8 Important Skills for Mixing the Perfect Cocktail

8 Important Skills for Mixing the Perfect Cocktail

Whether you’re serving a classic BACARDÍ cocktail such as the El Presidente or mixing up a modern libation such the Añejo Highball or La Salvación, the following techniques are integral to any bartender’s repertoire:


This technique is used to extract and combine the flavors of fruits, herbs, and even sugar cubes prior to mixing a drink. To muddle your ingredients, use a pestle or bar spoon, the end of which will usually include a spherical muddler. It is important to strike a balance between breaking up the ingredients sufficiently to release their flavors and completely pulverizing them. For example, when muddling mint, you should strive to “bruise” the leaves, but not crush them into a paste.


cocktail-922974_1280There are a variety of ways to combine a cocktail, and shaking is one of the most common techniques. A cocktail shaker is the ideal method of mixing cocktails that contain eggs, fruit juice, or cream, as it introduces air bubbles that add an attractive, frothy finish to your cocktail. To use one, fill it with ice, add your ingredients, place both pieces of your shaker together, and give it a brief, vigorous shake — generally around 10 seconds. The cocktail is mixed and chilled to perfection when you notice water condensing on the outside of the shaker.

When selecting a shaker, you have a few different options. A Boston cocktail shaker consists of two parts, a metal shaker and a mixing glass, while a cobbler shaker encompasses a metal shaker, built-in strainer, and a lid. The French cocktail shaker, an old classic that inspired the cobbler, simply includes a metal tumbler base and a corresponding metal lid.

Or stirred?

As a general rule, cocktails consisting of clear ingredients must be stirred. You can use a metal or glass stirring rod or a bar spoon to mix your drinks, but be sure to do so in a mixing glass rather than a delicate serving glass. It’s also best to use ice cubes rather than crushed ice when stirring drinks to avoid a heavily diluted cocktail. Just as when shaking a drink, you’ll know it’s time to strain your beverage when condensation begins to appear on the surface of your mixing glass.


Some cocktails, such as “frozen” drinks or those containing whole fruit, require far more than a shaker or bar spoon to come together. The goal of blending is to create the slightly thick, smooth texture widely enjoyed in cocktails such as daiquiris and Piña coladas. For this reason, crushed ice is often a better choice than cubed. A perfect blended drink will be thick enough for a straw to stand up in. To keep your libations semi-frozen for as long as possible, you should serve them in glasses that have been chilled in the freezer.


“Rolling” is a mixing technique that uses a pint glass and a cocktail shaker to combine drinks while melting the ice as little as possible. To roll your cocktail, first fill your pint glass with ice and your beverage ingredients, pour the contents into a shaker, then transfer them back into the glass.


drink glassesAfter mixing your cocktail, it’s time to strain! Straining allows you to pour your drink into the intended serving glass while removing ice cubes, muddled fruit, herbs, and other solid ingredients. If you’re using a cobbler shaker, it’s as simple as using the strainer built into the lid, but if you’ve opted for a Boston or French shaker, you might need an additional tool. Your options include the Hawthorne strainer, a device consisting of a metal handle and flat disk lined with a coiled spring, or a julep strainer, a similar tool resembling a wide, shallow spoon perforated with several holes. The latter earned its name as a utensil used for enjoying mint juleps, as it allowed you to sip your beverage without getting a mouthful of ice and mint.

While it may require a bit of practice, it’s also possible to strain your cocktail out of a Boston or French shaker without a handheld tool. After separating the two halves of your shaker to “crack the seal,” hold them together again while creating a narrow gap along the lower edge. Carefully tilt the shaker to allow your beverage to fall into the glass unaccompanied by any pieces of ice. This method likely won’t work if you’re attempting to strain out finer ingredients like herbs, but it is a quick and often impressive way to strain cocktails without muddled ingredients.

Building the Cocktail

“Building” is the process of pouring cocktail ingredients into a serving glass in a particular order, often with the intention of floating them atop one another. When you’re not seeking a tiered effect, the concept of “building” can be used to naturally mix drinks containing carbonated ingredients, as the carbonation combines the elements of the cocktail.


Many drinks are finished with an ingredient that is floated, or layered, on top of the others. Some cocktails consist entirely of multiple layered liquors and liqueurs. Layering a cocktail requires that you know the weight of your ingredients, as you’ll need to add the lighter liquors on top of the denser ones to ensure that they float. For this task, a gravity chart might come in handy.

To float a new layer in your cocktail without accidentally mixing it, use a spoon. Rest the rounded back of the utensil against the inside of your glass with the tip sitting just above the surface of the liquid, then pour your alcohol over the back of the spoon to add it smoothly and gradually.