A cocktail is a mixed drink containing two or more ingredients; and while originally it meant only a mixture of distilled spirits, sugar, water, and bitters, a cocktail has gradually come to mean almost any mixed drink containing alcohol. So a ‘Cocktail’ today (against the purist’s best wishes) usually contains one or more types of liquor, and one or more mixers, such as bitters, fruit juice, fruit, soda, ice, sugar, honey, milk, cream, or herbs.
What about the history of individual cocktails? Well, unfortunately, it’s all a bit murky for the mixologist historian – even the subject name ‘cocktail’ is shrouded in myth, and the most famous cocktails have at least two or three competing stories of who made them and how they made them and who they made them for. So apart from putting down any general histories, and well known histories, including their names and ingredients, we are going to leave the mine-field of cocktail history alone and concentrate on making what is considered to be the authentic drink …
Basic Things You Should Know
Measurements: Most cocktails give you the ingredients in measures, dashes, proportions, tsp, tbsp or ml
One measure: is always equal to 25ml or 1 fld oz. Tip: use a cocktail ‘jigger’ to pour out one measure easily.
One Dash: is a always just a few drops from the bottle. Bitters etc. are called for in dashes.
Ice: Ice is called for in three types: 1) Ice Cubes, 2) Chipped, Cracked or Broken Ice Cubes, 3) Crushed Ice. It is important to add the right one called for. Chipped or Broken Ice is the stage in-between whole ice cubes and crushed ice. Whole Ice cubes left intact do not melt as fast and just chill the drink, while Crushed Ice chills and melts into the drink and dilutes it slightly.
Straining Drinks. Once mixed in a cocktail shaker the drink is either poured straight into a glass including the ice, or it is strained out, leaving the ice and other large solids behind.
“Build A Drink”: When you are asked to ‘build’ a drink this is to pour into a glass (normally ice-filled) the recommended drinks at the same time, use pouring spouts on the bottles to achieve this.
Sugar Syrup: A simple sugar syrup can be bought but it is easy enough to make – prepare it in a 1 to 1 ratio – dissolve sugar into water over a medium heat (150ml of water 150g of white sugar). Let the sugar syrup cool then bottle it in a small bottle.
Glasses: The four most common glasses called for are: The Classic Cocktail or Martini Glass, The High Ball Glass (tall, straight sided glass), The Champagne Flute, and The Wine Glass (tall stemmed and curved shape). Other very popular ones are the ‘old fashioned’ (a short and stout rock’s glass, sometimes referred to as a low-ball glass) a champagne goblet (the fore-runner to the cocktail glass) and a glass mug with a side handle for hot toddies.
Many recipes (and most contained here) have converted the recipes into ‘measures’ so that they can be applied in a metric or imperial system (USA vs Europe). It is quite simple 1 measure equals 1 fluid ounce or 25 millimetres. Using a cocktail jigger, which is either 1, 2 or 3 measures in volume, means you just pour in the spirit to the top and it will be the right measurement for the recipe – cocktail jiggers are now standard and can be purchased easily. This is a fast and accurate way of making cocktails.
‘Dashes’ on the other hand are a little more subjective: a dash of something usually means one or two drops from the bottle (normally a powerful tasting ingredient like Tobasco etc.) but some people are more heavy handed, so this comes down to individual taste and a natural understanding of what would be best.
Also a recipe can call for a proportion of the ingredients to be certain parts of the whole drink, this means the glass needs to be filled with one-third of something, one third of something else, one sixth and one sixth of other ingredients etc. but these recipes tend to be rarer now – most have been converted into ‘measures’. It is also important to check the recipe to see if it is making 1 drink (most usual) or more, so you know how to adapt it for more or less cocktails.
