Tara Jagodzinski, who teaches cocktail classes from her home in St. Clair Shores, brulees an orange  to use as garnish on an old fashioned.

Tara Jagodzinski, who teaches cocktail classes from her home in St. Clair Shores, brulees an orange to use as garnish on an old fashioned.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


New year, new booze

Celebrate in style with elevated home cocktails

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 18, 2020

 A traditional old fashioned can be anything when you switch out the liquor with tequila, vodka or gin and infuse new flavors like turmeric and matcha.

A traditional old fashioned can be anything when you switch out the liquor with tequila, vodka or gin and infuse new flavors like turmeric and matcha.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Jagodzinski creates an old fashioned with items already in her pantry, including bourbon, honey, lemon and turmeric.

Jagodzinski creates an old fashioned with items already in her pantry, including bourbon, honey, lemon and turmeric.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — Is it just us, or has it been cocktail hour for the past… oh, nine months or so?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused plenty of folks to reach for an adult beverage to relieve the ongoing worry, claustrophobia and just plain boredom that comes with staying home and staying safe.

But for most of us, drinking at home is about simplicity: a case of beer, a bottle of wine or some liquor mixed with some ice and a touch of juice.

There’s not a lot of science to it.

And that’s a shame, according to Nick Britsky, of Royal Oak. He’s the founder of Nick Drinks, a vlog and website that explores all things liquor around metro Detroit and beyond. Where most home drinkers are aiming for quantity, Britsky is a big advocate for quality.

“All of us are under immense stress right now. Taking your time to really enjoy a drink is like sitting down with a record or a good movie,” he explained. “No phone, no distractions, just you and the experience. This is a great way to relax.”

That’s easy for a drink expert like Britsky, who has had years behind the bar and in front of the camera mixing drinks for customers and liquor enthusiasts. But how can those without an extensive knowledge of cocktails and liquor create drinks at home?

Start slowly, with ingredients you’re comfortable with or that you’ve already got in the house, said Tara Jagodzinski, a cocktail class instructor based in St. Clair Shores.

“I would suggest keeping on hand a cocktail shaker and strainer, a spoon and a jigger (measuring cup),” she said. “You can throw together some simple syrups from everyday items you have. Pantry cocktails.”

Jagodzinski suggested warming up some maple syrup on the stove along with some coffee beans. Let it summer for about 20 minutes before straining out the beans, and you’ve got a great syrup for an old fashioned.

“It doesn’t have to be a (traditional) bourbon old fashioned. Change it up,” she said. “Switch out the bourbon for some rum or tequila. Or if you have honey, add equal parts honey and water to make a honey syrup. Or if you want to get creative, add some turmeric or matcha. Then you’ll have a syrup that you can pair with lemon and interchangeable spirits (and make) a great, super light cocktail.”

An important ingredient to incorporate will need to be a sense of adventure. Be willing to try, or maybe try again, a liquor unfamiliar to you.

“Sometimes people are set in a mindset that they don’t like a certain spirit, like gin. Everyone associates it with that one bad night … where they drank something that tasted like pine,” Jagodzinski said. “There’s a whole world of gin out there. There’s a whole world of cocktails and spirits out there … citrusy, smoky, sweet, bitter.”

Britsky agreed with the bar tool basics Jagodzinski suggests, but when it comes to ingredients, he stresses that quality and freshness are key. Particularly when it comes to juice from easily accessible fruit, like lemon and lime, fresh juicing is a must, he said.

“The freshness, flavor and texture provided compared to canned juice is night and day. Do this and improve your cocktails instantly,” he said. “Don’t get bottom-shelf spirits. Most of them don’t taste good and are more likely to be poorly made, which increases your chances of having a bad hangover. Spend a bit of extra money, and your cocktails will improve.”

He added that, like so many things in life, a bit of extra effort can make all the difference.

“(Many) people don’t shake their cocktails long enough, and almost all amateurs don’t stir their cocktails long enough,” he explained. “Proper dilution and proper chilling makes for a better cocktail.”

Not sure when your drink is fully mixed? Just take it with a bit of salt.

“Just a tiny pinch will bring out the flavors,” he said. “Many bars use a saltwater solution so (cocktails) dissolve better.”