6 Steps to Better Cocktails

Improve the Taste of Every Drink You Make at Home

Embassy Cocktail Garnished With a Lime
S&C Design Studios

Do you ever wonder why your cocktails don't taste like the pro's drinks? Sometimes it is the little things that can make the difference between a great cocktail, a mediocre one and one that gets spit into the sink.

If you pay attention to the world's best bartenders you will notice that there are a few steps they take when making almost any cocktail. It is the small things that put the "WOW" factor into a drink. If you were to follow these six easy steps every time you mix drinks at home, you will soon notice a significant improvement.

  • 01 of 06

    Upgrade Your Liquor Cabinet

    Alcohol Bottles In Bar Counter Against Window
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    Your drinks will reflect the quality of their ingredients and the best cocktails begin with the best liquor. There is a significant difference between the distilled spirits on the top shelf and those on the bottom shelf of the liquor store. Since liquor is typically the strongest and most important ingredient in a drink, it's a good idea to spend a little extra money on quality.

    A martini made with a 5 dollar bottle of gin is going to be disappointing compared to one made with a 40 dollar gin. That doesn't mean that you have to spend a fortune every time you go to the liquor store. There are very good mid-range brands available that are perfect for "​everyday" mixing that fall in the middle of those extremes. Adapt it for your budget, and know that this simple upgrade will start your cocktails off on the right foot.

  • 02 of 06

    Practice Mixing Techniques

    Pouring Cocktails From a Cocktail Shaker
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    There are four basic methods for mixing cocktails: shake, stir, build, and blend. Each is incredibly easy, but it is a good idea to practice them so you can perfect your own personal approach.

    Bartenders mix up lots of drinks in a single shift, so they get a ton of practice. When you're mixing cocktails at home, you might make a drink or two in one night. Volume alone doesn't give you the opportunity to really hone the technique quickly.

    That does not mean you can't make every drink count! When you're shaking up a cocktail, pay attention to how frosty the outside of the shaker gets so you know when it's ready to strain. Be mindful of twisting your wrist and keeping your elbow steady while stirring for a full 30 seconds.

    Keep in mind, also, that mixed drinks don't have to include alcohol. You can practice these techniques on everyday drinks. Shake up a fresh lemonade whenever you like: 1 part each lemon juice and simple syrup, 2 parts water, and ice in a shaker. Use flavored simple syrup and seltzer to build homemade sodas or blend up smoothies so your next frozen cocktail is just a little better.

  • 03 of 06

    Measure Everything

    Cocktail Jiggers for Measuring
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    The importance of measuring cocktail ingredients cannot be stressed enough. It's the only way to consistently create great tasting drinks and maintain a balance of flavors.

    Many people skip this step because they believe it's time-consuming or they like the show of a free pour. Granted, many bartenders who work in busy establishments rarely touch a jigger (a two-ended cup that measures shots and half-shots), but they also pour a lot of drinks and know the exact timing needed to pour a shot. For the home bartender, the jigger is invaluable. Would you measure the flour for cookie dough without a measuring cup? Probably not.

    Measuring ensures that you are creating the cocktail as it was intended. An over or under pour of a single ingredient can throw off the delicate balance of a drink and you might not like it. Also, if you are drinking and mixing, your perception of measurements can be thrown off as the night goes on.

  • 04 of 06

    Use Fresh Ingredients

    Fresh Fruit and Herbs for Cocktails
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    Whenever possible, choose fresh instead of canned or bottled ingredients for your cocktails. Many of the bottled mixers will include unwanted additives that take away from the freshness of the cocktail.

    This primarily refers to fruit juices but can also be applied to other mixers. For instance, you can use a soda siphon as opposed to buying bottled soda waters and make your own simple syrup, sour mix or grenadine. Not only do homemade mixers taste better, by using them you reduce packaging waste and save money.

    With fruits, the answer can be as simple as squeezing lemons, limes, and oranges with a hand juicer. Citrus is the most often used fruit juice in the bar, so that would be a priority. If you like, take that a step further with an electric juicer so you can make fresh apple, cranberry, pear or any other type of fruit juice.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Match Drink and Glass Temperature

    Chill Cocktail Glass Quickly With Ice Cubes

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    This seems like a simple, possibly unnecessary, step to mixing drinks but it makes a world of difference. Nothing ruins a drink experience like getting to the bottom and a cold drink is warm or a warm drink is cold. That last impression counts!

    When you are serving cold drinks, chilling the glass before pouring will keep the drink colder longer and the drink is better from beginning to end. This can be as simple as placing a glass in the freezer for a minute or pouring cold water or ice into the glass while you shake, then discarding it before straining.

    The same theory applies to warm drinks. If you are making a hot toddy, warm up the glass beforehand by pouring some hot water inside while you're preparing the ingredients. About 10 seconds in the microwave works too, just be sure the glass is filled with water.

  • 06 of 06

    Use Garnishes When Appropriate

    Embassy Cocktail Garnished With a Lime
    S&C Design Studios

    Not every cocktail needs to be garnished, but many that do call for a citrus twist or wedge or another specific garnish depend on that addition for flavor and balance. Garnishes also complete the drink's presentation.

    For instance, a gin and tonic without the lime is missing that essential, subtle citrus. Likewise, a martini without the olives lacks the soft brine flavor that infuses the drink.

    Garnishes are important and even if their absence doesn't ruin the finished drink, it certainly is not enhancing it like it was designed to do. Plus, if you intend to entertain and want to impress your guests, you'll want to practice cutting garnishes often. There's a bit of skill required to make them look great. Take the time to add a lemon twist to your vodka martinis and you'll be prepared when it's time to show off your skills to others!