This is a very simple recipe, you can either buy a bottle of simple sugar syrup or make it yourself, bottle it and keep it in the fridge. This is used as a sweetener in many drinks and blends more easily than using just straight sugar granules (which you can use if you have run out of syrup). Simply bring equal quantities of water and caster sugar to the boil in a small saucepan, stirring constantly for two or three minutes – an example recipe: 300ml (1/2 pint) water with 300g (11 oz) of sugar. This sugar can be flavoured, most commonly with vanilla seeds or vanilla essence.
The recipe will usually tell you what type of ice you need, but there are three major types of ice which can be called for. 1) Ice Cubes, 2) Chipped, Cracked or Broken Ice Cubes, 3) Crushed Ice. It is important to add the right one called for. Chipped or Broken Ice is the stage in-between whole ice cubes and crushed ice. Whole Ice cubes left intact do not melt as fast and just chill the drink, while Crushed Ice chills and melts into the drink and dilutes it slightly. Ice is mostly strained out of the drink, when added into the cocktail shaker, it is used to chill the liquids, or slightly ‘water it down’.
When choosing glasses to stock there are a few things to keep in mind, some cocktails are traditionally served in one type of glass rather than another. However, most people can stock just four glasses and cover most bases, these are the Highball, Martini, Old Fashioned and the Champagne Flutes. To get a complete collection which will do the vast majority of cocktails the full list is given below.
- Old-fashioned: this is also known as a ‘rock’s glass’ or a low ball / short tumbler. Normally used for smaller cocktails or those drinks served ‘straight up’ or ‘over ice’.
- Cocktail Glass / Martini Glass: this is the traditional looking glass used for elegant cocktails with a stem to hold the drink without warming the liquid in the glass.
- High-ball Glass: this glass is also known as a tall glass, used for a ‘long cocktail’ with plenty of space for the ice or a mixer like lemonade. A Tom Collins glass is often the tallest kind of high-ball glass.
- Shot Glass: these small glasses often come in two sizes, for a single or double measure. Very often for cocktails they are used to ‘layer’ a drink with two or three different coloured spirits. These glasses are designed for a single mouthful or ‘shot’.
- Champagne Flutes: used for all champagne drinks, and champagne cocktails – these are tall, narrow glasses which keeps the ‘fizz’ in the drink for longer.
- Champagne Coupe or Saucer: these glasses are wide and short, and very old fashioned, perhaps the first kind of cocktail glasses, these are curvy rather than having the straight lines of a martini glass.
- Margarita or Coupette Glass: this glass is a cross between the martini and champagne coupe glass. The rim tends to be dipped in salt and used for ‘party’ and fruit based cocktails.
- Wine Glass: the wine glass (not a commonly used glass) used in some cocktails tends to be the very large ‘red’ wine glass which can take a measure slightly bigger than a high-ball glass.
- Hot Toddy Glass: these glasses tend to be little glass ‘mugs’ with a handle on the side so that the hot drink can be held without burning fingers.
Setting Up The Bar / Bar Equipment & Tools
There are a few very useful tools and pieces of equipment that come in handy when serving a few cocktails in one go. Obviously key among them (and pretty much an essential) is a cocktail shaker. The ‘Boston’ shaker used in conjunction with a ‘Hawthorne’ strainer is quite a standard piece of Bar Equipment to make drinks correctly.
- Cocktail Shaker: use one that can hold at least 1 pint (600ml) modern ones most often come with a detachable secondary top lid which can act as a strainer while the main lid detaches to pour in the ingredients and ice through a wide opening. Professionals prefer to use a purpose built strainer with the shaker.
- Cocktail Strainer: this is a strange looking piece of equipment, a small bat like object with curly spring strung all along around the edge of one side. It fits neatly in the opening of the cocktail shaker and stops any larger bits and pieces such as ice or fruit etc. from coming out, allowing only the chilled and blended cocktail to pour through into the glass.
