You know what it means to shake and stir a drink, but what does it mean when a cocktail recipe directs you to "build" the drink? Though it sounds like some fancy bartending technique, it's actually the easiest method for creating mixed drinks and you're probably doing it already: All you need to do is pour.
How Do You "Build" a Drink?
Building a drink means that you simply pour the ingredients into the serving glass and on top of any previous ingredient. Really, that's it!
If you're pouring liquor and mixers directly into the glass, you're building a drink. This technique is used for the most basic of mixed drinks.
- You will find it in many of the popular highball drinks that are topped with soda or juice, including the John Collins, madras, Rum and Coke, and vodka tonic.
- It's also used for short mixed drinks like the white Russian and nutty Irishman.
- Muddled cocktails, such as the mojito and caipirinha, are also built; there's simply an extra step before you pour.
- Technically, you could even say that layered drinks are built. However, the word "build" is most often associated with mixed drinks (as in, drinks that are actually mixed).
When building drinks, you usually want to add the ingredients in the order given in the recipe. This often means that the liquor goes in first (typically over ice), followed by the modifiers (liqueurs, juices, and syrups), then finish it up with sodas and other high-volume ingredients.
The order of the pour is a matter of debate and every bartender follows their own theories and habits for certain styles of cocktails. When it comes to building, though, the liquor first approach is the one that almost everyone uses.
Mixing Built Drinks
Most of the time, drinks that are built in the glass are also subject to stirring, either by the person mixing the drink or the one drinking it (or both). For instance, you can build the bloody Mary, yet it does no good if it is not stirred so those spices fully integrate into the tomato and vodka mix.
On occasion, you might also want to shake a mixed drink that was built in the serving glass. This is common for creamy drinks like the dirty bird. While you can stir it, the shake adds an extra froth that separates this drink from its more popular cousin, the white Russian.
To add the shake:
- Pour the ingredients into the glass according to the recipe.
- Place the tin of your cocktail shaker over the glass, ensuring that you get a tight seal.
- Firmly hold both the tin and the glass (one in each hand) and carefully give the entire contraption a few quick and easy shakes to mix the ingredients.
- Set the glass down on the bar top and remove the shaker tin.
This can be a little messy, especially with narrow glassware that doesn't allow for a tight seal with the tin. It works best with double old-fashioned glasses and pint glasses. If you're really careful and have a short shaker tin, it can work on collins and highball glasses as well.
- It's always a good idea to wrap a bar towel around the two vessels as you shake. This will catch any splashes and spills and prevent a potentially big mess.
- Do not tilt the glass-shaker combo as you would a normal cocktail shaker. Keep it vertical to reduce spillage.
- Avoid shaking any drink with carbonated beverages unless it's in a proper shaker set and a small volume (e.g., a splash). You're just asking for a foamy volcano when you remove the tin!
Practice Building Drinks
Building doesn't require a lot of (or any) training, though you do want to make sure to avoid spills and splashes. If you use a speed pourer on liquor bottles, you will definitely want to practice. Learning how long to pour for a full shot (as well as half and quarter shots) takes some getting used to. Fortunately, there is not a shortage of cocktail recipes to choose from when you want to practice this simple skill.
- Long Island Iced Tea: You will do a lot of pouring for this drink as five liquors go into the glass. It's a good choice when you want to get your speed pourer timing down.
- Mimosa: It's very important that you build Champagne cocktails like this in a certain order because the bubbles do the mixing for you.
- Screwdriver: The perfect example of the many simple juice-heavy highballs that are built and stirred.
- Shandy: When building a drink with beer, there's a certain balance between tilting the glass to reduce the foamy head and pouring on top of other ingredients.
- Tootsie Roll Shooter: Many shot drinks skip all of the fancy mixing techniques and go straight for the build.