Perfecting your favorite cocktail — like dialing in perfect rounds — requires the right partners

Upgrading your mixer uppers is a major step toward better cocktails.

Shana Novak

Augusta Municipal was playing fast, and Pal Joey had warned Caveman and me that the track was known for bone-hard fairways and greens that were watered using a bowl and spoon.

The green at one par 3 sat noticeably lower than the tee box, and it occurred to me that, given the tarmac-like conditions, I might blade a short iron about three quarters of the way to the hole and let it bounce the final 40 yards, give or take an inch. All went as planned, leaving me 15 feet or so for the two. What a clever boy, thought I of myself, and then Caveman stood in the box and fired one right at the stinking flag. It landed like a pillow two inches from the hole.

That moment sticks with me because it quite nicely sums up our lifelong friendship. We almost always arrive in the same place intellectually and emotionally, but the journey to that point takes wildly divergent thought processes. Mix those thoughts and any accompanying actions and you have a 50-year relationship filled with laughing at and with each other.

According to professors at Oxford and Harvard who study such things, of the nearly 1.3 trillion known comparisons of golf and life, you are currently reading the first to address the importance of getting a mix of factors just so.

A close-up of a whiskey old fashioned cocktail
The secret to making the perfect old-fashioned whiskey cocktail, according to a golf-club chef
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Welcome to history in the making! It is true that so much of our beautiful game depends on the quality of the ingredients and how they are joined. A round played with complementary personalities is always splendid, a match with a partner whose game boosts our own shortcomings often ends in triumph and even the weapons we wield are imbued with magic when we get the combination exactly right.

Of course, anyone who has ever dirtied a niblick or spat upon a muddied ball knows that the finishing touch of any day chasing fairways and greens is the post-round lying and cocktails. If your prime drinking years included the era of the bar soda gun, it can be reported with a happy heart that you now live in a golden age of mixers.

“Bar guns were the worst thing to happen to cocktails since Prohibition,” Matt Foster, a mix master at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, said on a recent day when he looked up to see a bald fat man sitting at his bar and inquiring about the small bottles of Q Tonic.

“There are a lot of excellent craft mixers now that help anyone mix drinks with more distinct and complex flavor profiles instead of the inconsistent and off-the-shelf corn-syrupy taste you get out of the gun with tonic and sodas.”

Not to mention, added Foster, the small bottles allow for a fresher and more consistent cocktail compared to mixers that sit around and go flat in large bottles or cannisters behind the bar or in your home.

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When temperatures dip, make sure you have something hot (and boozy) to sip
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Big flavor in small bottles is something being pursued by Boylan Bottling Co. with its Heritage Tonic, according to senior VP and tastemaker Chris Taylor. Heritage Tonic, Taylor says, is made using “more botanicals” than ordinary tonic and took a year of R&D to achieve a taste that is “not bitter and slightly sweeter because we use only cane sugar.”

Boylan Bottling recently released Heritage in a 7-ounce bottle so both professional and amateur mixologists can achieve “repetition of tremendous flavor” while not paying for the bit in bigger bottles that sometimes goes to waste. That’s good news for those who love a vodka and tonic. According to, Boylan Heritage is the best for V&Ts as it plays well with any potato juice due to its “pronounced citrus flavor from its lemon, key lime and bitter orange extracts.”

Mary Pelletieri, cofounder of Top Note in Milwaukee, came to the craft mixer business after time in the craft beer game.

Top Note’s Indian Tonic Water debuted in 2017, and beyond its remarkable flavor it also deploys an interesting mix of bitters like those used in Campari. As a result, “it is also gentler to digest,” says Pelletieri. Other mixers at Top Note, such as its grapefruit soda, use real extracts and juice.

Which reminds me of the time Caveman was having a day on the links at Skibo Castle, round the corner from the legendary Royal Dornoch Golf Club, in Scotland.

“Would you like some blackberry currant to refresh you, big man?” said his caddie at the turn.

“Sure,” said Caveman, quickly dispatching the juice. “Be better with gin,” he grunted.

The big man brought it home in level par. Just another day when the mix was perfect.


Flavor Savors

Upgrading your mixer uppers is a major step toward better cocktails, but your home bar should always have the necessary garni on hand as the cappers to an even more enjoyable sipping experience.

Jeffrey Westbrook

1. Lemon twist

This is all about citrus oil. Slice the lemon so thin you can see pores from the inside. Twists will jazz up your gin fizz and bring out the best in your Tom Collins.

2. Blue-cheese-stuffed olives

Make these fresh for your martinis. Let them soak in your drink until at least some of the cheese blends with the liquid. Delightful.

3. Cherries

For your manhattans and old-fashioneds there really is only one cherry to choose and that is the Luxardo maraschino. If you’ve ever had ’em, you know.

4. Fresh mint

This stuff will keep for quite a while in your fridge, and it’s handy for making fresh mojitos, juleps and whiskey smashes.

Michael Corcoran mixes metaphors, messages and cocktails with equal parts ineptitude and enthusiasm.

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