Maybe it's time to go that one extra step for next-level cocktails you make at home. It can be one easy-to-make addition -- such as an infused spirit, syrup or even oil -- that comes with a big, big payoff. Papalo oil? Arugula syrup? Sugared lemon oil?
During Labor Day weekend's The Taste food and drink festival, here's what bartenders Christian Rollich of AOC, Lucques and Tavern, Josh Goldman at Acabar and Matthew Biancaniello (find him on Wednesdays at Cliff's Edge) brought to the table.
Rollich makes arugula syrup for cocktails, including one with Ransom gin, Thompson grape juice, arugula syrup, cucumber juice and an absinthe rinse, in which it adds a sweet herbal hit.
How to make it: Rollich says to use a 64-ounce-capacity blender, fill it completely with arugula, then blend to a puree. Add 32 ounces simple syrup and blend; strain.
Prickly pear-infused tequila
You've probably infused some kind of spirit with fruit before, and right now prickly pear is kicking into season. Biancaniello says it not only adds flavor but results in an unctuous spirit that can be sipped on its own or added to cocktails.
How to make it: Peel five or six prickly pears (green or red) and cut in half. Place in an airtight container, then pour over tequila. Let infuse for 1 week, or until desired taste.
Biancaniello's been using herb oils of all kinds to garnish cocktails. Just a few drops added as the final touch. Try it with a pisco sour? Lately Biancaniello's been using the South American herb papalo for an oil that garnishes a cocktail of prickly pear tequila, heirloom tomato water, shallot flowers and another herb, shiso.
How to make it: Wash and dry herbs, then lightly bruise to release flavor. Place in a clean glass container and cover with warmed grape seed oil. Seal the container and leave in a cool, dark place to infuse for 1 to 2 weeks; taste for flavor (you can infuse it for longer if desired) and strain.
Oleo saccharum (sugared oil)
At Acabar, Goldman says he's focusing on the classics. To add depth of flavor to almost any drink, start with oleo saccharum, or "sugared oil," a concentrated mixture of lemon peel, sugar and lemon juice.
How to make it: Blend equal amounts lemon zest and sugar and let sit for an hour. Add lemon juice (equal to the total grams of zest and sugar combined), then water (equal to the total grams of zest, sugar and lemon juice). Let sit until the sugar has dissolved. Strain.