High Hat

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

~adapted from "The Esquire Drink Book" edited by Frederic A. Birmingham

Timing, as the saying goes, is everything.

Obviously this applies to a number of things, but since we generally talk about booze here, we'll limit it to that for now. In the realm of adult beverages, timing is important. Being aware of the subtle rhythms that govern drink-making is a boon to anyone, particularly if you bartend at home.

There are several contexts where having a sense of timing can help you become a better drink-maker and help your guests enjoy their cocktail experience. Here's three I consider particularly important:

Product: Having a good sense of when your favorite cocktail ingredients are available can save you major headaches. If you use a lot of fruits and vegetables in your cocktails (or homemade mixers), knowing when seasonal produce is at its best makes a big difference. You can make or break a drink depending on whether you use good or poor-quality produce, and it pays to know what to grab at the farmer's market or grocery store. Check your calendar and choose your drink recipes accordingly.

Likewise, some spirits are only available periodically. It's a harsh truth, but a lot of good stuff is often not available year-round This is where it's good to know when your favorite products are slated to hit the shelves. Cultivating a relationship with someone knowledgeable at your local liquor store can often be a good way to get the scoop on when a particular product is scheduled to appear. Also, our friend the internet provides a good means of finding out when limited-run spirits will be for sale. Many brands promote aggressively, so some judicious search-engine jockeying (along with forays into cocktail-centric chatrooms, forums and the like) should yield good info on when old favorites and new releases will show up.

Preparation: It ain't only the Boy Scouts who should be prepared. Knowing as much as possible about who you'll be making drinks for and how many of them there will be is vital. If you're expecting a beer-drinking crowd, then you probably don't need to keep the Creme de Violette handy. Likewise, if you're serving a gang of cocktail enthusiasts, you can probably skip that jug of Thunderbird. Getting at least a vague sense of what kinds of drinks will be in demand goes a long way toward keeping your crowd happy and your booze budget under control.

I also like to follow what I call "The Rule of Two." That is, when it comes to equipping your bar, have two of everything. Two shakers, two jiggers, two bar spoons, etc. Aside from being useful backup in case something gets broken or goes missing, many people like to make their own drinks or just help out. The Rule of Two applies to non-liquor beverages too- If possible, have red AND white wine as well as dark AND light beer. And where ice is concerned, I have a simple formula that has served me well: Estimate how much ice you'll need for the number of people you'll be serving...then buy twice that much.

Where does the timing part come in, you ask? If you do some of the things listed above, you'll discover it'll greatly improve YOUR timing as it applies to getting drinks made in a prompt, low-hassle manner.

People: No one wants to see people standing around with empty glasses, but you also don't want to be the one responsible for guests face down in the guacamole or hurling off the balcony. Timing how fast you serve your partygoers is well worth considering- If you're moving too slowly or not paying attention to when someone needs a refill, they'll get restless and just go for whatever they think can be made most quickly. But if you're overeager, and shoving drinks in people's hands at breakneck speeds, you'll have a variety of problems on your hands later on. You don't have to watch everyone with a creepy, hawk-like stare, but be somewhat mindful of how much and how fast people are drinking.

As your event nears its final hours, timing comes in to play once again. If it looks like things are winding down, this becomes the time to arrange safe passage home for those unable to drive. Food and water need to be provided if possible. And this is definitely not the time to be pouring shots (those always work better as an event opener rather than a closer). Ideally, you want to remembered as the person who facilitated a fun gathering, not the one who neglected his guests or gave them brutal hangovers.

Thanks for drinking!

~ Dr. Bamboo