Mixing various alcohols, juices, syrups, and other ingredients to create a balanced, tasty drink requires practice and a knack for experimentation. While cocktails may seem complicated to make at home, with some key tips, you can start experimenting with cocktail making and take your home bartending skills to the next level.
Experimenting with cocktails allows you to find your signature drinks and learn how various flavors complement each other. Understanding how ingredients affect the final product will allow you to make delicious cocktails at home that rival any fancy bar.
Are you ready to become a master mixologist? Read on for eight tips to start experimenting.
1. Focus on the quality of your ice
High-quality ice is essential for any cocktail. The type and quality of ice you use affects dilution, chilling, and how the drink feels in the mouth. Start by tasting your ice – if it has an off flavor, it will negatively impact your drink.
Investing in an ice maker or using distilled water can improve taste and make a noticeable difference. Large cubes are ideal for chilling without diluting quickly, while crushed ice chills faster but also dilutes rapidly.
Play with ice cubes vs. crushed ice to see their different effects. Be sure to add whichever you choose in the last – right before serving – to prevent over-dilution while making the drink.
2. Infuse your own spirits
One way to experiment is to infuse vodka, rum, or gin with fruits, herbs, spices, or other flavors. Try popular infusions like berry vodka or jalapeno tequila. Or get creative with your concoctions. Almost any combo is possible.
For those who have developed a taste for unique beverages such as chocolate wine, consider blending it with your homemade infusions to add a rich, dessert-like flavor. This wine can complement the warm notes of cocoa and offer a smooth blend of strong flavors.
Citrus, peppers, vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, coffee, and tea are other flavors you can infuse for unique tastes. Keep them in an airtight jar for 1-3 weeks and taste frequently until the desired strength is reached. Infused spirits are best for custom cocktails.
3. Always use freshly squeezed citrus juice
Fresh citrus juice is essential for any cocktail with lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange. Bottled juices lack the bright, vibrant flavor and acidity of fresh citrus, which is needed to balance sweetness and other strong flavors.
If you want to add a wonderful aroma, consider citrus oils. Squeeze the juice before mixing; if you let it sit, consume it within 10 hours.
For an added twist, try aging lemon/lime juice for 4-10 hours or allow grapefruit to age a little longer. Fresh citrus takes a good drink to great.
4. Explore using cocktail bitters
Bitters are concentrated flavoring agents that provide depth and balance. Angostura and Peychaud’s are most common, but explore unique flavors like cherry or ginger. Aromatic bitters like orange or celery enhance smell and taste. Just a dash or two of bitters can transform a cocktail.
In sours and other cocktails, bitters counteract the sweetness. They also aid digestion, especially after a rich meal. Keep a selection on hand to experiment with old and new cocktail recipes.
5. Mind the carbonation
Carbonation can elevate or ruin a cocktail. Ingredients like soda water, tonic, and other sparkling mixers add effervescence, acidity, and aroma release. However, too-aggressive carbonation overwhelms the palate and forces aromas out quickly.
You can try different soda waters and test carbonation levels and flavors to get the best results. Pour gently to prevent excess foaming, which causes lost aromas and a poor taste. When done right, carbonation creates a refreshing, uplifting drinking experience.
6. Make your own syrups
Homemade syrups open a world of flavor options. To make your own syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water and heat them until the sugar dissolves. Then, infuse the melted sugar with herbs, spices, fruit purees, teas, coffee, and more. You can also try combinations like peach-thyme, strawberry-basil, or spiced pear.
Syrups provide sweetness, flavor, and texture, allowing you to create custom cocktail ingredients. When refrigerated, these syrups can last up to 2-4 weeks – so make small batches to experiment.
7. Try molecular mixology
Molecular mixology uses science to transform textures, appearances, and sensations. Foams, gels, caviars (spherification), air, and powder let you experiment beyond normal ingredients. For example:
- Fruit juice spherification creates tiny bursts of flavor
- Aromatic foams float atop a drink
- Edible powders rim glassware or get dusted as garnish
- Liquid nitrogen transforms liquor into meringue-like puffs
These modernist tricks make ordinary cocktails into multi-sensory experiences.
8. Riff on the classics
Start experimenting with classic cocktails you enjoy. Try substituting base spirits, modifying amounts of key ingredients, or adding your own twist. Play with old-fashioned and Negroni ratios. Use mezcal instead of tequila in margaritas or rum in mojitos. Add fruit purees, spices, herbs, or homemade syrups. Switch up garnishes. Taste as you go until you love the balance. Use classic formulas as a jumping-off point for your fabulous variations.
Cocktails are the perfect platform for playing with flavors and honing your mixing skills. With these tips, you can unlock a new world of cocktail experimentation and enjoyment at home. Make sure to invite friends over to sample your cocktail experiments. Every great bartender starts out experimenting, tasting, and learning. So pick up some shakers and start shaking – your next favorite cocktail awaits!