5 Rules to Live by to Craft the Best-Tasting Cocktails at Home
Keep calm and carry a big ice cube.
There are at least a dozen reasons why your homemade mixed drinks never taste quite as delicious as they do from your favorite restaurant or cocktail bar, starting with the fact that you’re likely not a professional bartender (forgive and forget!). But don’t let that hold you back from experimenting with mixology at home—follow these five simple tips for better drink-making and you’ll be closing the gap between you and the pros in no time. If you’re looking for super simple cocktail recipes, find our two-ingredient drink guide here, then head over to our roundup of classic cocktails that everyone should know.
It accounts for about a third of your drink, after all. As a rule of thumb, use ice cubes that measure at least one inch per side. Larger ice cubes have the most efficient volume-to-surface area ratio, meaning they’ll chill your drink faster and melt slower. To avoid a watered-down drink, steer clear of using cubes that come out of your fridge’s automatic ice machine and make your own using a large-sized ice cube tray (like our favorite from OXO) instead. Don't forget to chill your glasses ahead of time, too.
If you’re new to making cocktails at home, here’s a quick mixology master class. Drink recipes are built on ratios. You’ve probably heard bartenders speak in ratios, in fact: “it’s a 2 to 1, 3/4, 1/4, and 2 dashes.” There are a couple of these magic ratios you can master and keep in your back pocket to demystify from-scratch cocktail mixing, because a variety of seemingly different drinks are all based on the same ratios.
Remember: 2 : 3/4 : 3/4, which means 2 parts of your base spirit to 3/4 part sweet and 3/4 part sour. Typically, you can think of a “part” as an ounce, so 2 ounces spirits + 3/4 ounce sweet + 3/4 ounce sour. If you like your drinks slightly less boozy, you can simplify the ratio to 2 : 1 : 1.
As with any recipe you make, the quality of your dish is largely dependent upon the ingredients you use. And because most cocktails only have around three ingredients (four if you count a garnish), choosing higher-end spirits is incredibly important. You don’t need to spend a fortune on pricy bottles of booze, but buying bottles from the bottom shelf will ultimately result in a disappointing drink.
The theory above applies to your mixers, too. Avoid—at all costs—anything that comes from a plastic fruit-shaped squeeze bottle, margarita mix, and any other form of overly sweet pre-processed juice imposter. Squeeze or zest fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit to order to get the freshest flavor possible.
Simple syrup, a solution of sugar and water, is the best way to layer sweetness into drinks. Why? Because it gets evenly integrated into cocktails after a quick shake or stir. Granules of sugar, on the other hand, are much harder to dissolve. You’re prone to getting graininess here and there, especially near the bottom. To make simple syrup, heat equal parts sugar and water together over low heat and stir until no visible trace of sugar remains. Cool to room temperature before mixing into drinks.