Are you looking for a fun activity to spice up your weekend?
Do you want to create some buzz and excitement at your next mixer?
Do you want to learn how to shake, stir, and mix your way to becoming a cocktail making maestro?
We present to you our beginner’s guide to cocktail making – all in the comfort of your own home!
Why You Should Try Cocktail Making
Cocktail making is a very satisfying hobby, not least because you get to work with booze.
The hobby provides the same level of creativity and sensuality of home-cooking yet with a fraction of the preparation and cleaning up.
Not only this, but there is also a certain excitement that comes with making tasty, classy drinks in your own home. That being said, not everyone knows the trick to whisk them up at home.
In this article, we show you what you need to get started along with some sure-fire tips and tricks that will set you up for success.
Who is Cocktail Making Best Suited For?
Cocktail making is not reserved solely for the tin-flipping, speed pouring, set-a-passionfruit-a-blazing mixologists at your favorite bar.
For those seeking a stay-at-home activity they can invest lots of passion and interest in, cocktail making is a fantastic hobby. An endless number of recipes equals endless evenings of fun and exploration, all without having to leave the house.
Learning cocktail making for a hobby is especially ideal for anyone looking to host birthday parties, anniversaries, or corporate team-building events.
Due to the presence of alcohol, cocktail making is strictly reserved for people over the drinking age of 21.
That being said, some states have particular exceptions to their drinking laws which allow underage people to drink in the company of family members at home.
The laws for underage drinking are, at best, confusing, so please familiarize yourself with the law in your state if you wish to allow your children to drink cocktails with you at home.
A more suitable option may simply be to omit the alcohol and make some refreshing mocktails!
Cocktail making is fun, exciting, and has an endlessly explorable range of recipes to experiment with. But how do you get started making drinks at home?
Do You Need Specialist Training?
Cocktail making is something you can easily pick up at home, however, there are courses and classes that you can take in order to further enhance your skills.
Cocktail masterclasses are very popular choices among groups and budding cocktail bartenders and their availability has seen significant increases online.
In-person cocktail classes are also a great way to have some fun whilst picking up some cocktail making skills in the process.
What Tools You Need
When you are building your first home bar, having the right tools to hand is essential. You do not have to spend a fortune to be able to make your favorite cocktails at home.
All that is required is a few well-designed, fit for purpose, tools along with a few ingredients and you’re ready to go.
If you are to make shaken drinks, you need a shaker. Some popular shaken drinks include the Daiquiri, Margarita, and Cosmopolitan.
Those fancy silver tins you see on every cocktail bar aren’t just for showmanship; these are the first point of call for any cocktail maker.
A shaker enables the syrup, juice, and other non-spirit ingredients to combine with the alcohol component of the drink. The addition of ice into your mix also allows the drink to cool rapidly in the shaker.
There are two different kinds you will generally see: the Boston shaker and the three-piece cobbler-style shaker. The three-piece shaker is iconic and comes with a strainer.
We personally prefer to use a Stainless Steel Boston Shaker as they are the more versatile piece of kit for your home bar.
They also tend to be cheaper to buy, are food grade-safe, seal and unseal easily, and are especially ideal if you are making a larger quantity.
If you are to make stirred drinks, you need a bar spoon. Some popular stirred drinks include the Old Fashioned, Martini, and Negroni.
A professional bar spoon has a long handle which is ideal for stirring some of those taller cocktails without getting your hands dirty.
You can use a teaspoon, but this will break up the ice more which leads to more dilution and unsightly chunks of ice floating in your drink.
They also have a flat bowl and precisely balanced weight which enables you to stir around the outside of the glass, enabling more of the liquid to come into contact with the ice.
Almost as important as the shaker itself, the strainer is the trusty sidekick of all cocktail bartenders.
When it comes to pouring your drink, you will need a strainer to keep ice shards and fruit pulp from finding their way into the cocktail. A Hawthorne strainer fits perfectly into any standard mixing glass.
In order to measure your ingredients, you will need a jigger. They are an essential tool for any budding cocktail maker if you want to make good cocktails that are true to their recipes.
Muddlers are essential for everything from muddling herbs to muddling fruit. They are always handy to have around and help to bring out the best aromatics in your ingredients without turning your cocktails bitter.
A good quality fruit peeler should always be close by when it comes to garnishing your drink with a lemon twist or orange rind. That being said, the vegetable peeler you have at home will do the job.
