Seven Key Steps to Making the Perfect Cocktail

Bartender mixing cocktail in glass at bar
![Bartender mixing cocktail in glass at bar](bartender-mixing-cocktail.jpg)

Whether you're making a treat for yourself or hosting a party, the last thing you want is to end up with a cocktail that burns your tongue or leaves you with an unpleasant bitter aftertaste. Or maybe you've mastered a few cocktail recipes but want to know when you can make substitutions, like swapping club soda for CBD drinks, without throwing the cocktail out of balance. Below are 7 key steps to coming away with the best cocktails, even if you're using a new recipe.

Have the Right Tools

The right tools are critical. Shaking a drink through ice is not the same as adding ice to a glass and stirring. While glass types themselves can be mixed and matched, though having the right type of glass may make it easier to keep the ratios of the drink in check, having a shaker on hand is necessary if you need a shaken drink.

Measuring devices are also critical. In many cases, yes, you can use a simple shot glass and break a recipe down into ratios for simple drinks. However, for speed and more complex drinks, a cocktail jigger is indispensable.

Know When to Stir and When to Shake

Does your drink have more alcohol in it than any other ingredient? Then it should be safe to stir. Does it have fresh fruit juice? This should be shaken. Does the drink have seltzer or a sparkling CBD soda in it? Then it should be stirred.

Stirring a drink that should be shaken often results in a drink that isn't quite as cold or well mixed off the bat as it should be. Conversely, shaking a drink that should be stirred often results in a pleasantly cold drink but lacks the even dilution that stirring often provides. A drink with bubbles, such as the addition of sparkling CBD soda, should be shaken before adding the soda or seltzer.

Know When to Use Seltzers or Sodas

Seltzers, sodas, and sparkling CBD beverages all provide a fizz or effervescence that you'd be hard-pressed to get any other way. If a recipe calls for club soda you can use seltzer. If it calls for seltzer you can use soda but remember that it will be less fizzy and far sweeter. Omit any simple syrup that would otherwise be added.

Seltzer itself is far more flexible when it comes to substitutions in cocktails than soda. For example, in most fruit drinks, half of the fruit juice can be omitted and the drink can be made, as usual, then poured. Once in the glass, a similar or complementary flavor of seltzer or one of our sparkling SBD beverages can be poured into the original dilution.

Use Fresh Fruits and Herbs

As with any other type of cooking, using fresh ingredients will result in stronger flavors and a fresher-tasting product.

Don't Underestimate the Ice

Ice serves two purposes in a cocktail. First, it's used to chill. Second, it adds just a tiny amount of dilution to a drink. If ice is involved, always err on the side of more.

If too little ice is used in a drink, it will melt faster and dilute a drink without sufficiently chilling it. To ensure you have used enough ice, check to see that the ice fills the glass or shaker and pokes up through the rest of the liquid firmly. If it does not, more should be added and quickly.

Further, while clear ice may look prettier in a drink, it won't necessarily melt more slowly. As long as you use clean, good-tasting water to make the ice it should work out just fine. Large cubes without holes in the middle will improve the quality of a drink that is focused primarily on the alcohol or spirit as they have less surface area and will melt more slowly.

Know When Substitutions Are Appropriate

Substitutions can be one of the most fun parts of cocktail making. It shows that you have a decent grasp of how a given cocktail works and allows you to get creative and come up with something unique.

As mentioned above, seltzers, sodas, and even CBD sparkling sodas can be used interchangeably in most drinks with a few small changes to adjust the sweetness. Always remember that “like replaces like”. In this case, sparkling water can replace seltzer water and soda can replace either of these (but will be a little sweeter.) Or fortified wine such as sherry can replace vermouth. If you keep the flavors of the drink and the flavor of each ingredient in mind, nearly any cocktail ingredient has a handful of substitutions.

Keep the Balance

Experimenting with a cocktail recipe is fine, but try to keep your ratios in balance. Most cocktail recipes can be reduced to parts to scale them up or down. While there may be a little bit of wiggle room to add, say, a bit more of something or other to increase the sweetness or reduce a flavor you may not care for in a given drink, eliminating any ingredient can result in something undrinkable.

Most drinks are made with several basic flavor ideas in mind. You have to balance sweetness, bitterness, sourness, dryness, and the impact of the alcohol itself. Taking out any element will drastically shift the scale. Further, one of the most important elements of a cocktail is water, and this includes ice. Even just shaking a drink with ice will add an ounce of water or so, depending on the ice used.

The same can go for a drink meant to be made with something fizzy. Eliminating this element can drastically degrade the mouthfeel and profile of a drink. Remember, if you don't have club soda on hand, you can use seltzer or even CBD sparkling soda, in a sweeter drink.