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Mixed Drink Cocktail

 Tending Bar: How to Mix Drinks

Introduction to Mixology; Terminology and Equipment

Bartending is an artifact of the 1920's, when prohibition in America forced everyone who liked alcohol to figure out their own way to produce the libation.  Although most folks could figure out a way to set up a still, the alcohol that came out of them wasn't desirable.  To make their liquors more palatable, bartenders started mixing them with fruit juices, flavored syrups, spices, wine, eggs, sparkling soda and sugar.

When mixed drinks first hit the scene, the formula for building a drink was very simple. You began with the base alcohol and then added a flavoring agent like fruit juice or soda.  Sometimes drinks also received a third flavoring agent such as bitters or grenadine.  Accordingly, most classic cocktails, such as the martini, are only two or three ingredients with a simple garnish.

And, although modern drinks require more ingredients and are much sweeter, the equipment for preparing them hasn't changed. Instead, the equipment that is used to mix drinks is evocative of mixed drinks' illustrious past; the Boston Shaker is suave and sexy, and the martini glass has become the icon of the cocktail culture. Not including glassware, there are only two absolutely essential pieces of bar equipment: the cocktail shaker and the bar-spoon:


We've gathered a complete list of popular bar equipment which is available here, but we suggest that you begin by purchasing a basic bar set.  Bar sets tend to include the following equipment:

There are two types of shakers, the European shaker and the Boston (or American) shaker.  The European shaker is approximately half a liter in size, and is made of either metal or glass.  When using a Eurpoean shaker, you will add the ingredients to the glass and attach the top to shake the drink.  When you're done shaking the drink, the top comes apart to reveal an internal cocktail strainer.  The European shaker is easier to learn how to use, easier to clean, but somewhat less impressive.  We have yet to find any European cocktail shaker which is any better or any worse than any other, but we prefer the styling of this shaker available through the DrinkStreet Store.

We prefer the Boston shaker, which is nothing more than a metal cup and a glass cup.  When using the Boston shaker to shake a drink, you combine your ingredients in the glass and cap the top with the metal cup. As you shake the beverage, ice will form and seal together the two parts of the shaker. Since there is no top, there is also no built-in strainer - the bartender must fit a cocktail strainer over the top of the metal cup to strain the drink.  Our favorite Boston Shaker, for price and performance, is available from our web store and includes a simple Boston Shaker. We also recommend that you pick up a cocktail strainer while you're there.

A bar spoon has four separate functions:

  • The twisted handle is used to slow the progress of alcohol into the glass when making layered drinks. You can also use only the back of the spoon to quickly float an ingredient.
  • The stem is ideal for stirring drinks.
  • The spoon portion can be used to pick up garnishes without touching them, which is required for professional bartenders in some states.
  • The spoon portion is often used as a muddler.  Muddling is when you crush two things together, such as bitters and sugar in a Sazerac.


Before we dive in to telling you the particulars of shaking and stirring drinks, there are a few terms we'd like to mention. Likely you've heard most of these words before, but there are a few particulars that we'd like you to be aware of:

Blending - Some drinks need to be blended to mix the ingredients.  When using an electric blender to blend ice, partially blend the ice before adding anything else.  After the ice has been broken into chips, use the hole in the top of the blender's cover (called the drop slot) to add other ingredients.  The general rule is that you should add frozen items first and liquids last.

Floating - Floating, or layering, means to add a layer of liquor to the top of the drink.  You can use the back of a bar spoon to quickly float an alcohol on the top of your drink.  Read more about layering drinks here.

Frosting - A frosted glass is one which has a thin layer of ice over it.  To frost a glass, place the glass in water and then freeze for approximately half an hour.  Because water does not stick to glass, it is easier to frost pewter and other metal cups.

Garnish - When decorating a drink it is common to also add a lime wedge or cherry to make it more attractive. When the decoration of a drink also impacts the taste of the drink, it is called a garnish.  Advice on how to garnish drinks is available here.

Garbage - If you add something to decorate a drink which does not influence the flavor, it is called garbage. Examples include plastic swords, plastic monkies, and a fireman's hat. Advice on how to add garbage to drinks is available here.

Mixing - When mixing a drink, first add the ice, then the alcohol, then the mixers.  This build order is often also called "building" a drink, and it tends to keep the alcohol the same cold temperature within the drink.

Muddling - To muddle something is to smash it against the sides of the glass. We recommend that you use either a wooden muddler or a bar spoon with attached muddler for this purpose to avoid scarring the glassware.

Rimming - With drinks like the lemon drop or the margarita, bartenders are encouraged to rim the glass with salt or sugar.  The easiest way to do this is to first rub a lime or lemon across the rim of the glass.  Then, you should set the glass rim-down in a plate of salt or sugar and twist the glass until the rim has been submerged about an eight of an inch into the salt or sugar. When you life the glass out, it should have a thick coating of either salt or sugar.

Stirring - Most carbonated drinks won't require more than a couple quick stirs with a stirrer or the back of your bar-spoon, but non-carbonated drinks will benefit from as many as a dozen quick stirs. Stirring is meant to evenly mix the alcohol and the mixers without clouding the drink.

Shaking - When shaking a drink be sure to firmly grab your cocktail shaker and aggressively shake it about a dozen times to fully mix the ingredients. Shaken drinks will be cloudier but more thoroughly mixed. When James Bond requested his Martini shaken, not stirred, he was doing something a bit avant garde - many people believe that shaking a martini bruises the gin and detriments the flavor. We don't believe that it does, and that risky rapscallion James apparently doesn't, either.

Next steps:  

This article is the first article in a ten article series designed to transform people new to drink mixing into competent bartenders.  Click for the next article in the series, Pouring Alcohol.



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