Cocktail Tips, Tricks & More with Mixologist Heather Wibbels
If you're reading this, you probably enjoy yourself a good cocktail. Lucky for you, our interview with Heather Wibbels (@cocktail_contessa) is a behind the scenes look at how an expert mixologist works – from experimenting with new recipes to hosting cocktail parties, there's plenty of great advice below to help you step up your cocktail and party-hosting abilities. Heather has even dreamed up the perfect recipe to whip up in your favorite Greenline Goods glassware.
Tell us your favorite tips, tricks & recipes in the comments!
1. Tell us about yourself!
I am a whiskey lover with a passion for cocktails. I aim to turn the world into whiskey drinkers one cocktail at a time. With my book, Bourbon Is My Comfort Food: The Bourbon Women Guide to Fantastic Cocktails at Home, coming out in May 2022, I’m spreading the word on bourbon cocktails to the masses. But I love all spirits equally and love to educate those interested in expanding their mixology toolset at home with easy and approachable recipes, as well as some intriguing ones on my Instagram account @cocktail_contessa and my website.
I’ve contributed or had cocktails in many of the major whiskey magazines, and work with brands to create digital content - both cocktails, copy and images - for them to expand their own reach and engage their audience. I’m also Managing Director of the Bourbon Women Association, the first women-centered consumer spirits organization. I get to work with talented, amazing women who love bourbon and learning about bourbon as much as I do. We focus on bringing bourbon culture and bourbon entertainment to women across the country virtually and in person.
2. What's your favorite classic cocktail?
It’s a tie between the Old Fashioned - when it’s done right it’s a glorious cocktail. And of course, a riff on the Manhattan, the Black Manhattan. The symphony of amaro and bourbon together make an unbelievably complex cocktail that changes with each amaro and bourbon you use to create it.
3. What's your favorite custom cocktail you've dreamed up yourself?
That’s like asking someone their favorite child! I have a cocktail I love right now that’s so simple - it’s just a Fig Old Fashioned with some fig syrup and some cinnamon and ginger bitters.
But I also love this Bourbon Limoncello cocktail. I had made the cocktail first without bourbon in it, and took photos and wrote it up. Then I happened to add an ounce of bourbon to the cocktail and it exploded with flavor and nuance.
4. What's one fact most people wouldn't know about you or mixologists in general?
Our experience of flavor changes and grows over time. As your experience grows in trying new combinations of flavors and spirits, your palate changes. Many times it seems as if people start to enjoy flavors that are more bitter or a bit more sour as they explore the world of mixology and craft cocktails. One of the things I love most is trying new spirits and learning about the differences between spirits that are similar but made in different countries or locations. Flights of spirits and liqueurs really educate you and your palate. I think most mixology geeks feel the same way. We love to try something new. Even if it’s not our cup of tea neat, it might lend a wonderful flavor note or finish in a cocktail. Also, we love obscure ingredients and bitters - if it’s something with a unique flavor profile it’s coming home with me if possible. I think most mixologists are the same way, we love the weird stuff because of what it can add to cocktails, flavor and mouthfeel.
5. Do you have any tips for hosting parties?
Batch cocktails ahead of time so you don’t have to spend your whole evening making cocktails for everyone. And make sure that if you’re serving spirit-forward cocktails you have some heavy hor d’oeuvres to keep everyone having a good time and well-fed while they are drinking. Make cocktails that are easy to serve, and design the food and layout so that you don’t have to spend the whole party refreshing food, ice, or beverages. You want to spend time visiting with your guests.
Have a fun theme and let people know what to expect or what to bring (if anything), what to wear (they’ll need to know if it’s indoor or outdoor) and what you’ll be serving so they’ll know if they need a quick bite before heading over to enjoy the party. And always, always, have a special surprise. It can be a small gift, a little story/presentation, or an announcement to share with friends and family. Just a special moment to spend with everyone.
6. Do you have any tips for how you approach custom cocktail creation?
The easiest place to start is with a template for a drink you love. For me, it’s the Old Fashioned, but it could be the Daiquiri, the Margarita, the Martini, or any classic cocktail you enjoy. Then I start to tweak the elements. I may change out the base spirit, or add a flavored liqueur. Sometimes I play with the sour element or add unusual bitters. If you want to know more about where I find inspiration for my cocktails, here’s my Top 8 Places to Find Inspiration for Your Next Cocktail.
If I’m creating a cocktail for a brand or for a particular spirit, though, I think about what I want to elevate and focus on the spirit itself. What flavors do I want to match with? What mood do I want to create? Do I want something playful, something serious, or something laidback? Making a cocktail for someone is creating and sharing a flavor experience with them. And that experience can tell a story or share a memory - it’s a form of communication. That’s one reason I titled my book Bourbon Is My Comfort Food - we all have flavors and smells that wrap us in a warm blanket of nostalgia. For me sharing a custom cocktail with someone is a way to share and communicate with them without words.
7. Tell us about the cocktail recipe you're sharing with us!
Most people think that Valentines or Mothers Day cocktails need to be red or pink, or that they need to include champagne. But the women I know who love bourbon and whiskey want a real drink on Valentine’s or Mother’s Day. So I came up with this sour cocktail with some interesting flavor elements to combine for a delicious cocktail:
Apricot in the Act - An Apricot Whiskey Sour
- 1.5 oz bourbon or whisky (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch)
- 1 oz apricot liqueur (I used Giffard Abricot du Rousillon)
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 3/4 oz ginger-infused honey syrup
- 2 dashes hella ginger bitters
- 1 egg white/aquafaba (optional)
- Garnish: mint leaf, dried apricot, apricot preserves on rim
Put a small swipe of apricot preserves on the rim of the rocks glass and set aside.
Combine ingredients in a shaking tin, fill with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds.
Strain into a chilled mixing glass and whip with an electric latte whiskey for 20 seconds.
Pour into Greenline Goods Alice in Wonderland rocks glass filled with ice or one large ice cube. Garnish.