Cocktail Making For Beginners
Mixology is quite similar to Vienna’s forbidden dance, the waltz—a promenade that defied arm-length tradition for closeness. When waltzing, partners move in a lively manner with polished precision. And isn’t that akin to the art of cocktail making?
The mixologist is the leader of the dance. The customer follows, guided along an intricate journey that leads bar-goers back to the basics, right to the good stuff, and forward into libation bliss. Even a bartender, shaker in hand, mimics the one-two-three cadence of Vienna’s most clandestine dance.
Yet, to be a true master of cocktails, one only needs to mix their taste for scrumptious refreshments with a spritz of the mixology basics—no dance shoes required.
What is Mixology?
Mixology is the act—or skill, as many bartenders would rightfully argue—of making expertly handcrafted cocktails that delight all those who sip on them. In itself, mixology is subtle yet transcendent, metamorphosing simple ingredients into crafty concoctions that can be shared in intimacy amidst dimly lit barrooms.
Mixologists learn the theory behind a well-crafted drink, which includes understanding which flavors pair best with others to create a well-cultivated balance of cocktail deliciousness, using various ingredients, such as:
- Herbs and spices
For example, when making a Negroni cocktail, a mixologist correctly balances the flavors of gin, Campari, and citrus correctly to achieve the perfect sour-meets-sweet sip.
Too much of the Italian aperitif may result in a bitter drink that makes you pucker your lips, while too much gin can lead to an extra-strong sip that won’t appease most palates.
Bartenders craft these cocktails in style—their mixology tentacles dipping and twisting as they rattle shakers from side to side, pulverize pungent fruit with muddlers, and strain Martinis into their conical chalices.
In essence, mixology is a balancing act, honed by many years of experience and a careful study of fundamental proportions. In general, a mixologist in the making can get started with the following tools:
- Bar spoon
- Cocktail glass
How to Craft a Simple and Delicious Cocktail: Mixology 101
Anyone can make a well-balanced, quality cocktail—it just involves precision to a recipe and a bit of practice, much like the waltz.
First, decide which cocktail will induct you into the world of mixology. Will it be the classic Old-Fashioned with sweet notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel? Or the multi-dimensional Manhattan, a dry liquor with a faint hint of sweetness?
While each cocktail involves its own sequence of steps and jives, there are five fundamental moves to grasp when waltzing toward true cocktail mastery.
Move #1: Build
Like constructing a house or a well-organized argument, building a cocktail involves piling ingredients on top of each other to strengthen its foundation. When building a cocktail, mixologists typically will not use a shaker—the metal container used by many bartenders to cool and combine the cocktail with ice.
Instead, they’ll simply pour each liquor, syrup, and mixer on top of each other into a glass cup (typically atop ice). Each ingredient is measured using a jigger, which measures a shot. They usually range in size from 0.5 to 2.5 ounces.
You’ll typically see this building technique used when crafting highball cocktails that consist of liquor and a mixer, like rum and coke. However, there are many built cocktails, including:
- The Madras – A mixture of vodka, cranberry juice, orange juice, and a lime for garnish provides a tangy and refreshing cocktail to the mixology mix.
- Vodka tonic – Thought to have been created during British colonialism to ward off malaria, this multi-purpose libation consists of vodka, tonic water, lime juice, and lime for garnish.
- John Collins – Named after a headwaiter of a London pub, this cocktail is a concoction of bourbon whiskey, club soda, simple syrup, and lime juice, with a maraschino cherry or orange slice to top it off.
Move #2: Muddle
While muddling sounds like something Eeyore would do in the Hundred Acre Wood, it’s actually a carefully honed skill used by many mixologists when crafting flavor-packed cocktails. To muddle is to crush ingredients like:
- Fruit, like orange wedges
- Herbs, like mint
- Spices, like ginger
Using a tool called a muddler—a long stick with grooves at the tip—mashing these ingredients draws out the juices to create a distinctly flavored cocktail. In addition to a muddler, bartenders can also use the back of a bar spoon to delicately squish more delicate ingredients like ginger.
