Cover – Cocktail Construction 101

Cover – Cocktail Construction 101



Local pros offer wow-worthy tips for building a better drink.


You know that delightful feeling when the bartender slides you a perfectly crafted cocktail? Like that instant just before opening a beautifully wrapped gift, you are full of wonder and anticipation. The glass is chilled just right; the garnish tips at a jaunty angle, while the mindfully mixed contents beckon you to take that first luscious sip. Magic, eh?

Fortunately, mixing magicians abound in establishments throughout the Reno-Tahoe region, and their exquisite potions are readily available. Still, sometimes it’s nice to play the role of clever mixologist at home with family and friends. We touched base with some of the best in the biz to offer up home-bartending basics and terrific tweaks that can quickly elevate your at-home cocktail cred.

Shawn Plunket, owner of 1864 Tavern in Reno, suggests that in addition to learning basic techniques, home bartenders should explore their own palates — which can change over the years — and try not to overthink the process.

“Here is the magic formula: liquor, fruit, sweet, sour … that’s it,” he says. “It’s just like life because you can’t have the sweet without the sour. Find the right combo that works for you and go from there. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to explore your own tastes, and, most importantly, have fun with the experience!”

Read on to discover just how fun and simple it is to wow your own cocktail clientele, right at home.

From poultry processing to indoor agriculture, frequent contributor Ann Lindemann thoroughly enjoys writing for edible Reno-Tahoe. However, this story, hands down, was her No. 1 favorite one to research.

The Insiders’ Guide to Better Cocktails

Looking for some insider secrets that can give you a giant step up on the bartending learning curve? Here, a few of Reno-Tahoe’s most experienced mixologists share their cocktail-transforming tricks.

Mind your measurements Even the most practiced bartenders measure their ingredients — including Ilona Martinez, vice president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, Reno chapter, and the Peppermill Resort Hotel’s property mixologist. Martinez says it’s mandatory for specialty cocktails, as well as simpler drinks. “Plus, it will be hard to duplicate that amazing cocktail if you don’t measure the ingredients each time,” she says.

Citrus science According to Catlyn Piercy, lead bartender at Bite American Tapas in Incline Village, refrigerated citrus fruit renders about one-third less juice than fresh, which is something to remember next time it’s margarita night or Whiskey Sour Wednesday. “I highly recommend using fresh citrus juice made with a handheld juicer,” she says. “And stay away from those premade sweet-and-sour mixes; any time you get something in a bottle, you are going to compromise on taste.”

Chill glassware There’s a lot of information out there about different types of ice for certain cocktails, but all of our experts noted the importance of first chilling the cocktail glass. Just as mindful chefs warm plates prior to serving carefully prepared entrées, mindful bartenders chill the glasses before pouring in the goods.

Singular sensation Next time you are buying simple mixers for a party, opt for single-serving sizes. From tonic water to cola, a freshly opened can or bottle always beats the two-liter bottle languishing in the back of your fridge.

Stirred, not shaken It turns out that James Bond’s suave catchphrase is not always the best route to cocktail perfection. “There are certain spirit-forward drinks, like a Manhattan or a gin martini, that you need to stir instead of shake,” Martinez says. “With the Manhattan, you want that beautiful brown, silky texture that you can’t get when it’s shaken. Also, shaking can bruise certain liquors, like gin.”

Cocktail recipes courtesy of Ivan Fontana of Death & Taxes in Reno.


1 ounce Rittenhouse rye whiskey 

1 ounce Cardamaro

½ ounce Cynar (70 proof)

1 orange peel, garnish

1 burnt cinnamon stick, garnish

Stir ingredients in mixing glass. Pour over large ice cube and garnish with orange peel and cinnamon stick.

Havana Black

1 ounce El Dorado 12-year rum

½ ounce Meletti Amaro

½ ounce Dolin Dry vermouth

1 ounce Luxardo Bitter

1 lavender flower, garnish

Stir ingredients in mixing glass. Pour up in martini glass or coupe. Garnish with lavender flower.

My Villa in Normandy

1 ounce Calvados Noble Dame

¼ ounce St. Germaine elderflower liqueur

1 star anise, garnish

Pour both ingredients in Champagne flute. Top with Champagne or Prosecco. Garnish with star anise.


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Stay updated with our Newsletter

Discover new products, thriving traditions, or exciting food events, festivals, restaurants, and markets – all of the things that are helping to make us a true culinary destination.