Tips from Whitefish master mixologist Meagan Schmoll

Story & photograhy by Lido Vizzutti

Standing in a lake outside Whitefish with water up to her waist, Meagan Schmoll looks into the camera and introduces the Bolero — an elegant sherry cocktail she invented and named after the Latin dance.

A floating standup paddle board acts as a makeshift bar and gently bobs as she begins to build the cocktail.

“The drink that is liquid movement,” Schmoll, a master mixologist from Whitefish, says of the Bolero. “Filled with tension, restrained passion and accented with moments of flair and release.”

This is Schmoll’s 2016 U.S. Sherry Cocktail Competition application video — a competition she has been a finalist in the past two years, showing off her skills in New York City.

Diving into the Bolero can be an advanced endeavor, so when preparing the home bar this summer to impress, Schmoll’s advice is to concentrate on the simple cocktails that can easily be reworked.

“Keep it simple. Then expand as you grow as an enthusiast,” she said.

Take the Bee’s Knees, for example. Light, bright and refreshing, this summer sipper takes the edge off hot days and is an easily assembled party or barbecue drink.

“It starts with gin, honey and lemon,” said Schmoll. “And being the creative people we are, we thought, ‘Well, I bet bourbon would go with that.’ So you change the spirit and it becomes a totally new flavor profile.”

The resulting tipple is called a Gold Rush. Another option is to “spritz it” by adding a bit of Prosecco or soda water.

For a drink on a completely different flavor spectrum, the Negroni — with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari — is another simple, exciting starting point to impress.

“The Negroni is a drink that begins the night wonderfully but also can satisfy the hankering for that one last drink,” she said. “This cocktail touches on all the tastes: sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami.”

Exchange the gin for bourbon and you have a Boulivardier.

Since keeping a fully stocked selection of spirits and tools can become expensive or overwhelming, reconfiguring cocktails is a blessing for those playing home bartender this summer.

Most importantly for any creator of cocktails, Schmoll says to remember: “You’re always creating a drink for the person who is drinking it. So even though there are many dos and don’ts, the most important thing is making (the drink) the way the imbiber likes it.”

In addition to the sherry competitions in New York, Schmoll has competed in the U.S. House of Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge in Chicago and a Speed Rack competition in Seattle. To taste her Bolero, Bee’s Knees or Negroni, Schmoll is currently the Cocktail Specialist and Spirits Manager for Abruzzo Italian Kitchen and Tupelo Grille in Whitefish and the Gunsight Bar and Grill in Columbia Falls.

Recipes

Bee’s Knees
2 oz. gin*
3/4 oz. honey syrup (mix 1 part water to 2 parts honey)
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
*Substitute 2 oz. bourbon for a Gold Rush.

Negroni
1 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. Campari
Combine all the ingredients in an iced old-fashioned glass and stir. Garnish with an orange peel.
*Substitute 1 oz. bourbon for a Boulivardier.

Home Bar Suggestions From Meagan Schmoll

Five Useful Tools

1. The Boston Shaker: Comes with a pint glass and oversized tin that fit nicely together. This two-piece set can be used for shaken and stirred cocktails.

2. A jigger: A measuring device that has lines to measure the basic 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1, 1.5 ounces, helping keep proportions of recipes balanced.

3. Stirring spoon: If purchasing, be sure not to get the spoon with the red tip that you see at most stores. It is worth investing in a nice one from Cocktail Kingdom, which will be well balanced and pleasant in your hands.

4. Hawthorne Strainer: Or, if you’re feeling traditional, you can use a julep strainer.

5. A peeler: For citrus garnishes.

Stocking the Summer Home Bar

  • P Gin
  • Whiskey
  • Tequila (only 100% agave)
  • Rum or vodka
  • Dry and/or sweet vermouth (small bottles) Note: Vermouth expires in about three weeks, so be ready to use it.
  • Angostura bitters

Rules of Thumb

If it is all spirits, one should stir. This will retain the texture of the ingredients used in a smooth, velvety experience.

If citrus is involved, make sure to shake it. Shaking creates small CO2 bubbles that dance on your tongue — citrus loves to be shaken.

Use fresh ingredients, like limes and lemons, instead of from concentrate.

There are many dos and don’ts, but the most important thing is making it the way the drinker likes it.

Five Books for the Home Enthusiast

1. “3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon,” by Robert Simonson

2. “The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion,” by Julie Reiner

3. “The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks,” by Dale Degroff

4. “One Bottle Cocktail: More than 80 Recipes with Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit,” by Maggie Hoffman

5. “The 12 Bottle Bar: A Dozen Bottles. Hundreds of Cocktails. A New Way to Drink,” by David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs