Shaken or Stirred? Everything You Need to Know on How to Make Cocktails

How to make cocktails? A question that divides the bartender scene. The fact is, good cocktails have been part of our society for decades. Whether for a casual gathering, important celebration, or exclusive event: good cocktails are always part of it.

No matter if you want to learn how to make great cocktails because you want to prepare your favorite cocktail for yourself, pursue a career as a bartender, or just to impress your friends: making cocktails is fun and a pleasure all in one. 

However, there is a lot more to consider than just putting the right ingredients into a glass. As with so many things in life, the little things make the difference between amateur and professional mixologists. Experience and details are what ultimately reflects in the taste of the cocktails.

In this article, we would like to present you a detailed guide in which we finally answer the question of how to make really good cocktails. Think of this blog post as a guide, packed with practical tips that you can look up whenever you need it. 

How to Make Cocktails Tip 1: Shaken or Stirred

Does it make any difference if you shake or stir a cocktail? Absolutely. Depending on which cocktail you prepare, it depends on whether you need a cocktail shaker or just mix it directly in the glass. 

Decisive here are the ingredients you use for the cocktail. Egg whites and dairy products should be shaken in any case, because you want them to become fluffy and foamy before you or your friends drink the cocktail.

If you use ingredients that are different in their texture, you have to shake the cocktail to combine them. You shake a cocktail to give it its final texture. If it's about combining two ingredients that are "equally liquid", it's enough to just stir it.

There are also different ways to shake a cocktail. If using egg whites, you have to shake your cocktail dry, you put the ingredients into the shaker and shake without ice. This allows the egg whites to emulsify with the other ingredients.

Our expert advice: if you want to practice shaking cocktails, or rather how to use a cocktail shaker, you should start with water and not the most expensive liquor you can find. You will spill more than you think, especially in the beginning. 

How to Make Cocktails Tip 2: Know Your Tools

How To Make Cocktails - Tools

One of the essential steps on your way to a tasty cocktail is knowing how to use the tools. The modern bartender uses the following to prepare cocktails: 

  • Cocktail shaker, to shake drinks
  • Jigger, to measure the ingredients
  • Strainer, to strain the cocktails when pouring them into the glass
  • Bar spoon, to stir drinks
  • Muddler, to muddle fruits or herbs for your drink
  • Citrus juicer, to press fresh juice
  • Channel knife, to garnish drinks

If you are just starting, you don't necessarily have to buy the most expensive equipment. Start small, take a cobbler shaker, and just make cocktails. Everything else comes with time. We recommend beginners to start with a cobbler shaker, jigger, strainer, and bar spoon. 

How to Make Cocktails Tip 3: How to Choose the Right Ingredients

Making cocktails is an art. Most beginners face the following question:How do I choose the right ingredients? There are many sites online where you can learn exactly that. You must know your ingredients. Fresh is always best. You want to enjoy the cocktail, and fresh ingredients such as fruit, juices, and herbs make the most tasty drinks. 

A good knowledge of liquor, such as distinguishing a Scotch from a Bourbon, is also a great advantage. There are many recipes you can follow but allowing your personal taste preference to guide you is always key.

It's also important to know the small things like the difference between Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer. A good mixologist knows the ingredients he or she is about to use. They are essential and contribute to the final quality of the cocktail. 

To begin, we recommend that you limit yourself to a set of ingredients, or certain types of cocktails, such as classic vodka cocktails. First, because you don't have to buy six to ten different types of expensive liquor to mix a few cocktails, and second because you learn to recognize similarities between cocktail styles.

Over time you will get a feeling for the ingredients and how you can substitute them in certain recipes, what to replace them with, and much more. However, it's important to follow the recipes to develop this feeling, especially in the beginning. 

How To Make Cocktails Tip 4: Measure, Measure, Measure

This tip goes hand in hand with the third tip about ingredients. If a recipe says you should use 2 oz of vodka, then use 2 oz of vodka. The cocktail recipes you find online are not made up, they are proven. Someone has made, tested, and adapted them several times.

Often you will find different recipes or mix ratios for the same cocktail. In that case, try all of them and play around a little bit. Take several recipes, mix the cocktails as the recipes say, and then decide which recipe you like best. 

After you have made several cocktails, you will get a feeling for why a cocktail tastes the way it tastes. You will figure out things like which ingredient in which mixing ratio has which effect on the taste and much more. Then you can start experimenting and change existing recipes or even develop your own cocktail. 

If you have never made cocktails before, we, again, recommend you to start with existing recipes. Simply because the first cocktails you'll make without a recipe might not be the culinary delight you expected. It will demotivate you, and you might feel like quitting. 

How to Make Cocktails Tip 5: Honor the Glasses

It's no secret that a Manhattan belongs in a Martini glass, or that you always serve an Old Fashioned in a lowball glass (also known as a rocks or old fashioned glass). 

Why are cocktail glasses so important? For one simple reason: you eat (or drink in this case) with your eyes first. It's one thing to mix and balance the cocktail, and another to present it nicely. The glasses are vital if you want to look professional, like a person who knows what he or she is doing. 

If you serve a nicely blended cocktail in the right glass, the first impression of the cocktail will be outstanding.

You probably won't have all kinds of glasses at home, and that's not a big deal. Either you go and buy one or two glasses for each type of cocktail, or limit yourself to the style of cocktail you have the glasses for. If you go shopping, however, put the following glasses on your shopping list: Highball, Lowball, Martini, Hurricane.

Special tip: before you start mixing the cocktail, put some ice in the glass to cool it a little. Once you start mixing it, remove the ice.

How to Make Cocktails Tip 6: Garnish

How To Make Cocktails - Garnish

A cocktail is a work of art. Think of it as an empty canvas on which you express your creativity, paired with hand-picked ingredients and finest precision. So it's only logical that you want to present your work, diligence, and love in the best possible way, right?

As mentioned above, every cocktail gets only one chance for a first good impression. That means, if you want to make it special, you should not only serve your cocktail in the right glass, but also garnish it appropriately. 

A garnish not only looks good, but it also gives your cocktail just the right taste. Do the following experiment: Prepare two Moscow Mules (vodka, ginger beer, lime, and ice). Add fresh mint leaves only to one of them and try both drinks afterward. You will certainly taste the difference.

How to Make Cocktails Tip 7: Impress With Taste

New bartenders think they need to throw their shaker through the air, juggle glasses, and put on a show while preparing cocktails. Many cocktail makers believe they have to amuse their customers with tricks and acting.

The truth is, though, it's not only dangerous to throw the shaker back and forth between your hands without practice, it also harms your credibility if you accidentally drop it.

That's why we'd recommend beginners to focus on the cocktail first. The show comes later.

Your cocktail should convince, not the cocktail shaker you throw through the air. 

How to Make Cocktails Tip 8: Experiment

Before you can start making your own creations, know the theory and basics. Pick out a few cocktails to start with and master them. For example, understand the difference between a Negroni and an Old Fashioned. Understand the WHY behind the ingredients and not only the WHAT and HOW.

Only those who know the basics can invent something new. Use existing cocktails as a first step to your cocktail creation. 

Once you have mastered the most important cocktails, start swapping ingredients, experimenting with mixing ratios, or creating your cocktails. If you don't know which Classic Cocktails you want to start with, look at our article.

How to Make Cocktails Tip 9: Have Fun

Cocktails are fun. It's a great way to live out your creativity and create something new. Besides, success always takes time and a lot of practice.

So don't get down on yourself when a few cocktails go down the drain. 

Moreover, don't stress yourself to become the best bartender in the world. Just enjoy the process and the many cocktails you will be making along the way. 

With time you will get better. Have fun and enjoy it. 

Final Thoughts

Making cocktails is art. It combines discipline, mixing knowledge, taste, creativity, and precision. 

In essence, it's about developing a taste for cocktails. However, to start, the only way to do so is to follow a few basic principles and be willing to experiment. 

Experimenting itself is the most crucial part. One thing is to read about cocktails, and another thing is to actually make them. Go to the supermarket or behind a bar and start. Follow the rules we have set for you above, and you are guaranteed to have fun. 

Be creative, hungry for knowledge, and brave to create something new yourself, but be sure to know the basics.

Do you have any questions about making cocktails that we didn't answer yet? Ask us in the comments below. We are looking forward to you. Thank you for reading. 

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