Tips to becoming the mixologist at your next party

Under the watchful eye of bartender Michelle Nelson, left,  Richie Ann Ashcraft adds Razzmatazz raspberry liqueur to a drink called the Sexy Alligator. Nelson is a bartender at Mesa Theater and Lounge, 538 Main St.

Caramel Apple Martini

Sexy Alligator

Non-traditional White Russian



2 ounces Apple Pucker or similar product

1 ounce vodka

A bottle of caramel syrup


Soda water (optional)

Fill martini glass with ice and soda water. Set aside. Fill bottom of cocktail shaker with ice, pour in vodka and Apple Pucker, cover with a glass and shake vigorously. Set aside. Dump the soda water and ice and pour about a quarter-sized dollop of caramel syrup into the bottom of the martini glass. Pour alcohol mixture over caramel, leaving about a finger’s width between the liquid line and the rim of the glass. If the shaker is hard to separate due to chilling, tap it against a counter top, then move the shaker top and bottom apart just enough to pour the liquid out in the gap between the two parts of the shaker.



1 1/2 ounces Pinnacle Whipped Vodka

1/2 ounce Creme de Cacao

Espresso or Roasted Rocket Fuel mix

Half and half


Whipped cream and cinnamon/sugar mix to garnish

Pour vodka and Creme de Cacao into glass filled with ice. If you don’t have both, substitute two ounces of chocolate vodka. Measuring from the liquid line to the rim of the glass, fill halfway with espresso and the other half of the distance with half and half until the glass is nearly full. Pour the concoction into a shaker bottom, then pour back into the glass to mix. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mix.



1 1/2 ounces Malibu rum

1/2 ounce melon liqueur

Pineapple juice

1/2 ounce raspberry liqueur

1/2 ounce Jagermeister


Mix rum, melon liqueur and a splash of pineapple juice and shake them together with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour the liquid (not the ice) into a shot glass. Pour 1/2 ounce of raspberry liqueur, such as Razzmatazz, into the glass. The liqueur should sink to the bottom of the glass. Then, pour a shot glass with the Jagermeister in it into the drink by placing the edge of the bottom of the Jagermeister-containing shot glass on the rim of the larger shot glass and slowly tipping the Jagermeister glass so the liquid runs down the side of the upper shot glass and into the lower shot glass, forming a pool on top of the other liqueurs. If you don’t like Jagermeister, leave it off and the shot is called a Wild Alligator.

Bartending basics

Words to know before you put your skills to the test:

■ Cocktail shaker: A two- or three-part metal, glass or plastic device that allows a person to shake or stir a drink. Components include a bottom to pour the liquid and ice into and a cap, strainer and/or mixing glass for the top.

■ Fifth: A fifth of a gallon or about 750 mL; the most common size for a bottle of liquor.

■ Jigger: A measuring device that measures a shot on one side and a half shot on the other side.

■ Muddler: A tool used like a pestle to crush drink ingredients such as herbs, including mint.

■ On the rocks: Drink poured over ice.

■ Shot: A fluid ounce and a half of liquid. Also used to refer to an alcohol-dominant drink in a shot glass meant to be downed in one swallow.

■ Well drink: One made with lower-cost liquors and mixers.

Making a drink is like making a cake: It takes some mixing, requires just the right ingredients and if you don’t follow the recipe your friends will end up spitting it out.

The Daily Sentinel’s Web Content Editor Richie Ann Ashcraft and I can make cake. A drink, though? That was another story.

Knowing nothing about mixology beyond how to stick vodka, ice and 7-Up in a glass (voila!) was becoming a problem for us. We wanted to impress party guests and our husbands by knowing how to whip up a decent cocktail. But looking at drink recipes online that called for everything from Aperol to Zubrowka and every bitter, berry and liqueur in-between was discouraging.

Richie was adventurous and tried some of these multi-ingredient recipes but, she admitted, they never came out right.

So we decided to enlist the expertise of Michelle Nelson, a bartender at Mesa Theater and Lounge, 538 Main St., to teach us the basics and a few drink recipes for our next bash.

First lesson: measuring.

The size of a shot varies by bartender, from a fluid ounce and a quarter to a fluid ounce and a half of liquid (a half shot, depending on who you ask, can be 1/2 ounce, 3/4 ounce or a long fraction in-between). A jigger measures a shot on one side and a half shot on the other.

Not measuring alcohol while preparing a drink is about as dumb as making cookies by dumping equal parts sugar and flour into a bowl. Various measurements help offset or accent elements of the other ingredients. These are all things I did not know and good reasons why people buy drinks from Nelson, not me.

More helpful tips from Nelson:

1. Placing ice and soda water in a martini glass to chill it before you dump that concoction and put in the real stuff is a great way to keep a martini cool.

2. If a recipe looks daunting, substitutions are allowed. Try agave instead of simple syrup. No Cointreau in the liquor cabinet? Try Triple Sec. Chambord too pricey for one recipe? Try Raspberry Schnapps.

3. The difference between top-shelf alcohol and the alcohol that goes into a well drink tends to dissipate once you mix in juice or soda. But some people insist there is a difference. Start at the bottom and work your way up if you’re not sure what brand you like.

4. When shaking a martini, shake it until your hand almost feels frosted to the tin, glass or whatever material of shaker you’re using. A strainer top looks nice, but placing a glass upside down over the shaker allows you to really shake the cocktail to perfection.

Girded with these tips and the three recipes below that we tried ourselves and miraculously succeeded at making taste delicious, hopefully you, too, will be able to make your own party cocktails the next time you entertain.

Why not give it a try on New Year’s Eve? Champagne is for amateurs.SEXY ALLIGATOR


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