5 Fundamental Cocktail Techniques to Master

There are countless fun and interesting techniques when it comes to making cocktails. Some are used to make drinks themselves and others are used to make ingredients with which to make cocktails. Here we’ll be focusing on the most classical, commonly used, and therefore important cocktail making techniques you need to know.

These are the cocktail techniques that’ll always be in vogue, always be essential and always make great drinks, no matter what current trend the cocktail world might be going through. They’ll also allow you to perfectly make most recipes you’ll find on any website or cocktail book. 

[Before we move on] 3 Keystone Principles

  1. Test the balance of your drinks before serving! No matter what technique you use, there’s one theory that’s common to all cocktails, and that’s balance. This is a fundamental principle that applies to all drinks. You can have the best ingredients and fanciest equipment, but if your drink is out of balance when you serve it, it’s all for nothing.

You can read all you want and know all the theories, but the most important tool you have is your palate. No matter the technique, taste a recipe before you serve it. If the drink is in perfect balance, meaning you can taste all the flavours in the recipe and it’s not dominated or overpowered by a single profile, then you can say the drink is well balanced. Too sour, too strong, too sweet? Make sure you adjust the recipe before serving. 

  1. Use the best quality ingredients you can. Fresh Citrus, fresh fruit, quality syrups and cordials. The better you put in the better you’ll get out. You can’t expect great drinks if your attitude is to try and hide cheap ingredients in a cocktail! Fret not, we’re here to help.
  1. Make sure you follow the recipe carefully. You still need to check your cocktails before you serve them, but following a recipe accurately should get you a good way there. Pay attention and stay consistent, some recipes are in OZs, some in MLs and others just give you a ratio of ingredients in ‘parts’.

5 Key Cocktail Techniques

Building Cocktails

The most simple of all cocktail making techniques, but take care, simplicity can be deceptive. Even though the process might be simple, finding the perfect balance point of the drink is still the essential requirement here.

What is a built cocktail?

Simply put, ingredients are added to a glass and served in that same glass. This means that the recipe itself must contain any dilution needed to open up the flavours of the drink and bring it into balance, as no additional water will be added by shaking or stirring.

Building an Aperol Spritz

Top Tips

  • Add all ingredients to the glass first, then add ice. This will allow the ingredients to mix together very easily. It’s much harder to combine ingredients together once ice is in the glass as well.
  • Ice is used to keep the drink cold. Therefore it is important to add as much as you can to the glass to make the drink very cold and limit the amount of ice-melt. Another reason why adding ice AFTER ingredients is the best process.
  • Use chilled ingredients where possible to further limit ice-melt.
  • Carbonated ingredients are added more gently to reduce loss of bubbles. Bubbles need solid structures to form on, so if you pour a sparkling liquid over ice, it foams lots of bubbles and froths attractively, but this is of course a loss of carbonation!
  • Taste test your cocktail before adding ice and garnish to your drink. This way you can easily adjust the drink with any ingredient required to bring the drink into balance. Something that’s virtually impossible to do once ice and garnish has been added.

Shaking

Probably THE cocktail technique that everyone thinks of when they imagine a cocktail being made.

What’s a shaken cocktail?

A shaken cocktail is made by shaking the ingredients of the recipe together in a shaker with ice before serving. This process does a number of different things tp your drink:

  1. It makes the ingredients nice and cold. 
  1. Some ice melts providing the all important dilution that brings a drink into balance. 
  1. Air is forced into the ingredients, which, depending on how thick the ingredients are, will remain for a longer or shorter length of time.  In some cases, it will create a soft and fluffy foam that will sit atop the drink when served. 
  1. Combines  together hard-to-mix ingredients. Some ingredients are just hard to combine, so shaking is sometimes the only way to bring ingredients together into a unified drink. 
  1. Finally, and possibly most importantly, it’s how shaking differs from stirring that’s key. Shaking is an aggressive process that gives us all the results we’ve mentioned already, with together help to force and soften ingredients together into a unified drink that works. Whereas stirring, as we shall see, is a gentle process that gently teases flavours out of the ingredients.  

