The world of cocktails can seem daunting to the beginner. It really isn’t though and we will show you why (which is part of the reason why we started The Cocktail Society in the first place)
In this article, we have compiled a list of popular beginners cocktail techniques and terminology.
We will run through what churning, muddling shaking and layering all means so that you can follow our cocktail recipes and master cocktail techniques with confidence.
Cocktail Bar Tools Terminology
Let’s start our beginners cocktail terminology by looking at the cocktail bar tools and what they are. Now, we should tell you that there’s no need to buy all of the equipment below – it’s a list of what you might expect to find in a cocktail bar. For the home bartender, only the essentials are needed such as a shaker, jigger and a strainer (all though there are plenty of kitchen equipment hacks to make cocktails) If you are looking for some more advanced cocktail techniques, The Cocktail Hub is a great place to look.
The bar spoon is a long spoon (usually 30cm long) with a twisted handle and usually, a flat disc-shaped base (although some don’t have this element) Bar spoons are essential for one of the key bartending techniques the built and/or stirred cocktail. Now you can, of course, use a normal spoon for this but the bar spoon is long and slim and with the twisted handle the perfect design to mix drinks (a normal spoon makes this technique less efficient).
Bar spoons are also used for layering shots and cocktails, which is an advanced technique, but one that can create beautifully layered (and for this, the twisted handle is essential)
There are many different types of the shaker and we have included the most famous two in our beginners cocktail terminology. The Boston Shaker is the most widely used shaker type in professional bars due to its capacity and efficiency in busy periods. In essence, the Boston Shaker is a two-piece tool with a cocktail glass and a metal tin. The glass is slightly smaller than the tin in order for the two pieces to become one shaking unit via a vacuum seal. It sounds complicated, yes, but it’s really not.
A fine strainer is an important tool in the bartender’s repertoire. It resembles a tea strainer and is a fine mesh sieve that is designed to remove any bits of small ice or fruit pulp from certain cocktails. Many martini type cocktails require a fine strainer to remove ice shard from the liquid. Why, as it makes the drinking experience that much better.
This is not an item you will have lying around the kitchen. The hawthorn strainer is a custom pice of bartending equipment and a very important one at that. The hawthorn strainer is designed to fit over the mouth of a cocktail glass or tin and helps strain the liquid while preventing the ice and any fruit pulp from making it into your cocktails. The hawthorn strainer and fine strainer are often used in tandem to make your cocktail totally clear of any residues.
The ice scoop, an unsung hero of the cocktail bartenders arsenal. The humble scoop does as it says on the tin and is used in bars to scoop ice into a glass or cocktail shaker. It is essential really, as no one wants to use their hands to dispense ice.
The jigger is the item of cocktail-making equipment that should be the first purchase for a home bartending enthusiast. If you have a jigger you can make great cocktails. The jigger is the measuring device bartends use to ensure that they are making the cocktail recipes as they should be. Jiggers come in various sizes but the most important ones are 25ml and 50ml measures. Often you can buy a jigger that combines the two.
A more popular shaker for the home bartender as its combines strainer and the shaker in one. The Manhattan shaker is a cocktail tin with a strainer built into the lid and a removable top. Very easy to use and great for making small quantities of cocktails. However, if you have a cocktail party on your hands, the Manhattan Shaker will struggle versus the Boston Shaker.
The Mexican Elbow is an extremely useful piece of kit for any bartender. The Mexican Elbow is a handheld citrus juicer, that is two handles on a hinge with a circular cup at one end. Into the cup goes your half of citrus and the elbow is squeezed to fully juice the fruit.
The muddler is the tool that resembles a small rolling ping on a pestle (from the mortar and pestle) The muddler is used to muddle. Muddling is the action of removing juice, oil and pulp from fruits, vegetables and herbs for cocktails. Generally, you will muddle in a cocktail shaker before adding the liquid ingredients. A muddler is made out of wood, metal or plastic and has a handle with a ribbed, flat end that you use to do the muddling. Don’t skip muddling in recipes as it ensures you get full extraction of the fresh ingredients you are using.
