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Mixology 101: Home Bartendting Basics

By Mandy Erickson

Have you ever seen a bartender produce a new cocktail on the spur of the moment, after a request for “a fruity rum drink, but not too sweet” or “something made with peppermint schnapps”? Like David Blaine, good mixologists aren’t actually magicians, thought it might seem that way after the first sip (and certainly after the sixth). Basically, they just know a few simple rules about mixing and a handful of basic recipes that almost always work — formulas that you can follow, too.

Staple ingredients

Vodka and white rum, being nearly flavorless, blend well with almost any mixer. Tequila complements citrus juices. Whiskey and dark rum are more difficult to mix, and gin, with its distinct juniper flavor, is the trickiest.

Mixers are non-alcoholic beverages: typically waters, sodas and fruit juices, but you can also use coffee and tea, hot or iced. Try using half of one mixer and half of another.

Flavorings are additions like citrus peels, angostura bitters, jalapenos or spices. Use very small amounts — a drop or two of bitters, one twist of lemon peel.

Liqueurs are sweetened alcohol flavored with fruit, herbs, spices or other ingredients.

Keep in mind that a good drink balances alcohol, acid and sugar so that none stands out.

A few basic recipes

Highballs: Rum and coke, gin and tonic and greyhound fall into this category. Fill a tall glass halfway with ice, add 1 jigger (1 and 1/2 ounce, or 3 tablespoons) of alcohol, then fill the glass with your mixer. Don’t stir if it’s carbonated. You can add flavoring with bitters, citrus peels or a half-ounce of liqueur.

“Tini” drinks: The trendy ‘tinis are made with 2 ounces of vodka and 1 ounce liqueur. Add a flavoring if you like. Pour into a shaker full of ice and shake, then strain into a martini glass. You can serve the same drink on the rocks — just pour over ice into a short glass — but you can’t call it a tini if it’s not in a martini glass.

Margaritas: Shake 2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce sour mix and 1 ounce liqueur with ice and strain into a short glass.

For more suggestions, check Cocktail.com and this online Cocktail Builder.

As you experiment, keep tasting and adjusting the flavors until your cocktail is perfect. Then write down the recipe, because you won’t remember it the next morning.

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