As with observing a magic trick (and possibly several other activities we can think of), the pleasure from watching someone make you a cocktail lies in the delay of gratification. Every little flourish—the flick of a wrist upending a jigger, an exquisitely curled garnish—at once postpones and enhances the thrill of the anticipated reward.
That's why, after all the arabesque measuring and dashing of bitters and shaking and straining, there's nothing worse than sampling your creation before serving it, only to realize that it's botched. Telling your guest you're going to have to start all over, just as they're wide-eyed and dry-mouthed on the brink of consummation, is akin to . . . well, let's just say it's bad form. And there might be other reasons you don't want to toss that drink: Maybe it's really expensive booze. Or, God forbid, maybe it's the last of your booze.
So, can that watery Dark and Stormy or aggressively overproof Sazerac be salvaged? The purists might say no, but we've recruited Alchemy Consulting partner and master Death & Co. bartender Joaquín Simó (pictured above) to share the dark art of "fixing" an off-kilter drink. Use these tactics and you're guaranteed to save a cocktail—and face.
—Christopher Ross (@cgallagherross), assistant editor at Details
The single best way to fix a drink? Taste it throughout the process. "The very first tip I'd give to people is think like a chef," says Simó. "A chef would never wait until food was plated before he tried it. Straw-taste a drink, especially as you get towards the end, and definitely before you add ice."
"Build a drink with your cheapest ingredients first. If there's any error, at least you're not throwing everything out, like your expensive booze, just because you added too much citrus."
Adjust for Ice:
"Your dilution rate for a shaken, up drink needs to be perfect and it needs to be as cold as possible once it leaves the shaker. But if you're going to do, say, a Manhattan on a rock, maybe you understir that a little. It can mellow out. You don't want your drinks that start our really bright to get soupy on you. You would shake a Collins much shorter than you would shake a Southside."
If It's Too Weak:
"This often happens with a highball, where you've poured too much soda water. Add a small amount of booze, say a half-ounce, or a little more. But remember, you already added two ounces of booze—you don't want three or four ounces of alcohol in a highball. So add a little booze, but maybe add a little bit more sugar and a little bit more acid as well. An overly diluted drink will taste thin, which is what the sugar will correct, and it won't taste very bright, which is what the citrus will correct. So if you add a little bit more of everything, it'll correct it more than just adding more booze. At a summertime barbecue, if you have a bunch of boozy highballs with three or four ounces of liquor each, you're going to fall off the deck."
If It's Too Strong or Too Dry:
"Take an Old-Fashioned: If you don't add enough sugar (or say you're using a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water and you're using a teaspoon), it's probably not going to be enough. Sugar acts like butter. It enriches. It's not so much about adding a lot of sweetness—sugar can help round out a sensation, gaining critical mouthfeel. Often with Daisys—margaritas, sidecars—when people make them with just booze, liqueur, and citrus, I find they are generally a little too dry. If you add a teaspoon of agave to your margarita, that's going to give you a considerably better mouthfeel than just adding triple sec. Sometimes you can make adjustments when something tastes too boozy just by adding a very small amount of a sweetener, especially when it's a rich sweetener, like a 2:1 ratio of syrup made with demerara, turbinado, maple, agave, or honey. It's like adding a pat of butter to the saucepan right at the end; it just gives it this great body."
If It's Too Sweet:
"If it's a long or shaken drink, try adding a little more citrus. You can usually be a little more forgiving with that. But as I said, you're better off starting a drink with the bare-minimum amount of sugar. If something is not sweet enough, you can always add a little bit more. But trying to fix "too sweet" often involves trying to fix two or three other elements and harmonize them that way, which is much, much harder. A lot of times in this case, unfortunately, once it's gone, it's kinda gone."
If It's Too Bitter:
"Add a pinch of salt. Salt blunts bitterness on the palate. By adding a very small pinch of salt—I'm talking a few grains, because you can always add more—that'll help with an overly bitter drink. Try this at home: Pour a little Campari in a glass and taste it. Then throw a little salt in it and taste it again. See how big a difference that makes?"