The pointed metal spout that you have seen in your local bar is a really handy piece of kit to have. The speed pourer ensures that you precisely can pour any spirits or liqueurs when making cocktails. Why is this important? Because cocktails have precise recipes (in the same way food does) and it helps you to not over pour your ingredients.
The Waiters Friend is also known by the more common name the bottle opener. There’s not a huge amount we can educate you on this aside from the fact every bartender should always have a bottle opener handy.
There are many styles of zester’s and peelers and they are primarily used by bartenders to peel citrus fruits and make garnishes. Generally, when you see fancy pants garnish on a cocktail it has been made using a zester. Peelers come into their own when they peel a strip of an Orange for example and then a bar knife is used to cut intricate shapes into the zest for your garnish.
Basic Cocktail Techniques
There are various cocktail techniques needed to make great cocktails. The key ones to know are shaking, stirring and building. Every cocktail recipe on this site or others will tell you what cocktail techniques to use to make a great drink.
Same as in the kitchen, when the method calls on your to blend the drink you do just that. Cocktails that are blended are done so with crushed ice and not cubed – you use cubed and you run the risk of damaging your blender. Cocktails that famously can be blended are Frozen Daiquiris, Margaritas and Pina Coladas.
When a method calls on you to build the cocktail then you create the cocktail directly into the glass you will be drinking it out of (typically a collins or rocks glass) The ingredients are placed into the cocktail one by one (usually in the order of the recipe ingredients) and always add any fizzy ingredients last (such as soda or ginger beer) Follow the recipes carefully, some ask you just to add the ingredients and serve such as a Dark and Stormy Cocktail and others require a good stir (again always stir your drinks before adding any soda or similar) such as a Negroni cocktail.
When asked to churn a cocktail, it is the action of vigorously stirring a cocktail in the glass. Using a bar spoon you will put the flat disc at the bottom of the glass and fully mix the ingredients in an up and down motion. This technique is used when fruits, herbs and sugar syrups are part of the ingredients to ensure a thorough mix of the liquid.
A slightly more advanced cocktail technique that is used in any cocktails that have egg white or cream. The dry shake is exactly the same as a shaken cocktail except you do it first without the ice and then you add ice and shake again. Why? Well, dry shaking has long been known amongst professional bartenders to fully aerate cocktails and create a more mousse-like foam. The idea really is to whip more air into the drink and create better emulsification (without getting too technical, liquid can better emulsify at higher temperatures) Sour cocktails that have egg white benefit greatly in texture from a dry shake.
Fine straining is always done in conjunction with the straining technique. The fine straining method uses a tool very similar to a tea strainer and is carried out to filter tiny fragments of ice or pulp out of the cocktail. Fine straining is used when making cocktails in martini glasses such as Cosmopolitans or Elderflower Martinis. As a rule, fine strain any shaken cocktails when directed to use a martini glass and any cocktails with pulpy fruits such as strawberries.
Some cocktails require you to muddle the fruit or herbs to extract as much of the juice and flavour that you can before adding the rest of the ingredients. Muddling generally occurs in the glass you are making the cocktail in (the method would be muddle then build) or in the shaker before shaking (muddle then shake) Muddling is essentially crushing the ingredient to extract the flavour and a muddler is very similar to a pestle. Cocktails that use the muddling technique are Mojitos and Caipirinhas.
Shaking a cocktail is one of the most well known and basic cocktail techniques. Shaken cocktails are made in a cocktail shaker (such as a Manhattan Shaker or a Boston Shaker) and are used to mix ingredients and chill them at the same time. To shake a cocktail you add all the ingredients to the shaker and then fill the shaker with ice. Seal the shaker and then shake for about ten seconds in an up and down movement. Once you have shaken the cocktail, dependent on the recipe instructions, you will then strain or fine strain the liquid into your glass. Well known shaken cocktails are the Cosmopolitan and French Martini.
