Mixing Up The Classics: A Q&A With Katie Stryjewski

Katie Stryjewski (aka @garnish_girl to her many Instagram fans) is a Boston-based home bartender, cocktail blogger, and newly published author! Her book Cocktails, Mocktails and Garnishes from the Garden is part gardening guide and part recipe book, complete with instructions for creating a home garnish garden, setting up a home bar tool set, plus classic and modern cocktail recipes and more. We can’t wait to put Katie’s gardening tips into action this summer and mix up some of her beautiful cocktails and mocktails!

Be sure to watch Katie’s live Highballs at High Noon session, then check out her 3-ingredient recipe for Travel Insurance, which features rhum agricole, Italicus, and Top Note Bitter Lemon Tonic Water!

Download the free Highballs at High Noon E-Book here!

Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?

Katie Stryjewski: I always enjoyed cooking and baking, and making cocktails began somewhat as an extension of that. I really came to appreciate the history and craft behind the recipes and ingredients. I love how classic cocktails can connect us to the past. I also think it's easier to experiment and innovate at home with cocktails than it is with food. They're made in single servings with relatively few ingredients. And spirits and liqueurs generally don't go bad, so you can slowly accumulate an arsenal of ingredients to use.

Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?

KS: Lately I've been trying to mix up classic cocktails that I haven't made at home before for one reason or another, like the Corn 'n' Oil, Toronto, Caipirinha, and Rob Roy. Sometimes I don't care for them, but often they're a really nice surprise. And I always learn something when researching them.

Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?

KS: People think you need a lot of ingredients and tools because that's what they see at the bar. Almost all cocktail books run through a laundry list of necessary equipment like jiggers and mixing glasses, but very few will point out that you can also use a set of tablespoons and a cup measure instead. Similarly, there are so many drinks that are incredibly simple but taste fantastic - the Daiquiri and the Gimlet, for example. One bottle, basic ingredients. I think the pandemic did a lot to dispel the myth that it's difficult to make a great cocktail at home. I attended so many Zoom classes aimed at beginners. It really opened up the world of home mixology to people who wouldn't have tried it otherwise.

Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to make at home?

KS: The two I make the most are definitely a Daiquiri and a Martini. This time of year we also inevitably spend a lot of evenings on our porch, and for that I love doing a Gin & Tonic, Aperol Spritz, or Campari & Soda.

Q: What do you take to a party?

KS: There are a few Boston-area distilleries that make bottled cocktails, like Boston Harbor Distillery's Espresso Martini and Bully Boy's Old Fashioned and Negroni. That's a great way to bring a cocktail to a party without the fuss of batching one. And if it's a big party where the bottle ends up on a beverage table, the label says exactly what's inside.

Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?

KS: It's so hard to say right now. This is a huge transitional moment and I'm not sure where it's going to take us. So many incredible places closed and those that remain are still having to do business differently. It seems unlikely that tiny, dark speakeasies will be in vogue for some time, and outdoor drinking and dining will surely remain popular. I also suspect that the pandemic left us with more establishments owned by larger restaurant groups, and these groups will also be best positioned to open new spots as things heat up again. The landscape is definitely going to look different.

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

KS: Not being able to go to bars reinforced for me how important atmosphere, craft, and presentation are to the enjoyment of a drink. I got to-go cocktails from my favorite bars and it just wasn't the same. Walking into a beautiful bar and watching a bartender carefully build your drink is something special, and I missed it a lot.

Follow Katie Stryjewski on Instagram.

Follow Top Note Tonic for the latest Highball at High Noon sessions.

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