The House Cocktail
The concept of a house cocktail is to design a cocktail that’s unique to your establishment. This establishment may be the bar you work at, the bar your frequent or your own house. In the professional scene, a house cocktail is the “talk of the town.” It’s that unique drink that you make at your place that draws in guests because they too want to experience the flavor.
As a home bartender, your house cocktail can be the cocktail you serve to your guests that they can only get when visiting. Sure, they can go to the local bar (maybe) and get a moderately ‘ok’ whiskey sour, but when they visit you they get a whiskey sour that is unique and distinct.
Today, let’s learn how to make our own custom house cocktail in a world where “every cocktail has already been invented.”
Drawing From The 2:1:1 Cocktail Formula
Now that you understand the 2:1:1 formula, you can start utilizing that knowledge to “riff off” the recipe for a new and unique creation. While a bar may create a house cocktail utilizing some DIY cocktail syrup that a bartender makes before shift (or weeks ahead), we are going to work off some commonly purchased items. Our house cocktail is going to be unique yet not a lot of work to build, great for home bartenders.
The scenario for this build: A buddy at your house walks over as you pull out your home bartender starter kit and says,
“oh, I like bourbon and sour drinks like a margarita or something; I had a whiskey sour once at a wedding, why don’t you make me something!”
Without a clear recipe card in front of you, the task is to create this guest a whiskey based sour. But, because you’re awesome, you also want to make it better than the wedding whiskey sour they experienced before.
What We Know
It’s well understood that receptions typically do not hire the best craft cocktail bartenders. This bartender could be hotel staff contracted out for the night to sling drinks or a licensed bartender that needed a job to get some fast cash. They understand most of the guests are going to order beer and some basic mixed drinks (e.g. rum & coke).
When you order a whiskey sour at a wedding you will most often get Jack Daniels (because it’s all they have for whiskey) and a bottle of sour mix that they bought at the local liquor store (high fructose corn syrup, coloring, and citric acid as flavor). Easy to beat!
The Secret Formula at Work
To beat the guests experiences we’ll move from a “well whiskey” (the basic whiskey you get when you don’t ask for a brand) to something like Basil Haydens Bourbon. This will offer a bit more of a sweet note with some rounder oaky flavor.
Using the 2:1:1 formula, we’ll pair our bourbon with a fresh squeezed lemon juice and cane sugar simple syrup. In our head we’re thinking “2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce lemon and 1 ounce simple syrup!” Our house cocktail has already got its foundation ready!
The House Cocktail Formula
Once we know our basis for our whiskey sour recipe, we can start working on our house cocktail formula. In this case, let’s work with the following additional ingredients:
- egg white (1/2 ounce)
- pinch of salt
- lemon peel
- bittercube cherry bark vanilla bitters (6 dashes)
The secret ingredients in our house cocktail will be the bittercube cherry bark vanilla bitters. This single ingredient makes this drink “your own” without getting too crafty. When your guest asks, “what’s the secret ingredient”, you can call out the bitters specifically.
However, the entire collection of ingredients builds the cocktail! If your guest goes and buys the cherry bark vanilla bitters, they won’t get the same taste experience they had at your house without the remaining ingredients.
- The Spirit: Utilizing a mid-priced bourbon like Basil Hayden (or Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, etc.) gives a full bodied flavor experience.
- Fresh Lemon Juice: Fresh lemon juice gives a better acidity and bright sour than off-the-shelf chemical product that’s powdered citric acid and processed sugars. You will also find that lemon pairs strong with brown spirits like bourbon.
- Simple Syrup: The sharp sweet of simple syrup helps curb a bit of the intensity of the bourbon, especially great for a drinker that’s not used to bigger whiskey experiences.
- Egg White: This builds a silky smooth texture to the cocktail while offering up a beautiful long lasting (and impressive) foam.
- Salt: The use of saline in a cocktail is a bartenders hidden secret. This too could be your “secret ingredient”, as it tempers down the tannins in a bourbon / whiskey while also offering a smoother texture on the palate.
- Lemon Peel: The foam of a whiskey sour is going to hide a lot of the bourbon aroma. We will utilize the peel to rub the edge of the glass and zest over the foam, maybe even the stem of a glass.
- Bitters: To enhance the overall aroma and accent key flavors of the bourbon we have selected cherry bark vanilla bitters. We’ll up our house cocktail game by using a few dashes on the foam of the drink as an aromatic garnish!
- The Glass: We are going to use a 4.5 oz classy coupe glass for this cocktail. It will allow the foam to dominate the top while also making the drink look much fancier than a wedding bartender can do!
The Cocktail Build
This house whiskey sour needs to be shaken, not stirred. Cocktails with juice are almost always shaken drinks. The use of lemon juice makes this drink require a shake. The use of egg whites also requires shaking. We are going to use a dry shake followed by a normal shake.
Our finalized recipe now looks like this:
The House Whiskey Sour
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 1/2 oz egg white
- 6 dashes of bittercube cherry bark vanilla bitters
- pinch of salt
- lemon peel
To begin, add a cube or two of ice to your coupe glass, fill it to the brim with water and set aside to chill. We want our glass to be cold as our house whiskey sour does not have ice in the drink itself. A warm glass means a warmer cocktail.
Next, cut a peel of lemon. Try to take as little white pith as possible in the process. A dime sized piece of peel is fine, it won’t be for show, just for aroma and zest.
To build this house cocktail we will add the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, 3 dashes of bitters and a pinch of salt. You will use your lemon peel and remaining bitter dashes for a garnish.
Now, you can dry shake your cocktail before adding ice.
The Dry Shake – add all your ingredients into the cocktail shaker but don’t include the ice. This process does not seal the shaker as well because there is no chill-factor. So, keep a tight hold of the shaker as you give it a highly aggressive 10 – 15 second shake.
Once you’ve done your dry shake, open the cocktail shaker and add in a few cubes of ice. Usually enough ice to fill the shaker half full. Reseal the cocktail shaker and shake for 10 second to chill down and dilute your drink to the appropriate levels.
Now, dump the ice and water from your coupe glass. You can strain your cocktail into your nice chilled glass. Shake the foam out of your shaker as best you can and set the shaker aside. You can now zest your lemon piece by pinching it over your cocktail foam allowing the oils in the zest to spray over your drink.
House Cocktail Conclusion
Do not be intimidated by creating your own house cocktail. Most of the history and designs were created and documented years ago by the founding fathers of the cocktail industry. Your job is to take what works and make it your own. This includes some ingredients the original cocktail creators didn’t have at their finger tips.
This house cocktail takes a 130 year old concept and re-defines it for the new drinker (your guests). Using techniques from our past, such as egg whites, bitters and a 2:1:1 formula and combines them in new ways.
Remember, you’re here to create an experience for the drinker not necessarily to create the next modern classic. Your goal is to open the eyes to flavor and pairings for your guests and not to become a hero. But, you just might become a hero bartender in their eyes.