The Basics of Crafting Great Cocktail Recipes

One of our core missions for Batch 22 is to promote a spirit of adventure and experimentation in the people who consume our delicious aquavit. Because Batch 22 is so unique and works so well in so many different craft cocktail recipes, our greatest hope is that our patrons will be inspired to be super creative with it. 

A bartender shaking a drink

In order to flex your creative cocktail-making muscles, however, a basic understanding of the fundamentals of ingredients and technique is a major asset. Here is some helpful background on cocktail creation, followed by FIVE key tenets you want to keep in mind while conceiving, creating, and serving great cocktail recipes.

What Are the Basics of Making Great Cocktails?

The “cocktail” was originally conceived as a beverage of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters, and–although these are still the basic building blocks of a great cocktail– the means by which each of those components is achieved is now wide and varied. For example, there are now many different kinds of spirits available for mixing, and sugar sources can include dozens of ingredients, from agave to monkfruit. Even water sources can be as varied as the countries from which they originate; they can be sparkling, flavored, or part of a juice. Bitters, which come in infinite flavors, are like the spice rack of your cocktail-making. They add extra notes and counterpoints that can make your creative cocktail really come alive. 

The authors of the highly influential James Beard award-winning book, Cocktail Codex, written by Death & Co. bartenders Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, David Kaplan, and Devon Tarby, explain the basic components of great cocktail recipes as three distinct elements: Core (the primary flavor of the drink), Balance (an ingredient that enhances the core with sweetness, acidity, or both), and Seasoning (which adds another dimension and complements or contrasts the core flavors).

Five Key Ways to Make a Cocktail

Using the basics outlined in the Codex, here is a brief summary of the 5 Main Ways to Assemble a Cocktail:

  1. Building: This is done by pouring ingredients one by one into the serving glass and then stirring. Ice may or may not be used. 
  2. Stirring: This is usually done in a mixing glass with ice, before being strained into a serving glass. Drinks made up of clear liquids, such as spirits, liqueurs, wines, effervescent drinks, etc., are always stirred. It is done very quickly to minimize dilution.
  3. Shaking: This is the mixing of ingredients thoroughly with ice by shaking them in a cocktail shaker and straining them into an appropriate glass. This technique is used when ingredients such as cream, egg, fruit juices, and sugar syrups are used in the recipe. Shaking obviously makes a drink colder and also pushes air into a drink, which allows flavors to be released, while stirring closely manages dilution. Effervescent drinks are never shaken. Some cocktails will be shaken with everything except the effervescence (e.g., soda, sparkling wine, tonic), and then the effervescence will be added directly to the serving glass.
  4. Blending: Quite simply, this method employs a blender. It’s most often used for thick, frozen-style concoctions, where ice needs to help chill and thicken the drink. Daiquiris, Margaritas, and coffee drinks are the most common blended drinks. 
  5. Layering: This technique is used when ingredients of different colors, textures, densities, and flavors are meant to be kept separate from one another. Often, one ingredient will float on top of another, or a syrup or puree will create a layer inside the beverage. 

According to the Cocktail Codex, there are 6 foundational cocktails that, if mastered, will equip you to make or create almost any kind of cocktail. 

Check them out: Here’s the link:

In articles to come, we’ll offer more guidance and inspiration for delving into the world of creative cocktail creation. We’ll have advice from working bartenders and mixologists, as well as ideas and recipes from folks all throughout the beverage industry. So stay tuned, but—in the meantime—start creating!

Leave a Comment