Bartender Takeover with Sammi Reyes

Bartender Takeover is a new blog series by Litchfield Distillery aimed to help support our local bartenders during the Covid-19 crisis. Since the launch of Litchfield Distillery, bartenders have been there for us, now it’s our turn to support them. The way it works is we invite a bartender to take over our social media for a few days. They can post recipes, videos, tips…whatever they want. We pay them a stipend and we invite the broader community to “tip ’em.” The way to do that is by visiting the Go Tip Em website, scroll down to Connecticut and click on your bartender’s payment method. We invite you to rally around the bartender community during this time and reward their Spirit of Hard Work!

Mixology Spirit Guest, Sammi Reyes of Mazon Tapas Bar & Restaurant

Post #1: Essential Tools for the Home Bartender

Hey, I am Sam Reyes! I will be posting on Litchfield Distillery’s social media for the next few days detailing how you can make restaurant-quality drinks right in your home. Since we’re all stuck in this quarantine I figured it’s a good time to learn new skills that you can use to entertain your friends once we can all get together again. I bet most of us cannot wait until we are outside again, in fact, I’m sure a few people have looked here to check out some fake IDs for their friends who are not yet at the age to enjoy these types of drinks just at the moment. We are all anxious to get out and enjoy ourselves once again amongst ‘our’ people. Maybe you can also get silver cocktail shakers (from an Antique silver store) to entertain your special guests. Anyway, for my first post, I decided to showcase what I believe to be the essential tools every bartender needs to build any cocktail. I did my best to highlight home alternatives that can be used in the event you can’t get your hands on some of the tools.

Essential tools for any bartender.

1: 18 oz. / 28 oz. Metal Boston Shaker Set: $20-$25

I highly recommend getting your hands on a good set of metal tins. Shaking does three things for a cocktail: dilutes, chills, and aerates. Also, metal tins take less time and energy to chill, thereby reducing the chance of over dilution (getting too watery) or having the cocktail not getting as cold as you’d like. The second benefit of an 18 oz. tin is that it’s a perfect vessel to make stirred cocktails. There’s also a cobbler shaker you can use, but I prefer the Boston shaker. If you’re not able to pick up some bar equipment right now, you might try using a metal thermos. Simply build your cocktail in the thermos, add ice and shake. The key for alternatives is to use metal and it quickly absorbs the temperature of the ice as noted above. Usually, restaurants and bars have ice machines (you can find more here) that can easily dispense the needed ice for their drink – but if you wish to replicate the same method at home, the ice from your freezer should work just as well.

2: Bar Spoon (12 in. or longer): $8-$12

Some cocktails need to be shaken while others need to be stirred. A good rule of thumb is: if it has citrus, shake it. If the drink recipe is only composed of spirits and sugar, then stirring is usually the right method. Stirring helps chill and dilute the ingredients but doesn’t add air, which allows the cocktail to maintain a lot of its character along with a silky smooth texture. The length of the bar spoon makes it easy to rotate your cocktail in the shaker without agitating it too much. If you can’t get your hands on a bar spoon you can always use a chopstick or a long utensil to get a similar result.

3: 2 oz. / 1 oz. Japanese-Style Jigger: $10-$20

Make sure to measure your cocktails! Measuring isn’t about limiting the alcohol in your drink, it’s about creating a balanced cocktail that can easily be reproduced. My personal preference is the Japanese-style jigger for its ease of pouring. Keeping a jigger handy will be enable you to recreate all kinds of drinks with much greater accuracy and consistency. When searching for jiggers, you’ll notice some will be very expensive. The only thing you really need in a jigger is 2 oz. and 1 oz. cups with clearly marked measurements inside. There aren’t many alternatives to a jigger, but in crunch time you can always use a measuring cup to get your proportions correct.

4: Hawthorne Strainer (Cocktail Bar Strainer): $12-$20

A Hawthorne strainer is the quickest and most sanitary way to strain your cocktail. Straining simply allows you to easily get your cocktail out of the shaker without the ice. It also has a little gate that lets you control how much ice is strained out. Some people prefer ice chips while others want their drink completely clean and smooth. It’s all up to personal preference. If you can’t get your hands on a strainer, you could use the bottom of your smaller shaker tin to prevent ice from pouring into your cocktail glass. I don’t like this method as it can be a bit messy and means your cocktail will come into contact with the outside of your tin, which might not be perfectly clean.

5: Fine-Mesh Strainer: $7-$8

Out of all the tools listed, this is probably the one you can do without. A good Hawthorne strainer allows you to strain out almost everything you don’t want to be in your final cocktail. However, the time to use a mesh strainer is when you need to muddle cocktails with herbs or fruits so you grab any small pieces that you don’t want included. If you don’t have a bartender-sized mesh, quite often there are larger ones laying around in the kitchen cupboard that can work as well.

The total cost for a kit like this is in the $60-$85 range. It’s well worth the investment if you want to make consistently great, well-balanced cocktails. Cheers!

Post #2: How to Make Syrups

Next on my list is mastering the craft of making your own syrup. Sugar is an essential ingredients for most cocktails. Drinks tend to play a three-way balancing act. In shaken drinks, the general combination is spirit, citrus, and sugar. In stirred cocktails, the citrus is swapped out for bitter. Sugar not only makes a drink more palatable, it adds a layer of fat that gives the cocktail body and texture.

The two basic styles of syrups.

