Mixology 101: Bartending Basics

by Andrew Connor, Contributing Writer


Lets face the facts; drinking is an inevitability of college life. The horrific part, though, is seeing students overindulge in shoddily made drinks, often causing them to get sick, do something stupid, or worse. Drinking can be an enjoyable experience when done correctly and in moderation, and to help you, here are the basics of at-home bartending.

For starters, sometimes people don’t realize that there is technically a difference between a mixed drink and a cocktail. A mixed drink is, more or less, one type of liquor mixed with one type of juice or soda. For example a Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) and a Gin & Tonic are mixed drinks. A cocktail has three or more ingredients. Traditionally, one ingredient must be a type of liquor, one must be sweet and the other ingredient must be bitter or sour, however this is by no means a requirement.

Garnishes are an important part of drink making that most college students overlook, however they shouldn’t be because they really add something to most drinks. Some drinks, like the Bloody Mary, are dependent on including a variety of garnishes. The most standard garnishes are limes, lemons, oranges, olives, and maraschino cherries, however specific drink recipes will call for more specific garnishes.

When someone asks for plain liquor (or certain cocktails like Manhattans and martinis) in a glass, there are three common ways of ordering. The one most people would be aware of is “On the Rocks” where the liquor is simply poured over ice. When someone wants liquor that is chilled, but not over ice, the term is “Straight Up” where the liquor is chilled in a cocktail shaker with ice, then strained into the glass. Finally when someone asks for his or her liquor “Neat” it is to be poured into a glass at room temperature with no ice.

A cocktail shaker is a canister used to mix a cocktail. There are two basic types, the most common being the Cobbler. It is a metal canister with a removable lid and a built in strainer so that no ice falls into the drink when it is poured. A Boston shaker is somewhat less common. It is comprised of a metal canister and a glass/plastic mixing glass. The two open ends of the glass and canister interlock, but when it comes to pouring the drink out a Hawthorne strainer is required. The Hawthorne strainer is a metal disk that is placed onto one half of the Boston strainer; it has a metal coil on it to snuggly fit the opening of the shaker.

Another useful tool is a muddler. This pestle-like tool that is used for extracting the flavor/juices of fruits or mint leaves at the bottom of a glass. The muddler is a must if you plan on making drinks like the Mint Julep, Mojito or Old Fashioned. When muddling ingredients, they are placed at the bottom of the glass (before ice or liquor) and are crushed/twisted by the fat end of the muddler, usually with some sort of liquid (soda water or simple syrup) to facilitate the process.

Pouring, believe it or not, can be somewhat tricky when it comes to making drinks, considering that some drinks require a specific amount of alcohol. For getting the right amount of alcohol there are two tools you may want or need. One is a pour-top or speed pourer. This is a spout that you place into the opening of a liquor bottle to give you a fast, consistent, controlled pour. Generally, a mixed drink or cocktail requires around 1.5 to two ounces of liquor–this is about three seconds of pouring. If you haven’t been making drinks professionally, however, it might do you some good to have a Jigger around. A Jigger is a small, two-sided, measuring cup-like device that measures out either one or 1.5 ounces or liquor.

Apart from the standard amount of alcohol in a mixed drink or cocktail, there are a couple other amounts. A dash, for example, is just a few drops of something. This term usually only applies to bitters. A splash on the other hand is between ¼ and ½ ounce of alcohol. You may also be surprised to find that a shot of alcohol is only 1 ounce in the US, and is actually less than the amount of alcohol in most mixed drinks or cocktails.

There are a lot more terms to be utilized; however they are mostly used with specific or less common drinks. They will be covered later on in articles concerning those specific drinks.

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