The Bar Minimum...
I recently got an email from a bar owner who had fallen in love with craft cocktails as of late, and was wondering how his bar could take a small step into improving the quality of the drinks they serve.
While many bartenders get questions of this nature all the time, what made this email so refreshing was that the writer of this email had no misconceptions of what he wanted.
He understood that craft cocktail bars are extremely difficult to manage and run, and is not even considering going that route. He isn't looking for a fancy $15,000 ice machine or self-satisfied bartenders with adorable little vests and suspenders, all he wants is something simple that he can do to improve the guest experience.
In the distant past, I would have told him he was being unreasonable and that you can't take away just one component from the whole and still expect an improvement, but these days I have grown far more pragmatic on making small gains whenever possible.
With that said, to the bar owner or any other aspiring bar manager out there that is looking to make better drinks, I am not offering you any new advice.
I am not going to advocate some exotic cocktail shake from Japan or advise you to only stir drinks on crystal clear diamond-cut ice cubes. Nope, my suggestion is much simpler and accessible than that. If you want to improve the flavor of your most commonly sold drinks from front to back, the bare minimum you need to be taken seriously is fresh juice.
Now, before anyone takes issue with this, I do not mean that your bar needs to be hand-squeezing a la minute like many of the country's best bars, all that would be required is homemade sour mix. The pre-made bottled stuff is most often a disgusting mixture of high-fructose corn syrup and yellow #5, which makes it over-priced regardless of what you paid for it.
Homemade sour mix on the other hand is extremely easy to make, will make your drinks taste delicious, and discounting labor, is very inexpensive throughout the year. With that in mind go ahead and scrap the shelf-stable bottled stuff for good and your bar will be better off because of it.
Regardless or whether or not, you are just making Margaritas and Kamikazes, homemade sour mix will make your drinks taste infinitely better and do so without much of a commitment and at only a minimal cost.
Homemade Sour Mix 1 part Water 1 part Sugar 1 part Lemon Juice 1 part Lime Juice
1. Juice and strain the lemons and limes.
2. Stir in water and sugar until all the sugar is dissolved.
3. Store in the fridge in tightly sealed container. Lasts up to a week, but for best results try and use it within 3 days.