A great many cocktails call for lemon or lime juice, so you will be doing a lot of juicing.
You may be familiar with the typical household lemon-shaped juicer surrounded by a dish but using these can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
Investing in the type of citrus juicer with two long handles is much quicker and easier to use.
Aptly named, the waiter’s friend is used for opening bottles and removing corks from wine bottles. That being said, any corkscrew bottle opener should do the trick for your home bar.
Although many recipes call upon a specific type of glass for the drink you have made, this is more to do with tradition rather than affecting the flavor in some way.
As long as you have an appropriately sized glass that comfortably holds your entire drink, you are good to go.
That being said, dumping your drink into a red paper cup is a sure-fire way to take the magic out of the experience, so we recommend getting yourself some decent glassware.
A good place to start is to acquire a set of highball glasses (tall, slim glasses) and a set of martini glasses (wide-brimmed cocktail glasses).
Even if your cocktail calls for another type of glass, these two types of glass would fit the bill for almost any drink.
What Ingredients to Buy
If you are a beginner looking, who is not sure where to start, we recommend selecting one classic cocktail you would love to make and buying the ingredients for that recipe.
From there, you can research similar cocktails with cross-over ingredients and begin to build your drinks collection from there.
If you love a mojito, (white rum, mint, lime, sugar, soda), why not try your hand at a strawberry daiquiri which only requires the addition of strawberry syrup to your collection.
Swap the soda for apple juice and you have yourself an apple mojito. This approach is also a fun way to start exploring and experimenting with the world of cocktail making.
Many recipes overlap in their contents, so as soon as you have added a couple more bottles to your collection, you will find that you can make a vast variety of tasty cocktails at home.
Many cocktail recipes will call for a specific type of spirit or a particular brand of liqueur. However, if you are cocktail making for fun, feel free to substitute in an appropriate vodka-for-vodka.
Likewise, if the recipe asks for strawberry puree, do not be afraid to replace it with strawberry syrup.
Just remember if you do replace an ingredient with a suitable alternative, consider how this will affect the flavor profile of the drink.
Syrup may be sweeter than puree, for instance, so you will not need to put in as much of the sweet part of your recipe.
If you are new to cocktail making, you may wish to find a local liquor store with knowledgeable staff who could help you make more informed decisions on products you like and will use more frequently.
How to Make a Cocktail
Making great tasting cocktails at home is easier than you might think. Below are three of our favorites that are both tasty and easy to make at home.
Cocktail 1: Mojito
This classic cocktail is loved the world over and is an exciting drink to create.
- 50ml rum
- 2tsp brown sugar (or 25ml Gomme syrup)
- Half a lime
- 4 mint sprigs
- Soda water
- Crushed ice
Cut a lime into quarters and place two of them into your glass. Add the rum and sugar (or syrup) before muddling the ingredients together. Ensure that you squeeze the juice out of the limes.
Once muddled, fill your glass with crushed ice before topping your glass up with soda. For decoration, add the mint sprigs.
Using a bar spoon, carefully tease the bottom of the glass before gently lifting the lime, sugar, and rum upwards. Serve in a tall glass.
Cocktail 2: Martini
The martini is one of the best known mixed alcoholic beverages.
- 50ml good-quality gin
- 25ml dry vermouth
- Crushed ice
- Ice cubes
Start by filling your cocktail glass with ice and leaving it to one side. Fill a separate large mixing glass with crushed ice and some water to chill. Once the mixing glass is cold, discard the ice and water.
Next, pour the gin and dry vermouth into the mixing glass before filling it with ice cubes. Stir the contents slowly so that the ice dilutes the drink.
Once diluted to your taste, discard the ice from the cocktail glass and strain the drink into it. Finally, add your choice of garnish. This may include a fruit zest, capers, or olives.
Cocktail 3: Margarita
- 37.5ml tequila
- 25ml Cointreau or Triple Sec
- 12.5ml lime juice
- Ice cubes
- Salt (optional)
Fill your cocktail glass with ice and leave it to one side. Next, add all the ingredients above to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice before shaking vigorously for around 45 seconds.
If you wish to salt the rim, pour salt onto a small plate before rubbing the rim of the glass with a lime wedge and rolling it into the salt. Discard the ice in your cocktail glass before straining your drink.
