11 Simple Things
That Will Make Your Cocktails Better
Here’s a brief look at some of the basic tenets to making great cocktails. If you follow these, you'll be well on your way. They are organized in the chronological the steps of preparing a cocktail from beginning to end, as outlined on the Basic Cocktail Process Page. Many of these topics also have their own individual pages where they are covered in greater depth.
3. Chill Your Glassware
(Including the Mixing Glass)
This is probably the easiest step you can take towards making better drinks. It makes a surprisingly big difference. The colder your glass, the colder your cocktail will be and colder cocktails taste better. The best method is to put all glassware in the freezer at least 10-15 minutes before you start mixing - including the mixing glass, if you are using one. You can also rapidly chill glasses by filling them up with ice and water, though that will not get them quite as cold.
1. Use Fresh Ingredients,
While fresh ingredients are always better, fresh citrus juice is essential to good cocktails. All you need to make it is a basic hand juicer. It may require a little extra effort, but not as much as you think, and the result is incomparably superior to the pasteurized “real” juice you get in those little plastic lemons and limes. Fresh juice will typically keep for just a day or two, so only make as much as you need. One lemon or lime will usually get you enough juice for 1-2 drinks.
Simple syrup is the most common cocktail sweetener. It is the yin to the tart citrus juice's yang. This is another ingredient that requires self-preparation, but it's extremely easy, or "simple", you might say. Just combine equal parts sugar and hot water - from the tap is fine - and stir them together until the sugar is dissolved. You do not need to boil the water the stove, though you can. It'll keep for at least a month in the refrigerator, so you can make it in large batches.
If you want your drinks to be consistently balanced and delicious, you need to measure your ingredients. You can't "free-pour" by eyeballing it. ¼ of an ounce here or there can make all the difference. Jiggers are tools designed for measuring cocktail ingredients. But you can also use measuring cups, teaspoons or anything that will calculate liquid volume. Just so long as you measure with something.
5. Don’t Build a Drink over Ice
You should only add ice to the shaker or mixing glass after you’ve assembled all the ingredients, and right before you shake or stir. As cool as it looks to pour booze over ice, it's not a great habit to get into because the ingredients will chill and dilute at different rates, potentially throwing things off balance. Chilling and dilution are time-sensitive elements that you want to control. Pouring ingredients over ice relinquishes some of that control.
6. Shake Cocktails that Contain any Fresh Ingredients
When a cocktail contains any fresh, non-alcoholic ingredients, like fruit or citrus juice, it is generally best shaken. Prime examples are the Whiskey Sour, Margarita and Daiquiri. This is because these types of cocktails tend to be brighter and more refreshing, and they benefit from the lively texture and added chilling and dilution that shaking provides. A more in-depth look at this can be found on the Shaking vs. Stirring page.
7. Stir Cocktails that Contain
all Alcohol-Based Ingredients
If a cocktail is composed of all alcohol-based ingredients such as spirits, vermouth or liqueurs, it is typically best stirred. The Manhattan, Martini and Old Fashioned are standard bearers of this style. These cocktails are stronger, spirit-forward, and sipped more slowly. Stirring is ideal for them because it brings out subtleties in the booze, preserves a smooth and silky texture and allows the base spirit to be the star of the show.
8. Consider How the type of Ice Affects Chilling and Dilution
The condition of the ice you're using will have a bearing on how long you need to shake or stir. Larger cubes will melt slower than smaller cubes, and shiny wet cubes will melt faster than dry, frosty ones. Being aware of these factors and adjusting your mixing time accordingly - shorter for fast melting cubes, longer slow melting ones - will make you much more adept at hitting your cocktail's chilling and dilution sweet spot. You can read more about this on the ice page.
9. Strain over Fresh Ice
When a cocktail is served on the rocks, it may seem like a logical shortcut to pour all the contents of your mixing vessel right into the glass instead of straining it. But it’s not a great idea. The ice you've shaken or stirred with will have already started to warm up and melt. This will cause your drink to become watered down very quickly. It's generally always best to strain a cocktail over fresh ice cubes, which will keep it colder for longer. Of course, there are exceptions.
10. Taste, and Trust Your Instincts
The best way to improve your cocktails skills is to taste throughout the mixing process. It will give you a better understanding of how various factors and techniques affect the final result. Use a straw or spoon to take small samples along the way. Take it all in and apply what you learn to develop your cocktail intuition. And always when in doubt, trust your instincts. They are better than you think.
11. Stay Organized & Clean as You Go
One of the biggest issues people encounter when making cocktails is the chaotic mess it creates. You can end up with a sea of bottle caps, citrus rinds and sticky surfaces. Keeping things clean and organized will not only streamline and expedite the process but you'll also have less mess when you're done. Always have a trash can nearby and something to wipe up any spills. Return bottles to the liquor cabinet when you're finished with them and place used tools in the sink, or rinse them if they'll be used again - especially jiggers. This holds true for both home and professional bartenders.