As you would imagine, you use a bar spoon to stir cocktails. Cocktails that are stirred in general have predominantly alcohol ingredients and they are stirred to ensure perfect dilution. When stirring a cocktail, this either happens in the glass or a cocktail shaker and cocktails are stirred with cubed ice. Most bar spoons have a flat disk at the bottom of the spoon to help stir effectively. Once your cocktail is stirred, the next step will be to top with ice and serve or strain into a fresh glass. Cocktails that are stirred include the Vodka or Gin Martini and Old Fashioned.
Straining is an important method in cocktail making. Now you will either have a built-in strainer in your cocktail shaker (in the case of the Manhattan Shaker) or a separate tool called a Hawthorne Strainer that fits snuggly over the top of the cocktail tin. You strain cocktails to remove any muddled fruit and pulp or excess ice. Most but not all shaken cocktails require straining.
Basic Glassware Types
A collins glass is also known as a hi-ball (although in some quarters a hi-ball is a thinner glass than a collins) and is a tall glass that is approximately 12 fluid ounces in size. Collins glasses typically hold cocktails such as the Tom Collins or the Dark and Stormy.
A coup is a saucer-shaped glass similar to the martini glass but with a wider surface area. Coup’s were a well-known glass during the roaring ’20s and are often used as Champagne saucers as well as for cocktails.
Martini glasses are for straight-up cocktails and are a v-shaped cocktail glass with a stem. They famously are used for cocktails such as the Cosmopolitan.
The Collins glass has a younger brother – the rocks glass. Rocks glasses are short and are approximately 8 ounces in volume. Rocks glasses generally are used for cocktails on the rocks such as Negronis, Old Fashioned or Margaritas.
The Sling glass is a very tall and thin cocktail glass most famously used for the Singapore Sling cocktail.
Other Cocktail Terminology
The seasoning of the bartender. Bitters are a bartenders ingredients made with a spirit that is flavoured with botanicals such as fruits, barks and other plant material. They tend to be very strong and have complex flavours. Bitters are used in cocktails such as the Dark and Stormy to add character and compliment flavours. Be very careful in how you use bitters as too much can ruin your cocktail, generally, a few dashes will suffice.
An important cocktail technique, the double strain is to strain and fine strain, at the same time, to totally remove any excess debris from your cocktail before drinking (as explained above)
Cocktail flairing or jugging is the highly skilled entertainment that some bartenders can perform whereby they juggle, balance and flip cocktail shakers and glassware while making cocktails. It was made famous by the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. Although not as common a sight in bars these days as they used to be, there is still a committed flairing community that competes and performs across the UK and worldwide.
Fairly obvious we know but the garnish is the final flourish of decoration on a cocktail. Most garnish is a fruit but you can get very creative with edible flowers, dust or non-edible items such as miniature planning cards or pegs.
Gomme is also called sugar syrup or simple syrup. Gomme is essentially a ration of water and granulated sugar boiled down and let to cool creating a sweet, neutrally flavoured syrup to balance cocktails.
When a spirit is served neat it is served without ice.
Rim The Glass
When asked to rim the glass this is the cocktail technique of adding flavour, salt or sugar to the rim of the glass. Some cocktails ask for a citrus peel to be worked over the rim of the glass and in the case of the Margarita, some bartenders will ask if you want a salt rim.
rolling is a cocktail technique where you gently pour the liquid and ice from one cocktail shaker to another. This is a cocktail technique used for mixing a Bloody Mary, as it carefully controls the dilution of the drink while still chilling it. Rolling tends to be used with ingredients such as Tomato Juice which don’t react well to shaking.
When a twist of a cocktail is referred to it means that a classic recipe is altered slightly to create a new drink. While it does retain many of the key features of the original, a twist of a cocktail changes enough to be a new drink. In a sense, it uses the classic cocktail as inspiration.