Bartending Essentials – 5 Basic Skills for Making Cocktails at Home


This is Part 3 in our three-part blog series about the things that every home bar owner needs to feel like their space is complete. If you missed Part 1 (The Six Bar Tools You Absolutely Must Have) or Part 2 (Five Mandatory Cocktail Ingredients for Mixology Magic) you can click the link to catch up. Today’s post is all about the basic skills and techniques you should know to mix up perfect drinks every time. Enjoy!

Basic Bartending Skills / Techniques 

Making a good drink isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t take years of practice to master the basic bartending skills you need to build a tasty cocktail. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention. Check out this list, practice a little bit with each technique, and before you know it, you’ll be confidently mixing up any kind of drink that you or your guests can dream up. 

1. Shaking

Shaking a cocktail

The key to shaking a cocktail is this: don’t be shy. Not every recipe calls for shaking, but if it does, go ahead and shake that bad boy up like it owes you money. When you shake a cocktail, you introduce extra oxygen bubbles into the mixture, creating a frothy appearance. For this reason, drinks that contain fruit juices, eggs, or dairy-based ingredients are typically mixed by shaking. Just grab your favorite shaker, fill it about half way with ice, then dump in your ingredients and get shaking. Strain as you pour and enjoy a perfectly mixed cocktail. 

2. Stirring

Stirring a cocktail

Unlike the brute force of shaking, stirring is a much more subtle technique. Typically, you’ll want to stir when making all-alcohol cocktails like Martinis or Manhattans. Basically, you want just enough mixing to smooth things out and make sure that your vermouth blends nicely with the base spirit. Shaking would cause too much ice dilution and blunt the taste of your cocktail. When stirring, you’ll want to use a long bar spoon and stir quickly enough to almost create a “vortex” in the center of your cocktail. Stir for roughly 30 seconds, let the cocktail rest for a few more seconds, then strain and pour. 

3. Building

Building a cocktail

If your cocktail uses a carbonated ingredient (like soda water), neither shaking nor traditional stirring is the right choice for mixing. In this case, simply layer your ingredients into the glass, gently stir (no need to create a “vortex”) for 10 seconds or less, then enjoy. Typically, a cocktail that features carbonation is not going to be judged on its subtlety anyway, so all you want to do is make sure that every sip contains an equal distribution of booze and mixer. 

4. Muddling

Muddling ingredients for a cocktail

Some of the best classic cocktails, like a Mojito, require a bit of muddling to make the ingredients really sing. This sounds scary, but trust us, it’s not hard. All you really need is a dependable muddler and a little bit of elbow grease. Place your herbs or other ingredient that you want to crush up and release the essential oils from in a shallow dish, then use the muddler to “crush” them. There’s no set time for how long this will take, but when your ingredients look good and pulverized, you’re ready to add them to the mix. 

5. Straining

Straining a cocktail

Many cocktail shakers have a built-in strainer, making it pretty much fool proof when it’s time to pour. But if you’re using a basic shaker tin or pouring out a drink that’s been stirred, you’ll need to do a little bit of extra work. There are two main kinds of strainers available: a hawthorne strainer or a julep strainer. You can really use either of these, but standard practice is to use a hawthorne strainer when pouring from a tin and a julep strainer when pouring from a glass. Both of these strainers will keep the majority of ice and ingredients away from your cocktail, but if you really need a clean pour, you may want to invest in a fine mesh strainer to essentially guarantee that nothing ends up in the glass except for the liquid itself. 

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