Expert insights

  • Only add ice to the shaker when all the ingredients have been added and you’re ready to shake! If you add ice beforehand then it sits there melting in the tin which means you’ll end up adding too much water to your cocktail.
  • Some recipes require you to muddle and shake. For example, if you’re adding fresh berries to a cocktail, you may need to crush them into a pulp in the shaker first, before shaking together with the other ingredients. 
  • As with building, add as much ice to the shaker as possible to speed up the process of chilling the ingredients and slows the rate of ice-melt, giving you a well made and icy-cold cocktail. Not a warm watery one!
  • DO NOT shake carbonated ingredients, unless you prefer wearing your cocktails than drinking them. If a carbonated ingredient is included in a ‘shaken’ recipe, it’s added directly to the glass, not to the shaker!
  • Taste test the cocktail while still in the tin before straining out into the serving glass. This will allow you to easily make any final adjustments before serving. 

Stirring

A delicate and elegant cocktail technique that does a lot of the same things as shaking, but is also fundamentally the opposite. Sort of like a brother and sister – Lots in common but also fundamentally different.

What’s a stirred cocktail?

The most famous stirred cocktails are spirit-forward icons like the Dry Martini, Old Fashioned and Manhattan. Stirred cocktails are usually made of booze only ingredients, delicately stirred together to release flavours and aromas. While fruit and citrus based cocktails are typically the realm of shaking or other more robust methods. 

As with shaking, stirring is also done with ice and delivers many of the same results as shaking:

  1. Makes ingredients cold. 
  1. Some ice will melt during stirring which will provide the all important dilution to the recipe that’ll open up flavours of the ingredients and bring the drink into balance. 
  1. Combines ingredients together. Not as robustly as shaking of course, but ingredients are combined together in the mixing glass before being served. 
  1. Stirring is a gentle process, quite the opposite of shaking. While shaking forces air into the ingredients and rounds them into a unified combination, stirring is a fundamentally more delicate process that gently teases delicate flavours out of ingredients to release them onto the nose and palate.

Pro advice

  • Hard to mix ingredients should be combined together with a spoon in the mixing glass before the ice is added. Warmer liquids will mix together more easily, especially if dissolving something like honey or marmalade into a liquid, or dissolving sugar crystals.
  • As with shaking, only add ice to the mixing glass or tin when all the ingredients have been added and you’re ready to start stirring! Adding ice any sooner means it will sit there melting, making it more likely that you’ll over dilute your cocktail.
  • Don’t churn! Stir by moving the spoon around the circumference of the mixing glass or tin to rotate the pieces of ice as a single block.
  • One of the key differences between shaking and stirring is that stirring allows you to smell and taste the drink as you make it, because you’re mixing in an open container, rather than a closed shaker. This should ensure that you always find the perfect point of dilution. As with all these cocktail techniques, make sure you taste your drinks before you serve them!

Muddling

Like a built cocktail, a muddled cocktail is made in the glass in which it’s served. The two most famous muddled cocktails would be the Mojito and the Caipiriñha. Interestingly they perfectly display how different the ‘muddled’ style cocktail can be. 

What’s a muddled cocktail?

A muddled cocktail is a drink that crushes a number of different ingredients together to extract flavours before folding in ice and other ingredients into the same glass.

Crushed ice is typically used, which better suits the rustic nature of the drink with its muddled ingredients in the glass. Crushed ice also fits around these ingredients more easily, allowing you to fold everything together in the glass, and where appropriate you can even suspend the fresh ingredients throughout the length of the drink.

In some drinks, like the Caipiriñha for example, folding in a little crushed ice at first also provides mush needed dilution to open up the drink before the glass is stuffed with as much ice as possible to make it incredibly cold and refreshing.

