Whether you’re crafting a traditional, low-alcohol, or alcohol-free cocktail, mastering a few mixology techniques can enhance your enjoyment of making drinks at home. If you’ve ever pondered the mysteries of muddling or wondered how to create a beautiful layering effect in your glass, this guide to beginner bartending skills has got you covered.
Muddling is the technique of pressing fresh ingredients against the side of your glass to help release their flavours. To muddle your ingredients, place them in the bottom of a shaker tin, mixing glass, or any other sturdy vessel that isn’t likely to break when a muddler is pressed against it. Use the muddler to press down lightly on the ingredients and then twist gently. Release the pressure and repeat the motion around four to six times. The idea is the coax a little extra flavour out of the ingredients, rather than smashing them up forcefully. Try your hand at muddling blueberries for this Sobrii Low Bluelade.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term, chances are you’ve actually built a drink before. Building a drink means adding your cocktail ingredients directly into your drinking glass. It’s typically used when preparing simple cocktails with ingredients that mix together easily and don’t require additional cooling, blending, or dilution, such as the Hound. Generally, you begin with your liquor or non-alcoholic spirit, followed by juices or syrups, and finish with high-volume ingredients like soda or tonic water. Some mixologists like to give a built drink one quick stir before serving.
Shaking is a technique that’s often used to mix drinks that contain juice, dairy, or eggs. In addition to blending the ingredients together, shaking simultaneously helps to chill and dilute your cocktail. Try shaking up this Lavender Raspberry. Pour the ingredients into your cocktail shaker tin and then add ice. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, any jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Mason jar, will work in a pinch. Seal the lid, ensuring you have a secure fit, and hold the shaker with both hands (one on each piece). Shake in a vigorous horizontal motion for a count of ten. Finally, strain the cocktail into a chilled drinking glass.
Straining is used when pouring a shaken or stirred drink from a cocktail shaker or mixing glass into your drinking glass. When serving a drink over ice, most mixologists prefer to pour it over fresh ice, rather than using the old ice found in the shaker or mixing glass. A strainer helps keep this old ice out of your drink, in addition to any other solid ingredients that you don’t want in your finished cocktail, such as muddled fruit or herbs.
Some shakers, such as cobbler shakers, have a built-in strainer, but it can be helpful to have a separate strainer on hand for making stirred drinks or for when you’re working with shakers that don’t come with their own strainer. A Hawthrone strainer, which is comprised of a flat disk attached to a coiled spring, is the go-to strainer style for most mixologists. Place it inside of your mixing vessel with the coils facing down. Grasp the mixing glass tin firmly, near the top, and use your forefinger to hold the strainer in place as you pour into your serving glass.
Properly stirring a cocktail is more of an art than the everyday stirring you might do when making a soup or prepping your morning coffee. Stirring mixes your cocktail ingredients together, while also helping the ice to cool your drink as well as dissolving a small amount of ice. The resulting water dilutes your cocktail just slightly, which can bring out its nuanced flavours.
Start by adding your ingredients into a mixing glass and then filling it with ice. Place a bar spoon a few inches into the ice, without touching the bottom of the glass. With the back of the spoon resting against the inside of the glass, use your fingers to move the spoon around the interior of the glass. Aim to disturb the ice as minimally as possible. A general rule of thumb is to stir for about 30 seconds, but try experimenting with the length of your stir time to see how it impacts the dilution and taste of your finished cocktail. Practise your stirring by making this Lo-Groni.
Layering means floating your cocktail ingredients on top of one another in order to create an eye-catching gradient effect. In order to achieve layers in your drink, you need to add ingredients to your glass from heaviest to lightest. Most cocktail recipes that call for layering will outline the correct order in which to pour your ingredients. A good rule to remember, however, is that the ingredients that contain the most sugar are usually the heaviest and should therefore be poured first. To layer your drink, pour the first ingredient into your glass like normal. Then, hold a bar spoon upside down over the first layer. Slowly pour the second layer over the spoon and into your glass, moving the spoon up as your glass fills. You can then repeat this step for each additional layer you want to add.