There are also some fantastic recipes for you to choose from in this list of 21 classic drinks to order at a bar.
We recommend trying your hand at some classic cocktails before venturing into more elaborate recipes.
A well-executed cocktail not only tastes good, but it should also look the part too.
You do not have to cause a fuss, but a moment of care and attention to work on the presentation of your drink is part of the ritual to making an enjoyable cocktail.
A little bit of mint here and a little lemon zest twist there goes a long way for making the cocktail feel special for your lucky taste-tester.
Tips and Tricks
Below are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when it comes to making great tasting cocktails.
Keep it Simple
You do not need an entire stock room of booze or an orchard of fruit to make your favorite cocktails.
Use ingredients you are comfortable with, and, as a general rule of thumb, you will typically only need around three ingredients per drink for your core selection of recipes.
Think of your essential cocktails more like making a classic spaghetti sauce than a multicomponent duck pâté en croûte.
Keep it Cool
When it comes to throwing a cocktail party, remember to load up your freezer with lots of ice.
Ice is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to cocktail making, serving the purpose of chilling the drink as well as providing a little bit of dilution.
You can never use too much ice!
Keep it Balanced
A good cocktail aims for a harmonious balance of flavors. Not too sweet, not too sour, not too bitter. A key thing to remember is that you want your taste-tester to enjoy the last sip just as much as the first.
Make sure you taste your drinks at every stage of the preparation process either by holding one end of a straw or by dropping a few drops of liquid on the back of your hand with a bar spoon.
You also generally do not want to “over-booze” your drinks. If you are a beginner, following some recipes is a good place to start. You will surprise yourself at how quickly you pick things up.
Keep it Measured
It is important that you measure precisely. Most cocktails contain but a few ounces of liquid, especially many of the classic recipes. With this, precise measurements are key to achieving the right balance of flavors.
Keep it Low Budget
Make sure you set yourself a budget – cocktail making can become an expensive hobby if you allow it.
Resist the urge to load up on stock: it is easy to get carried away and begin hoarding tons of booze!
Keep your ingredients simple and buy things you intend on using frequently. Save money on base spirits where you can too. Wholesalers tend to offer more affordable prices, and always look to see what is on sale too.
Many cocktail recipes also require fresh ingredients, so remember that you cannot keep your lemons, limes, and pineapples stored in your fridge forever.
Keep it Classy
Mixing drinks is much more than simply dumping ingredients together.
Yes, it is true that the brand of spirit you buy or the lemons you choose all make a dramatic difference to the flavor of your cocktail.
What you put in your glass and how much of it is important. But if you can only afford supermarket gin, who gives a damn?
It is still gin, right!
Shaken or Stirred?
As a general rule of thumb, there are essentially two types of cocktails: aromatic cocktails and sour cocktails.
Aromatic cocktails are often “dry” or “boozy,” using mainly alcoholic ingredients that should be stirred with ice – some are then topped up with a soft drink like soda or tonic.
Sour cocktails, however, are often “tangy,” “fruity,” “sweet,” or, occasionally, “creamy” through the inclusion of citrus, fruits, cream, egg white, or even coffee.
These require shaking in order to blend the flavors as well as altering the texture by beautifully amalgamating the liquids.
How Do I Know if My Drink Tastes Good?
Simple answer: you just do!
If it tastes good, you’re on to a winner.
Developing your palate is part of the fun when it comes to cocktail making. Understanding which liqueurs, syrups, and bitters go with which spirits takes a lot of experimentation.
Remember The “Golden Ratio”
The “Golden Ratio” is a simple, three-step formula, which helps beginners establish a basic understanding of the cocktail making. Using this formula will help you to create a tasty cocktail every time:
- 2 parts spirit (e.g., vodka)
- 1 part sour/tart (e.g., lemon juice)
- 1 part sweet (e.g., sugar or simple syrup)
It is as easy as that! Keeping the “Golden Ratio” in mind will help you to pick up the basics much quicker when following recipes.
Using this simple formula, anyone can make tasty cocktails with a well-balanced flavor.
Cocktail making, like any other hobby, is something to be enjoyed and get lost in. There are an infinite number of recipes for you to explore and an infinite number of occasions for you to whip up some cocktails.
With this beginner guide, you have everything you need to get started with your brand-new hobby.
Happy cocktail making!