Mixology 101: How to start crafting the cocktails of your dreams
Love cocktails, but feeling tired of spending a fortune at the bar? Want to enjoy the convenience of enjoying a gin and tonic or a Manhattan in your own home, and impress guests with handcrafted and delicious cocktails?
Making perfectly balanced and exciting cocktails at home is simple enough to begin right now, with just a few simple tips, ingredients and tools. So let go of compulsory nights out at the bar and start treating yourself to heightened sensory experience and nuanced sips of perfectly mixed drinks in your own living space.
Cocktail mixing supplies
Handcrafted, artisanal cocktails don’t require a whole lot of practice to master, but they do require some basic tools. Learning about the essential cocktail tools and ingredients is 99% of the preparation required for an aspiring mixologist to get started with hand-crafted cocktails.
Practically all cocktails require mixing in a cocktail shaker. A simple, silver-plated cocktail shaker is all you need to get started crafting your favorite drinks. If you’re feeling fancy, consider an ornate crystal shaker.
Bar spoons are spoons with long spiral handles. They’re designed with a long handle to be ideal for stirring drinks in deep glassware and for creating layered cocktails by pouring along the spiral of the spoon handle.
A jigger is an hourglass-shaped measuring cup that measures shots of alcohol. It’s important to use a jigger when you first start out, as pre pouring is imprecise and will lead to drinks that are too weak or too strong. While your bartender may be able to count pours, this takes time to master, and precision should be your goal.
A muddler is a tool similar to a pestle that allows you to muddle or smash ingredients like herbs, berries or mint into a highly flavorful and aromatic paste. Many classic cocktails like mint juleps and mojitos call for muddling, so this is a good tool to have on hand.
A citrus reamer or citrus squeezer is highly useful for any drink involving lemons or limes. Citrus is a staple flavor in most drinks, so you’ll get a lot of use out of your citrus squeezer. Citrus squeezers make it much easier to get as much juice as possible out of a lemon or lime and also prevent pulp and seeds from falling into your beverage, which is likely to happen if you attempt to squeeze your citrus into your drink by hand.
A cocktail strainer is designed to be placed atop the glass in which you’re serving a cocktail to strain your drink. This ensures that all fruits and herbs used in the mixing process don’t end up in your drink.
Great cocktails are all about good presentation, so you’ll want to work on a collection of glassware to start serving a variety of gorgeous cocktails.
Highball glasses are a good starting point because you can get away with serving a variety of drinks in them, like whiskey, any number of cocktails, sangria or beer. Highball glasses are especially good for fizzy cocktails.
But truly upping your cocktail game requires getting specialized and selecting the best glasses for your favorite cocktails. You’ll need a set of chic crystal coupes for Manhattans and Cosmopolitans. For boozy whiskey drinks, you’ll need old-fashioned rocks glasses.
The world of spirits is endless, and once you start building a collection, you’ll find that there’s always something new to try. Start with your favorites and branch out from there.
To start out, you’ll need the basics: vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, bourbon and tequila. While there are many more spirits you can play with, this basic set will enable you to make most of your favorite cocktails.
If you love hosting guests and drinking margaritas, for example, it’s a good idea to stock up on a few types of tequila for variety. If you love whiskey, you won’t regret having something high quality and delicious like Widow Jane on your bar cart.
Many delicious cocktails require liqueurs as the main ingredient. Liqueurs are a type of distilled spirit flavored with sugar, fruits, oils, herbs, spices and various other flavors. Liqueurs are most often used as ingredients in mixed drinks.
The essential liqueurs for a starter mixology setup are sweet and dry vermouth, Campari, amaretto, cream liqueur, coffee liqueur, orange liqueur and elderflower liqueur.
Be sure to pay close attention to the proportions called for in a cocktail recipe when using liqueurs, as liqueurs are typically very sweet and can overpower the other flavors in a cocktail quickly.
Good bitters are necessary for adding spiciness and fruitiness to a variety of classic cocktails. You should have a bottle each of the three basic bitters: Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and orange bitters.
- If you’re going to become a mixology maven, you’ll need to become a tad obsessive about ice. The key to a great gin and tonic or whiskey is the right ice. While the preferred shape will vary depending on the drink, you’ll want to have silicone ice molds in both large cube and sphere shapes.
- The basic mixers are tonic water and club soda. Cranberry juice, pineapple juice, orange juice, ginger beer and plain cola are all commonly used as well.
- Fresh and perishable ingredients like fresh mint, lemons, limes, oranges, maraschino cherries and even berries like raspberries or strawberries bring many cocktails to life.
- Grab a bottle of simple syrup to add sweetness to cocktails.
- Grenadine and coarse salt are also good to have on hand for some drinks.
More cocktail essentials
Take your mixology game to the next level by keeping your spirits, glassware, liqueurs, cocktail books and tools on this chic, mid-century modern bar cart. Perfect for displaying your collection in style. Also includes compartments for wine bottle storage and wheels for easy transportation.
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A good cocktail recipe book is a must-have for mixology students, and this modern classic covers iconic and beloved cocktails as well as some lesser-known innovative drinks to try out. Comprehensive techniques and beautiful graphics.
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Rather than assembling a collection of cocktail mixing tools, consider buying a set like this one. This set includes everything you need and is crafted from high-quality copper. Looks absolutely gorgeous on a bar cart or counter.
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Evelyn Waugh writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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