Five Easy Tips to Step Up Your Cocktail Skills

Sam behind the bar at Bardstown Bourbon Company.

With all the different bourbons on back bars and store shelves today, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking neat pours of everything, just to be sure you’ve tried them all. While we’re always down for two or three fingers of something new, that does mean we sometimes forget about cocktails! Especially at home, it’s just so much easier to sip bourbon on the rocks than mix yourself something special.

So we turned to Sam Montgomery, National Brand Ambassador for Bardstown Bourbon Company, for tips on how to take our cocktail skills to the next level. Her five easy tips will give you a taste of mixology mastery that she learned from years behind the bar as a Spirits Specialist and in the lab helping create the blends for the distillery’s Discovery and Fusion Series.

Bardstown Bourbon Company crafts their whiskey not just with a master distiller at the helm (although theirs is legendary Steve Nally), but also with a team of bartenders and chefs from around the world to ensure their bourbons are delicious neat, paired with food, or mixed in cocktails. Their Fusion Series mixes their own younger bourbon with older sourced bourbon as a “backbone,” while the super premium Discovery Series is a blend of all older, sourced bourbons at barrel strength. We recommend the slightly lower proof Fusion in cocktails – at 98.9, it will stand up to the other ingredients without overpowering them.

Read on to start crating cocktails like a pro, or click here to book your trip to the distillery and take a class for yourself!

Courtesy Photo.

1. Syrups over Sugar Cubes

A little extra prep time goes a long way! Sam recommends taking the time to make a quick simple syrup (one part boiling water to one part sugar) rather than trying to muddle a cube in your cocktail or settling for granulated sugar. “It will just blend better!” she explains.

2. Building Blocks

When you’re building your cocktails, whether in a shaker tin or a glass, begin with the smallest ingredients. “Typically, your last ingredient should be your base spirit, and you don’t want to waste that should you mess up your cocktail,” says Sam. So start small – add bitters, syrups, and mixers before you pour in your pricey whiskey.

3. (Ice) Size Does Matter

Get the right kind of ice for your drink! Sam tells us that using larger cubes to stir with your spirits will dilute more slowly and water your drink down less, saving more flavor for your sipping.

4. Stay Subtle

Sam suggests a subtle way of adding strong flavors like citrus. “Using an orange peel for an Old Fashioned instead of muddling the fruit itself will impart the perfect amount of flavor without covering up the taste of the bourbon,” she explains. So keep it light – a spritz from a peel will be plenty.

5. Better with Bitters

Play around with your bitters! Bitters are a concentrated way to add a lot of flavor to a drink with only a little effort – and without taking up too much space in the glass. “Angostura is very traditional but there are thousands of bitters out there. They’re a great way to make a cocktail your own – just find some you love, but change it up often!” she encourages.