Muddlers

Top tips

  • Be sympathetic to what ingredients you’re muddling. Soft fresh herbs like mint only need to be folded into the ingredients with a little crushed ice to release their flavours. If you crush soft herbs like you crush lime pieces, you’re going to end up with an unpleasant green sludge and a more bitter flavour from the mint. So, if a recipe says to muddle it, be sensitive to the ingredient being used.
Mojito Muddle
  • When muddling more robust ingredients like fresh lime, use your body weight to help you. Gently lean onto your muddler as you press and twist it into the fruit. This will easily press all the juice and oils out of the fruit that you want.
  • When muddling tougher ingredients like citrus fruits, use Caster / Baker’s sugar for muddling instead of syrup when possible. Sugar will cut into the skin of the fruit and help extract oils. The fruit will also not slip around inside the glass so easily, making the process easier. 
  • Make sure sugars are dissolved into your drink. Otherwise the liquid will be left too sour and there’ll be a layer of sugar at the bottom of the glass. Caster or Baker’s sugar is optimal as the smaller crystals will easily dissolve even in cold liquids. Regular granulated sugar, with the larger crystals will struggle to dissolve. If you’re using a sugar with a larger crystal, make sure to crush it down first before adding the fruit for muddling. Whatever sugar you’re adding, make sure it’s all dissolved when you fold ingredients together in the glass.
  • As mentioned before, sometimes the ice is the only source of dilution to open up and balance the recipe. So, if the recipe contains no other diluting ingredient, be sure to fold in a little ice to add that all important dilution, BEFORE you add as much ice as you can to make the drink very cold and stop any further dilution. 
  • The other essential action to take before you fill the glass with ice, is to taste the cocktail to check its balance, adjust as needed, then finally fill with ice until there’s an attractive mound of it above the rim of the glass. 

Blending

Not seen as the most ‘highbrow’ of the cocktail making techniques, thanks to…a hatred of fun maybe? Fluorescent, sweet and trashy drinks are often associated with blended or ‘frozen’ cocktails. However, that does not have to be the case.

Like any process, how well you do it and the quality of the ingredients you use will determine whether a drink is good or not. There are no ‘bad’ processes per se, just bad drinks makers!

What’s a blended cocktail?

A blended cocktail is a mixture of liquid ingredients blended together in a vortex or countertop blender with ice to create a thick, ice-cold, booze slushy.

Cocktail technique, blending

Bartender tricks

  • To create the perfect blended or ‘frozen’ cocktail requires doing a dance between your blender, ingredients and ice. You need just the right ratio of ice to ingredients to get the perfect texture. Don’t forget that fresh fruit that’s solid when it first goes into the blender will add to the liquid content of the recipe once blitzed by the blender’s blades. 
  • Too much ice will not allow a vortex of the ingredients to form. Without this vortex, the ingredients won’t flow into the blades creating the ever smoother texture. If this happens, you need to turn off the blender, remove the cup from the base  and safely remove some ice. 
  • Too little ice has the opposite effect and the drink will be too thin and ice flakes will more rapidly turn to water. Add more ice to the blender and blend the drink again to get the thick texture you want.
  • Using crushed ice in a blender makes life a lot easier on you and your blender if you can get hold of any. 
  • Using the same scoop or spoon to add the ice to the blender will help you get a feel for how much is needed and you’ll quickly get better with practice. We give the weight of ice required to help ensure success when making a Candra recipe. Following these measurements will allow you to see what that amount of ice looks like in a scoop or spoon and you can get it right by eye as you do it more often.
  • Not every recipe requires the same amount of ice, so be aware that it’s not a one size fits all situation. 
  • As with all the other cocktail techniques, only add the ice when you’re ready to go. This is particularly important if you have other solid ingredients in the recipe. If you add ice first, these liquids will sit atop the ice and not get the chance to turn to liquid to help get the blender going. 

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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