Cocktail 101: Your Ultimate Guide To Making Alcoholic (& Non-Alcoholic) Drinks
Anyone can make a killer cocktail. That’s right, even you. Here are a handful of tips and tricks plus a few of our cocktail essentials to help you master the six recipes in this E-book and get started in the world of mixology. You’ll be sipping on your own masterpiece in no time.
If you’re going to start anywhere, this is as good a place as any. What do you like to drink? Do you like your booze sweet? Smoky? Dark and complex? Clean or super aromatic? There are plenty of options to choose from. We’ve grouped a few of the classic liquors and liqueurs into these four categories below so you don’t get too lost.
Sweet - Schnapps, Chambord, Kahlúa, Baileys, Triple Sec.
Smoky - Scotch Whisky, Mezcal, Chilli-Infused Liqueurs (e.g. Ancho Reyes).
Dark & Complex - Dark Rum, Bourbon Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Brandy.
Clean - Vodka, White Rum, Tequila.
Aromatic - Gin, Vermouth, Spiced Rum, Sambuca, Limoncello.
Don’t drink? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. There are a whole host of new kids on the block offering delicious alternatives that are just as good as the full-strength folks. Go check out our ‘Best Non-Alcoholic Spirits & Aperitifs’ feature for a round-up of our favourite booze-free bottles.
Now it’s time to pick your flavours. Some are happy with their base spirit or liqueur being the star of the show and will only need a simple garnish and maybe an ice cube or two. If you are after a little bit more, here are some of the best ways to inject big, bold flavour into a cocktail.
Citrus/Fruit – The G.O.A.T. Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are the foundation for some of the world’s best cocktails and are always a safe bet. Citrus will pair with just about any booze so you can juice, zest, or muddle your way to a delicious citrussy beverage with no dramas. Fruit is another great way to add bright flavours. We’ve gone for a fresh melon for a play on a marg, but just grab what’s in season and smash, blend or juice it into your next drink. Fruits that are high in acid and natural sugars (cherries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple) work best.
Aromats – Enter fresh herbs and spices. Herbs are dead easy to use, and you’ve probably lobbed a sprig of mint into a drink before. We love basil and rosemary in drinks. These herbs pair really well with citrus (lemon and rosemary is fabulous) but get creative with your combos. You can also use spices like dried chillies, peppercorns, fennel seeds or star anise.
Syrups - A few different syrups are great to have around when mixing drinks. Most spirits out there aren’t naturally sweet and will need a little help if you’re after something on the sweeter side. You can buy some delicious syrups like grenadine or orgeat (almond syrup) down the shops, but making your own is always best.
To knock up a batch of simple syrup all you’ll need is a scale, a saucepan, white sugar and water. Pop your saucepan onto the scale and add 500g of sugar and 500g of water. Bang it on the stove and bring to a simmer, mixing constantly. Turn off the heat and let it cool to room temp. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Making your own flavoured syrups is an absolute gamechanger. Once the syrup has reached a simmer, you can chuck in any aromats (e.g. star anise, rosemary, thyme, lemon peel) to infuse. You can also replace the sugar with brown sugar, honey, or even maple syrup to mix things up.
Shaken, not stirred, please. Why so picky, James? Because the way you mix your drink absolutely impacts the way it tastes. Each will give you different results and textures… mmm yes, cocktails have textures, too. We’ve broken down three dead-easy ways to mix your drink that’ll deliver completely different results.
Stirred - The most basic method is to stir everything together. You might do this for a spritz or an Old Fashioned. If you stir your drink with a few ice cubes inside, it slowly dilutes as it chills. If your drink is a little on the strong side, keep stirring and it’ll mellow right out.
Muddled - This is ace for when you’re making a big jug of punch, a Mojito, or a Gin Smash. It’s as easy as taking your ingredients, maybe adding a spoonful of sugar or salt, and smashing them into the bottom of your glass or pitcher. This releases natural juices, essential oils and most importantly flavour.
Shaken - A cocktail shaker really does level up your drinks game. When you shake a cocktail, you’re not only mixing your drink – you’re chilling it, diluting it, frothing it, aerating it, and transforming it into something extra special. There are lots of nerdy little details about the size of your ice cubes and “dry-shaking” we could get granular on, but just know this: if your drink contains egg white, lots of fruit juice or dairy, it’ll shake really well and come out looking spectacular. You’ll look cool, too. Just make sure the lid’s on properly.
Now, a good garnish is not only delightful to look at but delivers an extra layer of flavour or aroma for the owner of your cocktail. Here are some classics…
Citrus Wheels - Cut yourself a round slice of any citrus, and you’ve got yourself a wheel. Wheels are good to bolster any flavours in the drink, and they look real pretty, too.
Citrus Twists/Herbs - Twists and herbs are all about aroma and essential oils. They’re named after the wringing out you give them as they hover above your drink, drenching the surface of the cocktail and the glass with a microscopic shower of intensely fragrant essential oils. Marvellous. Don’t believe me? Grab an orange and give it a smell. Now scratch the surface with your fingernail and give it another go. Right? The same thing applies to a sprig of rosemary or mint, just give ‘em a slap.
Salt or Spice Rims - These are like Marmite. Some love ‘em, some don’t. Think of them as a seasoning for your drink. A supporting character in the balancing act. A salty rim on a marg is grand; it brings out the savoury notes in the drink and keeps you drinking them all night long without getting tired of the sweet and sour. You can spice them up with a sprinkle of chipotle chilli or Aleppo. If you want something super tangy, grab yourself some lemony sherbert and rim the glass with it for your next sour.
“Floaters” - My cute nickname for little bites that are dropped into a cocktail for the drinker to snack on. Think an olive in a Dirty Martini or a maraschino cherry in an Old Fashioned. These are always intended to complement the flavours of your bev and are usually something sweet or salty. Either way, they just want to make you drink more.
Boston Shaker - This is my favourite shaker and it’s about as basic as it comes. They’re dead cheap and you can make heaps of the classic with one of these. Worth having in your arsenal.
Elbow Juicer - Sure, God gave us two of the best juicers known to mankind (your hands), but if you want to take the hard work out of juicing ya limes, grab yourself one of these puppies.
Pitcher/Jug - When making cocktails for a crowd, a decent pitcher is essential. Why not try out a big ol’ two-litre water jug for size?