Improve your cocktail game before your next North Fork cookout

Local mixologist Joe Coleman prepares a drink outside the Naugles Barn at Hallockville Museum Farm. (Credit: David Benthal)

It’s a shame that some people only get adventurous with their drinks when ordering at a bar. 

A couple renting a house on the North Fork might just fill the fridge for the week with some 12-ounce bottles of Harbor Ale from Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. — even if they’re the type to order a Barbados Buck or a Backsliding Presbyterian from Brix & Rye.

Perhaps some of us keep things simple inside the home because we were never taught how to prepare a highball properly. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t have all the materials on hand to be a little bold with our beverages.

Local experts, however, say there’s no need to be intimidated by the idea of a homemade cocktail. A few simple tips and a little outside-the-box thinking can have you pouring like the pros at your next dinner party or barbecue. And what better time or place to improve your mixology game than on the North Fork in summer?

Be a people pleaser

The best mixologists are the ones who know what you want to drink, even when you don’t have a clue. That gift comes not only from countless conversations with patrons, but also from experience with the most popular drinks and ingredients.

When hosting, it’s key to bring a little of that knowledge to the table while planning options. It could also help you avoid becoming a slave to the strainer.

“If you’re entertaining, you don’t want to be stuck behind the bar all night,” said Joe Coleman of Aquebogue, a mixologist with Grace & Grit Caterers, co-owned by his wife, Stephanie. “You want to be out with your guests.”

For that reason, he suggests batching cocktails that are “people-friendly.” For a party, he said, figure out the total number of guests and make enough for slightly less than one drink per person.

Also, he explained, partygoers are likely to try just one specialty aperitif before moving back to what they know.

Rob Place, co-owner of Spirited Wine & Liquor on Main Street in Greenport, said that if you’re hosting a smaller affair and want to make fresh cocktails for each guest, stick to recipes that have no more than four ingredients.

“You don’t want to be standing there shaking all night,” he said. “But people shouldn’t be intimidated by cocktails. It’s like baking, if you follow a recipe exactly you’ll get same result every time.”

Food writer Amy Zavatto, a part-time Greenport resident, recalls a time she visited a backyard party in Brooklyn and the owner of a popular Red Hook cocktail bar showed up with a large jar filled with bright red liquid. It was strawberry-infused tequila, two ingredients just about everyone loves.

“I find that [mixologists] are simultaneously special and thoughtful, and they really know what’s good for a crowd,” Zavatto said.

In that instance, her friend had taken the time to think ahead about what people might like, recognized that strawberries were in season and brought the house — or at least the backyard — down that afternoon.

Look for inspiration everywhere you go

Zavatto wrote the book on this — literally. Her 2015 publication “Forager’s Cocktails” lays out a blueprint for how to improve the beverages you consume with natural ingredients you might find at a local park, on a hike or even in your own backyard.

Her inspiration came from, of all places, doing yard work. She had pulled a bunch of sassafras from her Staten Island lawn and discarded it, not realizing its potential. Then a friend explained it could be used to enhance the flavor of her drinks.

“It actually got me kind of excited and always wanting to dig things up and just try it,” she said.

But if sassafras tea doesn’t have you running for your gardening gloves, there are sure to be other recipes in Zavatto’s book that will. Wild blueberry daiquiris and the mulberry smash are two of our summer favorites.

Coleman used skateboarding as an analogy when describing how he comes up with ideas. A skateboarder in high school, he said the sport had him looking at architecture differently, sizing up whether or not a space was skateable. Likewise, he said, mixology has changed the way he views food and herbs.

“Now, I’m walking around the supermarket thinking ‘How can I incorporate that into a drink?’ ” he said.

(Credit: David Benthal)

The internet and books are your friends

When he first started out as a bartender, Coleman, who also works as a high school math teacher, turned to Youtube for the basics.

“I remember looking up a YouTube video on how to stir a cocktail,” he said. “It seems really silly to me now.”

But maybe not to a novice. Instagram, he said, is also a good platform for gathering ideas and information.

“There is an entire Drinkstagram community out there,” said Coleman, whose Instagram handle is @doublespeak_cocktails. “You pick people’s brains when you see what they come out with. You can really go crazy in terms of experimentation.”

For quick and relatively simple recipes, Place recommended checking out liquor.com.

“Some of the recipes are complex, but most are very easy,” he said. “If you want a basic daiquiri or a Negroni, you can find it there.”

In two recent northforker profiles popular bartenders Evan Bucholz, a co-owner and mixologist at Brix & Rye, and Andy Harbin of nearby Andy’s on Front Street, both told us they learned much of what they know about pouring drinks by simply reading books.

The walls of Bucholz’s South Jamesport home are lined with bookshelves loaded with volumes on bartending and cocktails.

And when learning and experimenting with drinks, the people around you naturally reap the benefits.

“He made me into a cocktail person,” Evan’s wife, Kyla, told us. That’s because she got to sample the goods as he honed his skills.

Go next-level with preparation

If you feel you already have a handle on basic backyard drink-slinging, thinking ahead can really help you dial things up a notch.

Zavatto has an annual foraging routine that sounds like a lot of work, but is really a great way to get excited about homemade cocktails. Every fall she collects beach plums, which she keeps in the freezer for up to six months.

Come springtime, she begins the process of straining them and saving the juice for a summer cocktail nearly a year in the making.

Coleman takes his beverages to the next level in several ways, including barrel-aging small batches in charred oak and even pouring cocktails over the smoke of burning wood.

“I’ll pour the drinks over the smoke and it will give it a really unique aroma and nose feel,” he said. “You’re getting a more sensory experience with that drink.”

Use great recipes

Joe Coleman shares lots of fun drink recipes he tries on his Instagram @doublespeak_cocktails. Here’s a few we’d love to drink.

Suffering Bastard

1 oz. Beefeater Gin

1 oz. homemade hibiscus liqueur

1/2 oz. lime juice

1/4 oz. honey simple syrup

2 dashes homemade orange bitters

4 oz. ginger beer

Pour ginger beer in a highball, shake the other ingredients, fill glass with crushed ice, pour the ingredients over.

Lauwiliwilinukunuku’oi’oi

2 oz. Caña Brava Rum

3/4 oz. pineapple juice

3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. Orgeat syrup

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Shake, strain, rocks glass, crushed ice and tiki garnish the hell out of it.

Denver the Last Dinosaur

3/4 oz. Deborgen Gin

3/4 oz. Giffard pamplemousse

3/4 oz. chartreuse yellow

3/4 oz. lime juice

Shake, strain and pour

Dulce Daiquiri

2 oz. Caña Brava Rum

3/4 oz. simple syrup

3/4 oz. lime juice

5 dashes homemade dulcé tincture

Shake and strain in a small margarita glass with crushed ice. Add the dulce leaf garnish and drink up!