Getting started making your own delicious cocktails is easier than you might think.
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When Eric Guenther thinks back on what ignited his passion for cocktails, he recalls it all starting with one drink.
“I remember going to Público and having this really good daiquiri,” Guenther says. “It’s incredibly simple — just rum, lime juice and simple syrup — but it’s so incredible. My personality is such that I don’t just say, ‘Oh, this is the best daiquiri in St. Louis.’ I’m going to dig deep down into it and ask how it can be better. It can always be better. You never know everything, right?”
Though that Público daiquiri may have been the spark that ignited the powder keg, it wasn’t the first time Guenther, a physician by trade, went down the cocktail rabbit hole. Even before, he’d been working on perfecting his margarita game, graduating from Cuervo and pre-made mix to actual recipes involving better-quality tequilas and fresh-squeezed juices. He tinkered with different mixtures and settled on a classic three-two-one-half ratio: three parts tequila, two parts lime juice, one part simple syrup and a half part Cointreau or other orange liqueur. Having committed that recipe to memory, a light bulb went off when he began researching daiquiris.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This is basically the same formula as a margarita but with rum,’” Guenther says. “The connection just started happening. I liked whiskey, so I looked up whiskey sours and saw that it was basically the same recipe, too. I realized the base was almost the same formula — alcohol, citrus and simple — and it all started coming together. Once I got to that point, I just started playing.”
Though Guenther is quick to admit that there is much more to cocktails than learning that particular recipe, he believes that, at least for home bartenders, nailing something simple is an important first step in upping your cocktail game. As he explains, once he became proficient in the basics, he began experimenting with different citruses, different simple syrups (white sugar versus brown sugar, for instance), different brands of spirits and even adding multiple spirits in one drink, such as adding tequila and mezcal into his margarita.
In addition to mastering a base recipe, Guenther advises those interested in getting into home bartending to focus on practicality and your own personal preferences.
“Whenever I learn something new, I am super practical,” Guenther says. “I’m not going to just find recipes and follow them all the time; I’m only going to do it if I remember it. If I just pick a random drink that I don’t care about and follow a step-by-step recipe, I’m not going to remember it. I’ll maybe make it just that one time. If you start with what you are really into and nail it down, it will umbrella from there.”
Though he admits the cost of building your own home bar collection can be prohibitive, he insists you can find good bottles at a variety of price points. His own preference for daiquiris, Flor De Cana white rum, runs roughly $18 a bottle. High-end bottles are not necessary, he insists, but there is a certain level of quality, if not expense, that you need to hit. He also emphasizes that you cannot take shortcuts when it comes to the other ingredients. There is no substitute for fresh-squeezed juice, even though juicing citrus can be a labor-intensive endeavor.
“There’s no cheating,” he says. “Get everything you actually need and don’t cut corners. It makes all the difference because you can’t hide something crappy when there are only three or four ingredients.”
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