Simple Syrup (1:1): A basic simple syrup recipe combines equal parts sugar to water. There is no need to add heat because there is enough water to dissolve the sugar easily by stirring. By adding heat you will evaporate some of the water, which will create a more dense and sweeter syrup than we want. If you want to be as precise as possible, all measurements should be done by weight. However, I’ve found for home use, using a dry measure of 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water works fine and creates consistent results.

Rich Simple (2:1): This recipe uses 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. This syrup will most likely need to be heated on the stove until it reaches a boil. I’ve found it helpful to stir while heating so it is fully incorporated before it hits a boil. Once it begins to boil, I pull it off the heat so I don’t reduce it too much and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. A Rich Simple is a great way to add body and texture to drinks that may seem flat. It definitely stars more in stirred cocktails where you want a silky, smooth texture. Remember, a little goes a long way!

Note: There are many different kinds of sugar to use as your syrup’s base. Each sugar has its own unique flavor that complements different spirits or ingredients. The picture below shows two of the most common sugars I use. White sugar is a great neutral sugar that doesn’t add much flavor to a cocktail. My other preference is Demerara sugar ( Turbinado or sugar in the raw), which has darker and more molasses notes that can complement some aged spirits very well.

Thick syrups

Some syrups already come in liquid form and just need a little tweaking to be cocktail ready. The most common examples are agave, honey and maple syrup. Typically, these should be diluted when using in cocktails. A 2:1 (honey to water) syrup will provide a similar level of sweetness as a regular simple syrup. If you want to make an even richer version, simply change the ratio to 3:1.

Fun syrups

Once you master making a basic syrup, the options for creative, unique syrup-making are endless. If you want to try creating a syrup that includes spices like cinnamon or vanilla, you’ll need heat to help extract the flavors. Again, just be aware that the longer your ingredients boil the denser the syrup will be. If you find it needs to be cooked for a longer period of time to get the flavor you want, try keeping it on a medium to low heat and cover with a top.

Another way to make a unique syrup is to replace the water in the simple syrup recipe with fresh fruit or vegetable juices like pineapple, watermelon or ginger. You can use brewed tea (make it twice as strong) as a replacement for water as well. Experiment and see what creative flavors you can make. Cheers, Sam.

Post #3: Old Fashioned by the Bottle

Today I wanted to share a quick and easy recipe you can use to turn your favorite bottle of Litchfield Litchfield Bourbon into a bottle of Old Fashioned cocktail.

The Old Fashioned was originally a drink made with a spirit, sugar, bitters, and water. Today, the Old Fashioned cocktail is synonymous with whiskey, especially bourbon. All of the cocktail’s ingredients are meant to be accents that let the characteristic of the bourbon shine.

Making a delicious Old Fashioned requires a perfect balance of bourbon, sugar, and bitters. Because we’re going to make this cocktail by the bottle instead of by the glass, we need to consider how to properly dilute and chill. To replace the dilution that normally comes from ice, we’ll add enough water to bring the bottled cocktail down to our desired ABV, which in the case of an Old Fashioned is 30% alcohol.

Temperature also plays a big factor in a tasty drink. Too cold and flavors are muted and flat. Too hot, and flavors become sharp and unpleasant. I recommend once you make this recipe, that you refrigerate the bottle to keep the cocktail at a good temperature. Each bottle of Old Fashioned yields approximately 9 cocktails!

Bottled Old Fashioned

17 oz. Litchfield bourbon (92 proof)

.5 oz Angostura bitters

1.5 oz Rich Demerara syrup**

6 oz Water

Refrigerate, pour over ice, garnish with orange twist and enjoy!

** Rich Demerara syrup

1 cup Demerara sugar

1/2 cup water

Bring to a boil, remove from heat, stir until fully dissolved.

Watch this short video to see how easy it is to make. Cheers, Sam.

Post #4: The Doctor’s Orders

Hello everyone! For my final Bartender Takeover post, I wanted to create a culmination of all my posts and show you how to make a specialty cocktail that is restaurant worthy! Today’s cocktail is based on a basic template–a simple sour.

A simple sour is built with the following ingredients:

2 oz Spirit

.75 oz Citrus (lemon or lime high acidity is important)

.75 oz Sugar syrup

I took this template and incorporated three different methods to highlight unique flavors and make it my own. I like to infuse spirits because it really enables an ingredient or flavor to shine. In today’s featured cocktail, the Doctor’s Orders, you’ll see how I infused Litchfield Distillery Straight Bourbon with green tea. Sugar creates body and texture while adding nice undertones of flavor. For this drink, I’ll rely on Honey Syrup (see Post #2 above). Lastly, I muddled ginger to create a burst of flavor and freshness that really makes the Doctor’s Orders quite vibrant. Try it, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

Doctor’s Orders Recipe:

2 oz Green tea bourbon**

.75 oz Lemon

.75 oz Honey Syrup (2:1)

3-4 pieces muddled ginger (peeled, thumb-sized discs)

Method: Shake all ingredients, strain over ice, garnish with lemon wheel.

** How to Infuse Bourbon & Green Tea

1/2 cup Litchfield Distillery Straight Bourbon

1 bag Green Tea

Let sit for 20-30 minutes. Taste test until desired flavor is reached.

Tea is a great infusion tool and adds complex, layered flavors. It’s easy to do and can be incorporated with a variety of spirits and cocktails.

Thank you for reading my Bartender Takeover posts, I appreciate it. Cheers and stay safe! ~ Sam



To help Sammi Reys out during this unusual time, please consider leaving him a tip at Go Tip Em. Or, you can tip him directly via Venmo @SReyes35. Thanks, Sammi! We appreciate your Spirit of Hard Work!



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