To mash the ingredients, simply place them at the bottom of a glass or cup, then press down and twist with the muddler until the contents become juicy. Popular muddled cocktails are abundant, including:
- Mojito – A sweet mixture of white rum, club soda, white sugar, and muddled mint and lime that’s sure to delight the senses.
- Hot buttered rum – A stray from the classic muddled ingredients, mixologists actually muddle butter, sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice in a cup before adding rum and hot water.
- Lemon and rosemary spritzer – A skillful cocktail creation that involves muddling lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, and vinegar, then adding gin or vodka and simple syrup.
Move #3: Stir
Stirred cocktails are typical spirit-heavy cocktails, and we’re not talking about ghouls and goblins. Spirits are distilled, yeast-fermented libations that are high in alcohol. Typically spirits are stirred (not shaken) to maintain the integrity of the alcohol and avoid diluting it with levels of ice or water.
To stir, simply place a bar spoon in the mixed ingredients and twirl to your delight—usually about 30 seconds. Stirred cocktails are perhaps the most common and include:
- Waldorf – Named for the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan, this boozy drink combines absinthe, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters with a lemon twist.
- Gin and tonic – The gin and tonic is a classic two-step that combines two parts tonic water with one part gin. Of course, garnish it with a lime wedge or get a bit creative with muddled cucumber or fruit.
Move #4: Shake
While the spirit of stirred cocktails is bold, some like a subtler libation. Generally, mixologists shake a cocktail to quickly mix the ingredients together with ice to make the drink refreshing to the senses. It can also be used to evenly integrate heavier ingredients like cream, juice, or egg white into the mixture.
The techniques of shaking a cocktail are nuanced—many times it comes down to the unique style of each bartender. Generally, you’ll want to add the liquid mixture to the shaker, then fill it to the brim with ice. Once you’ve secured the lid of the shaker, use a circular motion to mix the ingredients.
In fact, some think of the ice as a whisk that’s used to whip the ingredients inside. Because the ice, rather than the shaker, is your primary mixing tool, you’ll want to make sure that it’s high-quality, meaning the ice is strong and won’t shatter when hit against the tin container.
Shake the container for a good 10 to 15 seconds before letting the ingredients settle and pouring it into a glass.
For those like James Bond, who prefer their cocktails shaken, not stirred—grab yourself a shaker to concoct the following cocktail favorites:
- Martini – Combine gin or vodka with dry vermouth, ice, and a lemon peel twist or olive for garnish. While most martinis are stirred to avoid diluting the liquor with ice, a shaken martini will certainly be as cool as 007 himself.
- Daiquiri – A classic daiquiri is full of tangy goodness: white rum, lime juice, simple syrup, ice, and a lime wedge to finish it off.
- Bee’s Knees – For a honey-crisp mixed drink, fuse gin, lemon juice, ice, and honey syrup in a shaker, then top it with a lemon twist.
Move #5 One-Two-Three: Frost, Strain, and Garnish
Like every final dance scene, the finishing touch of a cocktail should involve a bit of flair:
- Frost – Best practice is to store the glass of choice in a freezer or ice-water concoction as you’re mixing the drink. Once the cocktail has been poured, it’ll be chilled to your sipper’s delight.
- Strain – Once you’ve mixed your ingredients, strain the mixture to separate the solids, like ice or fruit residue, from the rest of the cocktail.
- Garnish – This is where you can add a personal or unique touch to your crafty cocktail by adding a garnish like a citrus peel, cherry, olive, or herb. Drop it directly into the cocktail, or add a bit of sophistication by twisting a citrus peel over the drink or rimming the glass with salt or sugar.
Waltz into Quality Mixology with DRNXMYTH
Like a waltz, mixology should never be practiced alone. If you’re looking to be a master of mixology, partner with DRNXMYTH, the prima ballerina of ready-to-mix handcrafted cocktails.
As a collective of mixologists and cocktail connoisseurs, we offer a range of award-winning cold-pressed cocktail mixers to get your cocktail caper started on the right foot.
- Craft Bartending. Bartending Techniques. https://craftybartending.com/bartending-techniques/
- Concert Vienna. Viennese waltz: a scandalous dance that became a Viennese icon. https://concert-vienna.com/blogs/viennese-things/viennese-waltz-a-scandalous-dance-that-became-a-viennese-icon