- Measure or Jigger: a cocktail ‘jigger’ is a little beaker with exact measurements when filled to the top. The jigger’s can come in a variety of one off sizes or a larger one design to fill to preset measurements from 1 measure (1 fld oz or 25ml) to 3 measures (3 fld oz or 75ml). Cocktail recipes are often expressed in either 1 measure or 2 measures, of this or that ingredient, using a jigger is simple, pour to the top to get a measure (or half fill to get half a measure) and pour into the glass or cocktail shaker, and repeat for however many ingredients are needed.
- Mixing Glass or Mixing Jug: this is a tall straight sided (pint sized) glass used for stirring cocktails in with ice, to chill the drink, when the cocktail recipe calls for the drink to be stirred and not shaken, as in making a true Martini.
- Bottle Opener: a multi-purpose bottle opener is used to open different types of bottles, tops, corkscrews or seals etc.
- Pourers: these are not necessary for making the occasional cocktail, but if you are making lots of cocktails then these are great time savers – pushed into the bottle neck opening they can neatly pour out measures fast and simple.
- Stopper: used to stop wine bottles etc. once opened and not fully empty – keeping it fresh.
- Blender or Food Processors: some cocktails require a little more vigorous blending, particularly if fresh fruit pieces or ice are needed in the drink without being strained out. An electric blender provides this ‘umph’ without the need to spend minutes shaking a cocktail shaker. However, many bars avoid using blenders (or offering cocktails which need to be blended) because of the mess, cleaning and the electric motors wearing out when doing large volumes, but in the home these types of cocktails can be fun.
- Muddling Stick or Muddler: similar to a pestle for breaking down or crushing ingredients like leaves, fruit and fruit peel etc. to get oils or juices out, but it does so more gently as it is made of wood so it does not break the glass.
- Bar Spoon: good for measuring sugar or sugar syrup etc. It has a small head (1 tsp sized) and a long handle so it is also useful for stirring drinks in tall (high-ball) glasses. It can also be used for layer drinks in shot glasses when the spirit is poured over the back of it, slowing the rate of pouring.
There are some specialist words you may need to understand:
- Stirring: a cocktail is either prepared by shaking or stirring, and it is important to follow the directions in the recipe to achieve the authentic cocktail being made. Stirring as opposed to shaking does not break up the ice, neither does it introduce bubbles, making for a stronger, clearer drink.
- Blending: frozen cocktails are belnded to a smooth consistency, like a ‘smoothie’.
- Muddling: muddling is a technique used to bring out the flavour of herbs (mainly). A blunt tool helps crush the herbs.
- Shaking: this is the best known technique when making cocktails. Shaking is used to mix ingredients and often to chill the drink using ice in a cocktail shaker.
- Building: this is quite strait forward, all this means is that the ingredients need to be added straight into the glass in the order they are stated, or poured in all at once.
- Double-straining: when you need to prevent even the smallest particles (like small fruit pips) from going into the glass, use a cocktail strainer and a fine mesh strainer below it.
- Layering: drinks can call for this technique, where a number of spirits can be served all layered on top of each other without mixing. This calls for a steady hand and a slow pouring technique (usually over the back of a spoon) from a low height into the glass. Spirits and mixers, such as Irish Cream, Coffee Liqueurs, Fruit Liqueurs or Orange Juice etc. have different ‘densities’ and so one can ‘float’ on top of the other IF you get the order right!
- Frosting: this is both part decoration and ingredient. The rim of the glass can call for a ‘frosting’, this can be a salt edged rim in margaritas or a sugar coated rim in a sweeter cocktail. Dip the rim of the glass in water (or fruit juice, honey etc. if the recipe calls for it) then spread the frosting on a plate evenly and dip the wet glass rim into it so that it can stick and adhere to the rim.
- Garnish: to make the cocktail attractive you can garnish it. Some garnishes are purely for decoration, like a small cocktail umbrella, while other are an important part of the drink, like the olive in a Martini. Most recipes will direct you to using the appropriate garnish but you can also improvise.