, a French licorice liqueur and pink grapefruit juice.
“It’s a delicious outside summer garden barbeque drink that’s simple, anyone can make it,” he promises.
Kalista likes to serve up a batch of sangria, putting a few summery twists on the popular drink.
“Make white sangria with tropical fruits and white wine,” he suggests. “Use pineapple, kiwi, mango, banana and lots of ice to make it fresher and summery; add sugar and vodka. It’s perfect in a big bowl for a garden party.”
Kalista has a word of caution as well.
“When making summer drinks, don’t make them so strong, especially if you are drinking in the sun and heat,” he advises. “Alcohol is dehydrating and the alcohol works much faster – you want more water than alcohol (in your drinks.)”
Go with lots of ice and fruit to ensure everyone goes home feeling as good as when they arrived. Or give guests the option of something non-alcoholic. Kalista likes to go with something fruity, like smoothies while Záliš prefers creamy milkshake-like cocktails. How do you get the right consistency in your slushy drinks?
“Crush the ice first, then add ingredients and blend,” Kalista says. “The amount of ice is 1 1/4 times more than the amount of liquid. Too much ice and you loose all taste of alcohol.”
Both Kalista and Záliš enjoy their jobs greatly; Záliš for the creativity it allows him and the people he meets and Martin for the challenge of multi-tasking while keeping a good attitude. But do they drink cocktails on their days off? Both men admit they don’t spend much of their free time in bars. Záliš does enjoy a nice bottle of wine, while Kalista is happy enough grabbing a beer with some friends. When pushed though, Martin admits to drinking the occasional Long Island Ice Tea; while Záliš would order a Manhattan.