There’s something very satisfying about being able to knock up a great cocktail. Here are some simple tips that are the foundation of cocktail making, and will really help you when you’re mixing up a storm at home.
Sitting in a bar and watching a bartender who really knows their stuff mix you a drink is mesmerising.
The way they just know what to put into the shaker, the flourish of a beautifully crafted garnish and the gleeful flash of flame from a lit slice of peel… it’s like magic.
And credit where credit’s due, at this level there is a kind of alchemy—an arcane vigour to what the pros do. Meanwhile at home, we struggle with anything more complex than a gin and tonic.
The good news is the tips we have for you aren’t going to try and make you into a world-class mixologist. We’re not interested in making our own bitters or designing a cocktail that takes 4 weeks to put together with ingredients you’d likely find in a Harry Potter film.
These tips will help you get the flavours right of basic cocktails and be able to transform a few classics with minimal effort, skill, equipment and time. And that’s what’s important when you’re thirsty, right?
How to make a cocktail – a cheat’s guide to cocktail making
The Golden Rule of cocktail making
The same with all well-constructed dishes, cocktails are looking for balance. A balance of sweet, bitter and umami. And there’s a quick rule of thumb that will help you find that balance when you’re mixing drinks at home.
2 parts spirit
1 part sweet
1 part sour/bitter
if you think about any cocktail—proper cocktail I mean and not just rum and coke or scotch and dry – and the rule follows.
The sweet and the bitter don’t have to be just sugar syrups and citrus. They can also contain alcohol. If you think of a Negroni, the spirit is gin (packed with umami), the sweet is vermouth and the bitter is Campari.
The ratios may change depending on the strength of flavour in each component of your cocktail. But if you make sure they exist in some form, you can taste and tweak until the balance happens.
Transformer cocktails – swapping out one ingredient
When you’ve only got 3 ingredients in a cocktail—and this type of cocktail is becoming more and more popular by the way—swapping out one single ingredient creates a whole different drink.
It’s a bit like those crossword puzzles where you have to find as many three-letter words as possible. They drive me crazy. But these cocktails are all awesome.
Small changes make big differences
There are other examples of swapping out ingredients to create different cocktails
Daiquiri to Mojito
2 parts white rum
1 part lime juice
1 part simple syrup (easy to make by mixing equal parts of white sugar and hot water—you can cool it down quicker with an ice cube)
Muddle fresh mint in the shaker, add crushed ice and a dash of soda water at the end and you’ve got a Mojito.
Instead of mint in the shaker, smash up fruit like strawberries, tropical fruit or even herbs like coriander or basil to spruce up your mojito.
On the other hand, you can turn your traditional daiquiri into a fruit daiquiri really easily too. Here’s how.
Whisky Sour to Gin Sour
2 parts whisky
1 part lemon juice
1 part simple syrup
Swap the syrup out for maple syrup or honey water (similar to making a simple syrup) or grenadine to make this a Whisky Sour with a Twist. You can even use sweet liqueurs instead like Cointreau or peach schnapps for the twist.
Swap the whisky for gin and add a half measure of apricot brandy to turn it into a Gin Sour
Always do a taste check
The best thing about making other people cocktails is you get to take a little taste first. Call it a maker’s tax! But you can’t take a slurp from the glass. Put a clean straw in the drink, put your finger over the end and pull it out of the drink.
There’ll be a little sample of the drink in the straw – taste that to make sure the flavours are balanced.
What’s your favourite cocktail? Do you have any tips for cocktail making at home? Tell us in the comments!