All right. You’ve decided what drink you want to make. You’ve chosen your ingredients, tasted them, and found them up to snuff. Your tools are all clean and ready to use. The appropriate glass is chilling in the freezer. You’ve put on some nice mood music in the background. You, my friend, are ready to start mixing.
Now, mixology is a complicated subject, but the Bartender is here to tell you a secret: The actual act of mixing? Totally easy. There are really only a few techniques you need to know, and none of them take more than a few minutes to learn. But the great part is, each and every one is an opportunity to inject a little showmanship into your bar routine. For instance:
Building. This is the simplest method, usually done in a rocks or highball glass. Measure each ingredient, then pour it over ice in the glass. But if you want to get a bit showy, you can buy some inexpensive pour spouts and practice with them (using water!) until you can pour single ounces reliably, then pour two ingredients at once into the glass. A small straw will work fine for the traditional swizzle stick, but if you find some nifty blown-glass or ceramic-headed ones at your local art show, even better.
Shaking. The traditional, iconic method of cocktailing, shaking is one of the quickest and most fun techniques as well. Front-to-back? Side-to-side? Up-and-down? At an angle? A bit of a swirl, or no? What kinds of different sounds can you make with the ice? And can you strain with a flourish? Can you do two at once? Practice in front of the mirror (without the ice, unless you have Thinsulate fingers) so you can show off to your friends.
Stirring. An alternative to shaking, for when the drink doesn’t need to be quite as cold, or when over-dilution is a concern (such as in a Martini). Pour the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass, then use a chopstick or a bar spoon to stir it all together. Strain into the glass, either over ice (if a rocks glass) or without (if a cocktail glass).
Muddling. Some drinks contain ingredients that are solid – fresh rosemary, mint leaves, an orange rind, etc. Muddling bruises these ingredients and allows them to release their flavor into the drink. Put the solid ingredients in the bottom of the shaker or mixing glass, along with a small amount of liquid. Then, using either a muddler or something with a similar broad flat bottom (the Bartender uses a wooden spoon-handle), gently mash them up until their oil mingles with the liquid – you’ll be able to smell it when it does. Then pour in the rest of the ingredients and shake or stir normally. Don’t worry about the solid bits, they’ll strain out along with the ice.
Layering. This is one of the few bartending techniques that can require a bit of know-how. For instance, you have to know the relative densities of the liquids you’re layering. (Fortunately, this step is usually included as part of the recipe – every set of instructions for a Harvey Wallbanger has you layer the Galliano on top of the orange juice, not the other way around.) Pour the first ingredient in, then hold a spoon upside-down over it. Slowly pour the floating ingredient over the back of the spoon (and onto an ice cube if you can manage it) – it will dip down into the base ingredient, but if you do it right the majority of it should sit on top. Just remember, the key words here are patience and consistence – pouring too quickly or inconsistently is the easiest way to ruin the effect. But if you can pull it off, it never fails to impress.
There are other, more dramatic techniques as well (flaming in particular comes to mind), but with a little bit of practice these basics should get any bartender through day-to-day. And, in fact, an excellent way to practice them happens to be by working your way through your classics…but we’ll save that for next week’s lesson.