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Balance These Elements to Create a Kick-Ass Cocktail

A man mixing up some delicious cocktails at a well stocked home bar.
Athena Nadi/Shutterstock

Whether you’re mixing cocktails for yourself or a band of parched buddies, making a good one requires a careful balance of five key elements.

The Five Key Elements

The basics of good cocktail construction are the same for both novices and aspiring mixologists. Cocktails are comprised of a base, modifier, and mixer.

The base is a spirit (like vodka or tequila), the modifier is typically a liqueur or other ingredient (like Chambord or muddled fruit), and a mixer is usually juice or soda. These base components are just the start though.

If you always implement the following key elements, you’ll make a fantastic cocktail, every time:

  • Quality ingredients: When stocking, start with quality liquor. Top-shelf liquor usually undergoes a careful distilling process, which, in turn, removes more congeners. For a rum and Coke, quality hardly matters. For delicate cocktails, though, you want better-quality booze. You also have control of other ingredients like liqueur, juice, and produce. Whether you’re muddling fresh berries into a Moscow mule, or adding a splash of Cointreau to a margarita, keep it balanced by taste-testing.
  • Ice: This can make a massive difference in your cocktail. If you use too little when shaking, it might overly dilute the beverage. Large ice cubes work better. They’re both aesthetically appealing and won’t melt as fast as smaller ice chips.

  • The right glassware: A cocktail in the wrong kind of glass can seriously ruin a customer’s experience. Not only does his perception of the drink change, but the size might look wrong and create an unhappy customer. Glassware is designed to complement the flavor, appearance, and even enhance the aroma of some drinks. Imagine asking for a whiskey neat and getting it in a martini glass. Sure, you can still drink it, but it just feels and looks wrong.
  • The perfect pour: Measuring ingredients is a crucial part of balancing a cocktail. Knowing what’s in the classics is vital, as well as which drinks should be stirred or shaken.
  • Presentation: Garnishes add a specific aroma and appearance to a drink, which helps it stand out. Make sure the fruit, herbs, or other ingredients you use look good. If the mint leaves look like they belong in the compost pile instead of a mint julep, that’s where they should go.

If you keep these critical elements in mind, you’ll create a cocktail you can be proud of, every time. You’ll receive a lot of compliments, too!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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