• Nick Prouten

How To Mix A Damn Good Cocktail In 5 Steps

bartender mixes cocktail
Photo by "Chino Rocha"

Much like cooking, mixing cocktails, and practicing mixology have one thing overall at its core. Passion. When you have a passion for creating flavors and curating experiences for people, nothing gets in the way of ensuring the drink you deliver is a damn good one. That being said, there are still some tried and true guidelines and methodologies that will help you craft cocktails. Having a firm understanding of these fundamentals will allow you to not only break down any beverage and likely improve your ability to remember recipes, but when you do grasp them, you'll be able to become more creative and experimental with your recipes.

1) Set the Stage

Mixing good cocktails is both performative and practical. This means setting up your environment with the right tools for the job so that your liquors, mixers, seasonings, rims, and garnishes are all within reach and you never miss a beat. Depending on the cocktail you're creating, you'll want to make sure that you've chosen the right glassware. This may seem to be superficial at first glance, but in certain situations, such as cocktails that may use Prosseco, the shape of the glass can impact the flavor pallet and the speed at which the carbonation releases. Again, presentation often plays a practical role in building a tasty cocktail. Finally, If the recipe calls for it, have some glasses chilling while you compose your cocktail. Having these kinds of systems in place is what will allow you to consistently create killer drinks like a well-oiled machine.

2) Give it a Rim Job

Jokes aside, you should always rim your glassware before adding ice or liquor. The method here is simple. Generally, you run a wedge of citrus around the glass or have a small plate with lime juice ready for you to wet your rim. Then you'll have your rim salt or seasoning lined up. Next, your citrus dish, and you'll simply line the rim of the glass by placing it upside down and twisting it in the salt. It doesn't need to be salt either. There are many kinds of rimmers from household seasonings to specific premade cocktail rimmers, don't be scared to get inspired and have some fun!

3) Ratio and Recipe

Okay, so you've set the stage, and you're ready to go, now what? Well, now it's time to start compiling your drink. Most beginners work from a recipe card, and most well-known cocktails have well-established formulas, however, to quote "Pirates of the Caribbean," "They're more like guidelines than actual rules." This is to say that once you understand the foundations and flavor pallet of a cocktail, you can start to experiment.

As a starting point, almost all cocktails and mixed drinks can be broken into 3 essential parts: The alcohol, The sweetener, and the seasonings (garnishes are more of an accessory, rather than actually affecting the flavor of the cocktail). A good ratio to have in your back pocket is 2oz of Liquor, 3/4oz sweetener, and 3/4oz seasoning. Using this foundation is almost always guaranteed to help send you in the right direction, and from there, you can begin to tweak until you've created something wholly unique.

4) Avengers Assemble

If you've made it this far, then you've already picked up that there's more to cocktail mixing than just slapping your ingredients together. Should your cocktail be shaken? Should it be stirred? Should you use cracked ice or whole cubes in the shaker? When it comes to cocktail making, the method is the madness. Fortunately, if you're starting, the recipe card will always describe the particular method.

4.1 Shaking

As a rule of thumb, although this isn't a hard rule, I always pre-load the shaker 1/2 way with ice when shaking. Small or cracked Ice will add a greater concentration of water from dilution. Then when adding ingredients, I'll either follow the measurements or eyeball them until the shaker is about 3/4ths of the way full.

Follow this up with an aggressive shake, remembering that the longer you shake - the more dilution. When the shaker gets frosty - this is usually a good signal you're good to go. Always strain on to fresh ice and voila.

4.2 Stirring

When it comes to a stirred beverage, I generally go in the order of liquor, sweetener, or liqueur, followed by mixers (juices, sodas, etc.). This allows the denser fluids to settle through the rest of the drink while mixing and enable the less dense fluids to rise. All liquids are, of course, poured over ice unless otherwise stated. Stir in the glass, in a shaker if needing to strain, or in a pitcher if mixing in a larger batch. Always use a bar spoon to mix, and be sure to work in a clockwise motion.

4.3 The weight of it all. (layered Drinks)

Believe it or not, density and gravity play a vital role in some of the coolest cocktails out there. There are some really cool-looking drinks out there, and the process of Layering to create a fun aesthetic for your cocktail isn't actually all that hard. a bar spoon and a delicate pour are often all you'll need. In fact, one could argue it's just physics. This is because all liquids have different densities and, because of this, can stack on top of each other. As a rule of thumb, the order of density descended from strongest to weakest are syrups, Fruit Juice, Water, and then Alcohol. This means to layer properly, you would start with your syrups and end with the booze. Not all cocktails, especially shaken ones, utilize layering, so this is really a technique that comes out when the spectacle is as important as the flavor (sometimes more). If you're interested in getting more detailed, don't worry we'll be going more in-depth in a later article.

5) It's all in the execution

Alright, you're almost to the finish line. Now for the dismount. First up, depending on the cocktail, you may or may not want to strain your pour, this entirely depends on the finished look, taste, and texture you're trying to achieve. As previously mentioned, always pour over fresh ice. Then it's on to garnish. Garnish is the icing on the cake. It is the cherry on top, the final touch and opportunity for you as the bartender to really deliver some personality into the beverage. A wedge of lime, lemon twist, and olives are among the most common garnishes you'll see in drinks, but there are so many ways to get creative. a Sprig of herbs, a small smoking piece of cedar, a whole hamburger; the sky is the limit here, but of course, the garnish should match the aesthetic you're trying to create. In most circumstances, the garnish will also complement the flavors found in the cocktail. The garnish (or absence) tells a story without saying a word. And there you have it. With this tried and true strategy, you'll have a rock-solid from which to not only craft timeless cocktails but begin developing your own portfolio of stunning and tasty beverages.

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