This page provides a handy reference guide for the key cocktail mixing terms and techniques used elsewhere on the site. All of these techniques are hotlinked from the step by step cocktail making instructions on the pages about each different cocktail. For a quick introduction to mixology techniques see the Top 10 Tips for Mixing Cocktails.
Soft fruits, citrus fruit and mint must be broken up, or "muddled", to release their flavours into the mix. Simply place the ingredient to be muddled in the mixing tin, or a hardened rocks glass, and carefully crush wih a cocktail muddler. Be careful not to press too hard. Mint should be broken up and bruised, but not ground in a soggy paste. Soft fruit should be pulped in order to release its juice but seeds should not be crushed as they may make the cocktail bitter. Take great care when muddling in a glass. Always use a gentle motion when muddling, and be sure you're using hardened glass before starting. If in doubt, muddle in the mixing tin and then transfer to the glass.
Cocktails containing muddled ingredients or ice will usually need to be strained when pouring. A hawthorne strainer will remove large particles such as ice. A tea strainer might be needed to filter finer particles of fruit. Its usually best to use both strainers in combination.
Cocktails need to be cold and shaking them with ice is the best way to achieve a suitably chilled mixed drink. After filling the shaker with the cocktail ingredients add the ice last and always use lots of it. Shake the drink hard until the shaker feels uncomfortably cold to the touch. Condensation forming on the outside of the shaker is a good sign. Pour and serve the drink straight away. As Harry Craddock put it in the Savoy Cocktail Book "Shake the shaker as hard as you can : don't just rock it : you are trying to wake it up, not send it to sleep!"
Stirring a cocktail is sometimes preferable to shaking which can introduce fine bubbles to the cocktail making it misty in appearance. For transparent drinks, such as the Martini, this is sometimes considered important. As with the process of shaking, lots of ice should be used. A long bar spoon will enable a steady circular stirring action to chill the cocktail ingredients without introducing air bubbles. Stirring takes longer than shaking to chill a drink so patience is required. Condensation on the outside of the shaker will reveal when the drink is cold enough to pour.
Churning is the process of stirring ingredients with crushed ice. The result should be to thoroughly mix the contents of the drink with the ice. Repeated mixing will not be necessary as crushed ice will chill a drink very quickly.
Most cocktails are made by adding ingredients to a mixing tin before shaking or stirring with ice. However, this isn't always necessary with longer cocktails and can be impractical if fizzy mixers (which obviously can't be shaken) are used. Instead, these cocktails can simply be built in the glass. Add plenty of ice to the empty glass, then add the cocktail ingredients before giving the drink a quick stir. Built drinks work best with pre-chilled mixers.
Some long cocktails combine carefully measured spirits, syrups and citrus fruits with large measures of one or more mixers or fruit juices. Shake the measured ingredients with ice and strain into the glass over lots of ice. Then simply top up with the mixer or fruit juices specified in the menu. This will typically amount to no more than half of the drink and its important not to drown the other ingredients. 4 to 6 shots is a rough guide for a maximum top up. Top up conservatively at first and taste your drink. Top up more if its too strong.
PartyCocktails.com keeps measures as simple as possible. Almost all ingredients are measured by the shot. Where smaller amounts are needed, half, quarter or sometimes eighths are required. But how big is a shot? As long as a consistent shot size is used, this isn't too important but its probably best to aim for around the standard UK or US measure. In the UK its 25ml. In the US its 1 fluid oz, which is slightly bigger than the UK measure. At <PartyCocktails.com we use one fluid ounce per shot which makes things really easy when measuring ingredients with the fabulous OXO jigger. This has quarter, half and single shot measures all the way up to 2 shots worth.
Some ingredients require a different measuring system due to their consistency or concentration. Viscous or jellied ingredients like honey, jam or marmalade are measured by the spoon. A typical bar spoon is virtually identical to a teaspoon size at around 5ml or one eighth fl oz.
Bitters come in bottles designed especially to deliver a small amount at a time. Bitters are therefore measured in "dashes". Simply invert the bitters bottle over the mixer, give it a single shake or jolt and a little squirt of bitters will be added. This is one dash.
There are a couple of different methods of garnishing a cocktail with a flavour enhancing dose of citrus zest. A Zest Twist is the more aesthetic of the two but a Flamed Zest injects even more flavour and is ideal for finishing rich martinis or vodkatinis like the classic Cosmo.
A Zest Twist involves cutting a fine strip of zest from a citrus fruit (typically lemon or orange). This is best done with a proper zesting tool which makes it really easy to get a perfect strip. If you're using a knife, make sure you don't cut far into the skin. You should only cut away the zest and not the bitter white pith. When you've got your strip of zest, curl it around a stirrer before dropping it into the drink or over the rim. Watch Duggan McDonnell cut a lemon zest twist.
A Flamed Zest releases caramalised oils from the citrus zest onto the surface of the drink. Using a sharp knife cut an oval tab of zest about an inch by three inches. With the skin pointing outwards bend the oval towards the flame of a lighter, over the drink. The flame should ignite the oils which will squirt from the zest. Then simply drop the zest into the drink. Watch Merlin Griffiths finish a Cosmopolitan with a flamed orange zest.
If you're using a knife to cut zests, remember to always use a sharpe one and take care to cut away from yourself!