This month we took some time to chat with Justin Ware (@warejustin11) and Patrick Abalos (@mixmanpatrick), the owners and operators of Not Too Sweet Ventures (@ntsventures), a private event bartending services and consultation company located in Houston, Texas. We discussed all things bartending and finished up with a custom Four Roses cocktail, Creekside Punch. But before we test our at-home bartending skills, let’s learn more about Justin and Patrick.

The two became friends in 2016 after meeting through a cocktail competition, which sparked the opening of their company together in late 2018, early 2019. Now, Justin and Patrick are working on opening a bar called Night Shift (@nightshiftbar), hopefully later this year.

With roughly 25 years of experience in the industry, they have a very impressive background and we’re excited to share their insights with all of you. Read our whole conversation and get the cocktail recipe to handcraft at home.

INTRO:

Where did you find your passion to create cocktails?

Justin: My “ah ha” Moment was when I turned 21, I was working at a fine dining restaurant in College Station and for my birthday my manager took me to Anvil in Houston. I had an Old Fashioned and I was blown away. I went back to work and started making my Old Fashioned like them and then went down the rabbit hole that led me here.

Patrick: I stepped out of my culinary background and went into front of house restaurant management. I missed the creative aspect of cooking, so I started getting into wine and wine led to mixing cocktails. Next thing you knew I was behind a bar making cocktails and running hotel bar programs. Something about seeing someone’s reaction to a good drink makes it fun.

BARWARE:

What are the staple tools you’d recommend for people creating cocktails at home?

  • Jigger
  • Shaker
  • Strainer
  • Mixing Glass
  • Mixing Spoon
  • Y-peeler

Are there any easy substitutes if we don’t have the exact tools?

  • 1 Tablespoon equals 1/2 oz
  • Mason Jar works well for shaking
  • Using a slotted spoon as a strainer
  • A pint glass will work just fine for a mixing glass
  • Using a butter knife or an iced tea spoon for mixing

COCKTAIL INGREDIENTS:

For basic cocktails, liquor first or mixer first?

Definity mixer first. Generally, we train our staff to build cocktails from least (mixer) to most (spirit) expensive ingredients. That way, if you make a mistake it’s not a loss of the spirit(s) in the drink.

Will bottled lime or lemon juice work in place of fresh squeezed fruit or twists?

Nothing beats fresh juice, but if you don’t have fresh lemon or lime juice will suffice. Just make sure to get juice, not concentrate! Also, keep in mind that bottled juices are pasteurized and have extra acid added so you will need to compensate with more sugar.

Shaken or stirred? What is the best way to know which is needed if the recipe doesn’t specify or we are creating something on our own?

As a rule of thumb, if it has any egg or citrus it should be shaken. Citrus juice is a great vehicle for aeration and body, but it needs to be agitated through shaking. If it is just spirit and it is a strong and boozy cocktail, stir.

Bitters or shrubs? What’s the difference and what kinds should we have on hand?

Bitters always! Bitters are the salt and pepper to cocktails! When an old fashioned is lacking, it probably needs more bitters. When an old fashioned is too intense, it has too much, just like salt and pepper. While shrubs are essentially fruit and vinegar solution, great for refreshing cocktails, but take up more space and are less versatile.

A “dash” of bitters seems so imprecise… sometimes a lot comes out sometimes a little. Is it important to be precise here?

Oh, the long-aged debate of the first dash vs the last dash of an Ango bottle. A good dash should be done by holding the neck with the thumb facing the spout. In one motion the bottle should be swung upside down toward your thumb and given one solid pump downward toward the glass or the mixing container. One way to make dashing bitters more precise is to empty about a half to one ounce of it from the bottle. You will get full dashes after that. At the end of the day, do as much as your few is right. We each have different tastes and making cocktails for yourself gives you the vehicle to find out what ratio you like.

ICE:

How should we deal with freezer ice? Do we need those fancy molds?

Freezer ice works fine for the home bartender, if it’s filtered. It is cloudy because of the fast freezing process. It traps air and impurities in the ice. They aren’t harmful. Most clear ice is made in big Clinebell machines that freeze from the bottom up with constant water circulation. It’s a slow process and keeps the impurities out. It’s important to note that freezer ice can melt a lot faster than ice bartenders work with in bars, so be sure to watch your stir and shaking times. The smaller the cube the faster it melts. As far as molds, there is no need for fancy ones, but we recommend getting them for a nice pour of Bourbon.

When do we use cubed vs crushed? 

Cubed is the standard for most cocktails. We use 1×1 inch cubes normally for shaking and serving cocktails. Most of the time we only use crushed ice from Mint Juleps and Tiki style cocktails. Crushed ice melts a lot faster than cubed so it waters down fast, so it should only be used for strong and deep cocktails.

GLASSWARE:

How important is glassware in a cocktail?

Glassware is important for aromatics and presentation, but most home bars don’t have the width that we would at our bar. The glass helps the drinker experience different parts of the drink as they drink it: smell, temperature, and dilution. The right glass will make a drink good from first sip to last drop. We recommend a nice set of 10-12 oz rocks glasses, some 5-8oz coupe glasses, and maybe a few Collins glasses (think tall and skinny), and some nice wine glasses (Riedel is Patrick’s go-to).

Which cocktails should be paired with each glass?

  • Go to for most drinks: 10.5 oz Rocks glass. They are versatile, simple, and hold temperature well. Normally used for an Old Fashioned and even Bourbon and Coke.
  • Coupes are great for “up” drinks (chilled but served with no ice) that are shaken or stirred.
  • Flutes or Collins, any thin slender glass, are good for bubbles in the form of wine or soda.
  • Ceramic mugs always need a tropical drink with an umbrella!

OTHER:

For our novice bartenders, what’s the best place to start? What cocktails are easiest to make and grow your bartending skills?

Our knowledge base comes from reading and asking a lot of questions when distillers and owners come around. The best place to start is by reading the basics: Imbibe by David Wondrich, The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and The Joy Of Mixology by Gary Regan, are just a few to start. Next step is learning the classics, as most cocktails are variations on a classic cocktail build. Everything else goes from there!  Look to credible websites like Imbibe, Punch, Liqour.com, etc. Ask questions. Be yourself.

And lastly, what’s your favorite of our Bourbons to drink, and how do you drink it? 

Justin: Four Roses Small Batch Select all the way! Higher proof, rich cherry notes, and spices. Makes a killer cocktail both stirred and shaken, but at the end of the day neat or with one cube is my way to go.

Patrick: I have to say the Small Batch Select. I tend to pick up a strong cocoa note anytime I drink it. Chocolate, cherry and spice. What’s not to like? I like sipping on it neat or in a stirred cocktail. Definitely a Boulevardier or an Old Fashioned.

 

Creekside Punch

1 1/2 oz Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
1/2 oz Dubonnet
3/4 oz Grapefruit juice
1/2 oz  Lemon juice
1/2 oz Cinnamon syrup*
Vessel: 10.5 oz Rocks
Garnish: Grapefruit Slice and Cinnamon Stick

In a shaking tin, combine all ingredients. Add ice. Shake for 8-10 seconds. Strain into your glass over fresh ice. Garnish. Enjoy!

*Cinnamon Syrup:

6 Ceylon cinnamon sticks (per drink)
1 cup Water
2 cups Sugar

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a simmer. Turn off heat and add cinnamon sticks. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove sticks then add the sugar. Bring the mixture back to a simmer until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and let sit until room temperature. Use as needed. Refrigerate up to 7 days.