The Art of the Cocktail

February 11, 2019by Rachel Jimenez

It’s impressive, when you learn to make artful cocktails; the alluring and endless choices in combining spirits and mixers, the gorgeous and lush garnish, the color and flavor profiles that rest in the glass. Great drinks start with understanding the elements of mixology, and using those elements artfully to delight your friends, coworkers, family and other guests. Want a crash course in making inspired drinks? Say no more, fam. Here is what you need to know to make cocktails that delight:

A Drink Is Only as Good as Its Components  

The fact is, the drinks you make with top-shelf liquor will, all things considered, always be better than those made from the plastic jugs on the bottom shelf. Your drinks will always reflect the quality of their ingredients, and no ingredient is more pronounced in most cases than the liquor. Small batches, craft distillations, unique spirits, and old classics are the way to go at the package store.

Always Use Fresh Ingredients.

Choose fresh ingredients instead of canned and bottled ingredients. Most of the shelf-bought mixers, juices and canned ingredients are rife with unwanted additives. Extended further, get your fresh ingredients from the farmers market and other purveyors of quality, artisanal products.

Squeeze your lemons, limes and oranges with a hand juicer, and use an electric juicer to create fresh fruit juices from apples, cranberries, pears and more. Make your own simple syrup, sour mix and grenadine. With preparation and quality inputs, the resulting cocktails will jump out of the glass and thank you for your artistic touch.

Garnish Artfully

We judge cocktails with our eyes, and our noses before we ever take a sip. Garnish exists to assist you in these battles, as well as to add fresh flavors to the drink. What would Gin and Tonic taste like without lime, or a martini without olive? While not every cocktail needs a garnish, many drinks depend on the decorative additions for flavor and balance in addition to the artful visual style they offer.

Citrus twists should be your most common garnishing ingredient, so ensure that you have a good peeler. Cherries also add sweet notes to most drinks. Flags are a traditional garnish for sour drinks, and ginger can provide a curveball when used appropriately.

Measure Everything 

It’s important to measure your ingredients to create great tasting drinks. When you see mixologists free-pouring at the bar, they are doing so in an interest to save time and operate efficiently, and they also pour drinks for a living and know the timing required to pour a shot accurately.

Measurement may feel time-consuming in the moment, but if you desire artful, delicious drinks, the balance is just so important to get right; too much or too little of any ingredient can throw off the delicate balance of the cocktail.

When it comes to the rules of combination in creating your own drink, there are a few important tips to remember: for similar spirits, use one ounce each, and when combining liquors of different flavor profiles, use 1.5 ounces of the weaker and a half ounce of the stronger spirit. This is to ensure that the smoke from your mezcal does not overpower the bouquet of your gin; to ensure that flavors play together no matter the combination. For more similarly constructed spirits – say bourbon and rum, or vodka and gin – a one to one ration works well. It’s all about balance.

When using liqueurs, use three-quarters of an ounce of liqueur and one quarter ounce simple syrup. This simple trick will make your drinks better, because quality liqueurs simply don’t add enough sugar. Consider this trick to be like the cook’s pinch of salt in the cocktail world.

The Universal Formula

Here’s a handy trick to create your own cocktail: use two ounces of a base spirit, three-quarters ounce of sour, and an ounce of sweet. It’s a formula that works almost universally. When creating your sours (ideally from scratch, as above) use lemon for brown spirits, lime for white.  Go easy on the juice as a flavoring agent, never using more than three-quarters of an ounce. And only shake cocktails with citrus.

With these tips, you can begin to see a pattern emerge: quality, balance, like with like, ratios, freshness of ingredients. When you look at the classic cocktails, they all share these timeless components; a base spirit, a sweetening agent, a sour note. Replace the whiskey sour base with vodka, and you have a lemon drop. The parts are interchangeable, but the principals of design are immovable. Play with the boundaries to create art.