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in the mix
a guide to cocktail techniques

by Yee-Fan Sun
1 2 3

Check out a typical cocktail recipe and you're likely to find a pithy set of instructions along the oh-so-helpful lines of: "Combine all ingredients. Strain and serve." If you're lucky, the recipe might get a hair more specific; you'll be instructed to shake or stir, blend or build; heck, you might even be directed to get fancy and layer. But when you're first branching beyond beer and wine and stepping into the wide, wide world of mixed drinks, this lack of detailed direction can make the art of making a cocktail seem mighty mysterious indeed. Never fear, cocktail neophytes: with just a few simple techniques under your belt, you'll be bartending like a pro in no time.

No matter what kind of drink you're attempting to make, it helps to keep a couple things in mind. First, it's always a good idea to add the cheap ingredients before the pricey ones, so if you end up royally screwing up your recipe, you don't have to feel guilty about dumping the whole shebang and starting from scratch. This generally means your fruit juices will go in first, cheaper/accent liqueurs next, and primo quality base alcohol last. The one exception is anything fizzy: carbonated ingredients should always go in last, and should never, ever be shaken.

The second important tip has to do with ice. Most cocktail recipes will tell you that the ice should be "cracked." This, it's important to note, is not the same as crushed, which will be far too fine and melt way too readily. As watery is rarely considered a good quality in a cocktail, avoid the crushed ice. You can either crack the ice by placing it in single layer in a plastic bag and giving it a few good whacks with a heavy tool of your choice (meat mallet, frying pan, small hammer, blunt side of a knife, whatever), or just forget about the cracking altogether and work with regular ol' cubes.

The last hint I'll offer is this: if you're transferring a drink into a glass with ice -- i.e. serving it on the rocks -- add the ice first. This will further cool the drink while it's being poured, and help you avoid making a totally splashy mess as well.

Got that? Good. Now on to the techniques…

This one's the easiest. Just fill your serving glass about 2/3 full of ice, and pour your ingredients over the ice. Give it a couple of quick stirs, garnish and serve.

Use this technique for: cocktails containing carbonated ingredients, or any other cocktail that calls for very gentle handling

Similar to the build, except you'll be doing the mixing in a different container and transferring the mixed drink to the serving glass. Fill a mixing vessel about 2/3 full of ice, and pour your ingredients over the ice. Stir with a spoon, in the same direction, for maybe 4 or 5 rotations around the glass -- just enough to combine and chill the ingredients, but not enough that the ice will start to melt and dilute the drink. Strain and pour the mixed drink into the recommended serving glass.

Use this technique for: cocktails made up entirely of alcoholic ingredients

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