Crafting Your Signature Cocktail

You set aside a room or garage or basement, built a custom bar and created your perfect man cave or ma’am cave. But now that everything’s in place, you don’t want to just crack a beer or open a bottle of wine. To put your personal stamp on your private club, you need to create a cocktail with your name on it. To figure out how, I visited the Craft in America Center for the perfect presentation: Crafting the Cocktail.

Melkon Khosrovian, co-founder and spiritsmaster of Greenbar Craft Distillery, and Brandyn Tepper, bartender at Cocktail Academy were there to talk about what you’re pouring and how to mix it.

What You’re Pouring

Anyone can go buy a bottle of booze. What you want is something distinctive that sets your bar apart. Just as craft beers have swept the nation, we’re at the beginning of a new movement in craft spirits, and Greenbar is at the tip of the spear. As Melkon puts it, craft is “an unedited relationship between the maker and the drinker.” That means when he creates a spirit, whether it’s a whiskey, vodka or gin, his vision for the flavors and aromas to introduce, and the feeling he wants to evoke doesn’t depend on market research or focus groups or brand managers. A perfect example is the Grand Poppy liqueur.

crafting your signature cocktail, grand poppy, greenbar, Justin DiPego

It’s a bitter aperitif like Campari, but infused with poppies. It was inspired by hiking in the California hills and delivers other iconic California flavors like bay leaf and pink peppercorn. Use it to make a Negroni instead of the Campari and that cocktail is yours now.

How You’re Pouring It

“Craft is a mindset and bartending is my craft.” That’s Brandyn, and his point is that craft, and in this case the cocktail, is a transfer of emotions between the maker and the guest.

crafting your signature cocktail, Brandyn Tepper, cocktail academy, Justin DiPego

We’re not drinking just to get loaded. We’re creating a shared experience. You don’t have to take 10 minutes mixing complex ingredients, just put some thought into each component. What’s the temperature? How much water? What kind of glass? “A crafted cocktail deserves crafted glassware,” Brandyn adds. The least you can do is get a variety of glasses for appropriate cocktails – highball, rocks, martini. And when you use a martini glass, don’t fill it to the point where spilling it is of greater concern than tasting it.

What You’re Mixing

Taking all that into consideration, you still need to make a cocktail. It doesn’t have to be a completely new invention. You can take a classic and put your own stamp on it, like the Grand Poppy Negroni. All you have to learn is a balance of ingredients. Both experts have almost the same advice, put in different ways. According to Melkon, you can’t fail with a 4-part cocktail. Parts 1 and 2 are your alcohol – part 3 is sour – 4 is sweet. Then you can add a garnish or bitters.

crafting your signature cocktail, Justin DiPego

Brandyn boils it down to a metaphor. You’re making a sandwich. The meat is the alcohol and the bread is the sweet and sour. Apply this to whatever combination of ingredients you want. Use rum, Curacao (sweet) and lime juice (sour) and it’s a Mai Tai. Change the rum to vodka and the Curacao to ginger beer and it’s a Moscow mule. Take those basics and experiment fearlessly with substitutions. Find a combination you like. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent original – find the right swap for one ingredient from a classic and put your name on it.

With that, here are some actual recipes you can put your personal stamp on.

From Melkon: The Poppy Patch

  • 1 oz Grand Poppy
  • 1 oz Slow Hand white whiskey
  • ½ oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz Fresh strawberries
  • 2 dash Bar Keep lavender bitters
  • Muddle strawberry
  • Shake + strain into a rocks glass

From Brandyn: Pisco Sour

  • 2 oz Pisco
  • 3/4 oz lemon/lime juice combined
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Add all ingredients in the shaker without ice, dry shake
  • Add ice, shake, strain into a coupe
  • Garnish with a dash of angostura bitters

From me (honestly, I’m the only one that likes this): The Hot Eyeball

  • 2 oz TRU Organic GARDEN Vodka
  • 1 oz Fresh tomato water
  • 1 oz Fruitlab Organic Jasmine liqueur
  • 2 Dash Bar Keep Organic Chinese Bitters
  • 1 Muddled cherry tomato
  • 1 Sliced jalapeno pepper w/juice
  • Top it off with soda water
  • Stir and serve over ice in a highball glass