Mixology is the art of inventing, creating, and serving cocktails. A mixologist is someone who practices this skill professionally. While many may equate them to bartenders, that’s actually a misconception. A mixologist can be a bartender, but not all bartenders are mixologists. It’s an acquired skill to be able to combine the various flavours found in liquor and mixers and create a unique highball. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try. It’s a useful skill to have, and can definitely save you trips to the bar just to order your favourite cocktail. Your mixology journey can start in your own kitchen with these basic tips and tricks.
Before attempting to create your own mixes, you must have the proper tools. The basic cocktail-making kit includes the following essentials:
These are present at every bar, and should be present in your home too if you want to fix your own drink. Shakers are what you use to dilute, mix, and chill all your ingredients. There are various types of shakers in addition to the generic non-weighted shaker you may be used to seeing.
- A vinyl-coated shaker has a vinyl covering to give you more of a grip
- A powder-coated shaker is solid-coloured; more fun than the boring stainless steel
- A weighted shaker is heftier in the base to allow the tin to spin
2. Cocktail jigger
A jigger is the bartending equivalent of a measuring cup. It’s used to measure out each ingredient in shots. They’re almost always made of metal to round out that classic bar look. Out of the several jiggers available, the most common one is the tall endurance jigger. It can be made of metal or plastic. It’s shaped like an hourglass and has two sections. The taller section, or the jigger shot, can hold 1.5oz. Meanwhile the smaller section holds only 1oz and is called the pony shot.
This is used when pouring out your drink from the shaker to the glass. It prevents elements such as ice, pieces of fruit, or ground herbs that you’ve used from falling into the glass. When choosing a strainer, consider its size. Make sure it will fit over your shaker.
The muddler is the bar’s version of a pestle. It’s much smaller than a kitchen pestle, normally the size of a mixing glass. Muddlers are used for crushing up solid ingredients like herbs, bitters, fruits, and sugar, all of which need to be ground up in order to release all their flavours. You can choose between a plastic, wood, or stainless steel muddler, but the latter is recommended for an easier clean.
5. Other cocktail-making tools
- Bottle opener
- Bar spoon
- Cocktail glasses
- Cutting board
Now that you have the tools, it’s time to stock up on the materials. Here are the main ingredients that go in every cocktail.
More specifically, liquor. It’s important to choose mixing spirits, as these will go well with mixers and other ingredients. These are some of the must-have base spirits for cocktail-making:
- Tequila or mezcal
The alcohol you have in stock determines the mixers you can use. It’s generally useful to have the following liquids, as they can go with almost anything:
- Club soda or sparkling water
- Tonic water
- Ginger beer
- Lemons and limes to freshly squeeze, or lemon and lime juice
You can also stock up on cranberry juice, soda, ginger ale, and orange juice.
Add an extra umph to your drink with the final touch of any cocktail—the garnish. These are some good ingredients to use:
- Herbs (mint, rosemary, basil)
- Maraschino cherries
- Green olives
- Limes, lemons
- Orange peels
Cocktails are best served cold, and the kind of ice you use can either make or break your drink. Ice frozen in a freezer tray tends to contain impurities. They also dilute quickly, which waters down the cocktail. Try making ice in large molds for bigger, more solid ice cubes.
Once you’re equipped with everything you need, it’s time to mix your cocktails. Follow these useful tips to get you going.
1. Start with the classics
Before going fancy with infused ingredients, learn how to make the classics. They are straightforward and easy to put together. These are some of the classics that you should know how to make:
- Old fashioned
- Bloody Mary
You can find more cocktail recipes here [hyperlink to cocktail recipe articles].
2. Shake or stir?
We all know James Bond prefers his martini shaken, not stirred. But that method doesn’t always work with every drink. As a rule of thumb, shake drinks that contain mixers like fruit juice, simple syrup, or cream. Shaking incorporates all these flavours together with the alcohol. Stir drinks that are meant to highlight the flavours in the spirit. These are the classic cocktails like the martini and old fashioned.
3. Measure everything
Of course, there can be some leeway to this depending on creativity and personal taste. However, there is a reason why jiggers exist! Measure out each ingredient to ensure a consistent cocktail that tastes the same each time. This is especially useful for when you’re hosting and making multiple drinks for your guests.
4. Opposites attract
When figuring out which mixer works best with your spirit, always go back to this one rule: pair a bitter spirit with something sweet. For example, a daquiri pairs the bitterness in rum with the sweetness in syrup and lime juice. These tastes balance each other out. On the other hand, if you’re using a clear tasting drink like vodka, you have more room to play around with different flavours. For instance, a Bloody Mary combines vodka with sour notes from tomato juice and some heat from hot sauce.