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Mixology 101

How to make drinks that don't suck

 by In the Pour

Last Updated: 09/08/2017

Cocktail mixing (or Mixology for lack of a better term) is more of an art than a science. It’s easy to learn the basics but it takes practice to become a master. Unfortunately it’s also quite easy to make awful drinks. The aim of this guide is to introduce you to the craft and help you avoid making bad cocktails.

Ingredients and Flavor

The main ingredient of a cocktail should be a strong spirit such as vodka, gin, rum, or whiskey. The rest of the ingredients should complement and soften the main liquor. So rather than making a mix of all strong spirits, it is good to include weaker or non alcoholic ingredients.

Cocktails often taste sweet, but the best ones balance sweetness with another flavor. It’s easy to add sweetness to the mix; many common ingredients are sweet. Try to balance the sweetness with either a sour or bitter taste. Some helpful ingredients are citrus fruit, aromatic bitters, fruit juices, or coffee.

Some drinks may be savory or salty. It’s usually best to avoid sweet ingredients with these. Good additions include: tomato juice, olives, celery, and other vegetables.

Generally less is more. It can easy to get carried away and include too many ingredients. Start simple and try to keep it there.


Shaken or Stirred? “If it’s opaque, give it a shake”. This handy rhyme we coined should help you decide. If the drink has any juices, creams, egg white, or other non-alcoholic ingredients, chances are it should be shaken. If it’s simply a mix of spirits (such as a martini), it’s usually better to stir.

Fill your cocktail shaker or mixing glass 1/2 to 2/3 full with cubed-ice. Shake for 10-15 seconds or stir for 20-30 seconds. Then use a strainer to pour the cocktail into the drinking glass. That’s all there is to it!

There are many bartending techniques, but shaking and stirring are used in a majority of cocktails.


Although garnishes can make a drink look sexy, their primary purpose is to accentuate the cocktail’s flavors. The best garnishes use some of the flavors from the drink they’re added to. For example, use a citrus wedge if your drink contains citrus juice, or a coffee bean if it has coffee liqueur.

It may not seem like much, but a little squeeze of citrus oil from a lemon peel to the top of a drink can make a huge difference.