Let’s learn how to make cocktails with alcohol.
The components of a drink are like parts of the engine: Every part is responsible for a task, and if one component is not working, the entire drink will fall to pieces. As the mixologist or the mechanic of the drink, you must ensure that those ingredients work harmoniously so the engine can run smoothly.
How To Make Cocktails with Alcohol
Making classic cocktails requires time, effort, and experience, but expanding your home bar collection can be rewarding and tasty. Making innovative drinks doesn’t require complicated processes or hard-to-locate ingredients. All it takes is a bit of math and a desire to try new things.
The Balance of the Elements of the Cocktail
Cocktails served at bars use the same ingredients as the cocktails you make at home. “At the most basic level, the definition of a cocktail is alcohol that has been altered,” says Alex Day, co-owner at Death & Co bar, a cocktail bar and the consulting firm for cocktails Proprietors LLC, as well as co-author of Cocktail Codex. However, the essential elements of a drink–the spirits, the balancing agents such as citrus juice or sugar, as well as the various modifiers and water are the same regardless of the method of ‘doctoring’ you use. In the proper amounts, the ingredients make an enjoyable, balanced drink.
“Balance could be considered in the same as taste–sweet-salty, sour, bitter, umami –in contrast to taste,” says bartender Devon Tarby, a co-owner of Death & Co and Proprietors LLC. “Taste is felt through the tongue, while the sense of flavor is primarily experienced via the nostrils.”
The base spirit of a drink could draw us towards cocktails; however, because we’re not necessarily wired to appreciate harsh alcohols as they are (their bitterness can be a sign of poison to our survival-focused brains), cocktails incorporate other ingredients to allow us to enjoy the spirit. “One method to trick your mind into feeling that initial feeling of excitement when you smell something strong is mixing your drink in sugar,” Tarby says. A balanced cocktail combines the base spirit with high-concentrated ingredients such as sugar syrups or citrus juices. When used in the right proportions of sugar and acid, they can reduce the strength of the spirit base and enhance the flavor but not dominate the drink.
Modifiers aren’t necessarily a factor in the balance of a drink, but they can contribute to a greater variety of flavors and tastes. They can add herbal, floral, and umami flavors. Worcestershire is a good example. Worcestershire adds a delicious flavor, and cranberry juice gives the cosmopolitan an acidic, fruity flavor. Liquors are a common ingredient in the mix, like the juices of citrus, wines fortified (like vermouth), and bitters.
Water acts as a reverse of modifiers; it dilutes flavors and removes the edge from alcohol that is high-proof. Water is most likely added to drinks through stirring or shaking with ice.
Your Blueprint Your Blueprint: Cocktail Families
Bartenders depend on templates called cocktail families to develop recipes. Day and the Cocktail Codex co-authors think that the six families could be an old-fashioned martini, daiquiri Sidecar, highball whiskey, and the others. The templates are effective because they achieve the right balance between our most basic tastes. Balance is different between families and between drinks. For example, sour cocktails that are shaken, such as Tom Collins, for instance, Tom Collins, have higher acidity than drinks that are served in a glass, such as mint julep.
If you’re creating your drink, using the traditional family of cocktails to create a basis can save you time and cash. “It is helpful to understand the basic cocktail structure so that you don’t have to go through an excessive amount of alcohol before you find something you enjoy,” says Dave Arnold, who is the proprietor of the Existing conditions Cocktail bar, and the author of Liquid Intelligence: The Science and Art of the perfect cocktail. However, making mistakes with your drinks is a crucial element of the process because you’ll learn what isn’t working.
A firm acidity or sweet taste signifies that the cocktail isn’t balanced and that you must alter those elements. In other instances, the ingredients you choose to use won’t blend into a more significant sum than the sum of their parts, Day says. For example, when your drink tastes similar to the recipe used in traditional recipes, the lime juice is likely to smother its mango flavor. In disjointed cocktails, it is possible to add a new ingredient to help bridge the mix of ingredients, for example, an incredibly versatile liqueur such as elderflower, chartreuse, and Aperol (Arnold calls them “bartender’s Ketchup”). Also, you can include some salt that enhances flavor and reduces the harsher drinks’ harsher components.
Experimenting At Your Bar
A simple way to begin making drinks at home is to use the Mr. Potato Head method of swapping out one ingredient from an existing recipe by substituting the same quantity of a different ingredient. Bartenders utilize this technique to make new cocktails, and you can also use it to see how many well-known drinks have the same basic formula. For instance, a margarita (two parts of tequila, one portion Cointreau and One part lime juice) is a sidecar when you switch the tequila to cognac and lime juice to lemon juice.
The experts we spoke to agreed that no other method of developing your palate – and the ability to discern what ingredients work best together, like tasting. It’s much easier for most people to differentiate flavors such as fruits, spices, and herbs as opposed to liqueurs and spirits; therefore, take the time to try your favorite alcohols and compare and contrast the flavors (this is the most challenging part).
To find the perfect flavor combination, look for inspiration in the food you consume. A well-known culinary saying states that “what grows together will go in a group,” meaning ingredients of the same region are a perfect match. For instance, Rum (distilled using fermented sugar cane) and pineapple are tropical in origin, which is why they are often paired in tiki drinks. When choosing sweeteners, look for ingredients from the same plants you use as your base spirit. For example, a margarita is made using agave syrup and a rum that has been aged and made with simple demerara syrup.
Here are some resources I recommend:
120 Alcoholic Drinks for Connoisseurs shows you over one hundred unique alcoholic drinks to make and show off to your friends and have a night you won’t forget.
Professional Bartender Kit is a must-have collection for anyone interested in bartending, mixology, or someone who loves to make drinks.
RUBY Decanter w/ Built-in Aerator is easily the best on the market that we recommend.
8oz Premium Flask for when you’re going out and don’t want to blow all your money on drinks.
Stainless Steel Cooling Stones for keeping your drinks cold and classy.
Bartending & Mixology Masterclass teaches you everything you need to know about mixing drinks and alcoholic beverages like a professional.