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Today we are going to talk about crafting a perfect cocktail. There are an endless amount of different cocktails in the world, but the truly great ones follow a set of proper guidelines.

Think of building a cocktail like building a great entrée. You start with a solid base, your main protein, pair it with a vegetable and a potato, and then accent it with a garnish. A similar process and ratio can be found in crafting a great cocktail.

The Bar Master’s Ratio

Nearly every great cocktail will follow a 40-30-30 ratio.

This is 40% liquor, 30% acid or sour tartness, 30% sweet. The liquor will be about 1-2oz follow with equal quantities of acid and sweet. Acid includes ingredients such as lime juice, lemon juice, raw raspberry, or grapefruit. Sweet will include cherry, cranberry, or orange juices, soda, or simple syrup.

Define The Base

This is the flavor that you want all of the other flavors to build off of. While clear liquors are typically easier to build off of, brown liquors such as whiskey or brandy will create bolder flavors and typically hold them longer. Your base can be made up of more than one liquor but should have a defined objective. We’ll look at an example in a bit.

Control Your Ingredients

Before we get into the acid and sweet, make sure your ingredients are accenting your base, not overpowering it. Typically this will mean keeping your number of ingredients to five or less. More than that and your flavors will start to get lost or meld into something undesirable.

Complement The Base

When adding your acid and sweet elements find ingredients that complement the flavor of your base. Your complementary elements can be liquor or liqueurs themselves. Items such as Grand Marnier, Midori, or Campari can all add interesting body, depth, and color to an otherwise boring drink. Watch your total liquor levels though, making your drinks too heavy in alcohol can result in a boozy flavor, fewer drink orders, and drunkeness. Stick to the Bar Master’s Ratio for the best balance.

In this step, incorporating elements that customers may find undesirable on their own may be the missing element that allows a good cocktail to become a great one. Grapefruit juice or lemon juice that may be too pungent alone, add a depth not matched without them. Fresh juices and purees or a muddled sugar cube can open up a drink and help to turn it savory; or refreshing.

Accent The Cocktail

Like with every entree, you should be garnishing every cocktail. This can be a solid or a liquid garnish. A splash of bitters in a drink can be the accent that pulls all of the ingredients together. A muddled orange or some lime zest can add that extra flare to take a drink over the top. Even a splash of beer can help to accent a rye whiskey in the right concoction. Effervescence, or bubbles such as those in soda or champagne, can change the mouthfeel and agitate the taste buds to allow for more full flavor profiles.

Aside from taste, garnishes such as fruit or mint leaves can accent the appearance of a cocktail as well. You’ve likely heard that people “eat with their eyes,” the same applies to drinks. Drinks that look better, subconsciously taste better.

Don’t Overdo It

We touched on too many ingredients above, but as a reminder, don’t make your cocktail too complicated. Aside from too many ingredients, make sure your bartenders don’t have to run to four different spots of the bar to make one drink. Your cocktails should still be functional and quickly made on busy nights. Keeping your ingredients for your most popular cocktails close at hand should speed up service. Alternatively, you can make a variety of different cocktails that share similar fruit or additives and change out liquors for a totally different experience.

Example Of Cocktail Crafting

I had a situation. I had a bottle of white whiskey that was not moving through the bar, and I wanted to get rid of it. Not many had tried it, not knowing what it was or tasted like. Those that did try it, had it straight up or with seltzer, which is close in flavor to drinking moonshine. It’s for a limited audience by itself, and that audience didn’t frequent the bar enough. So, I had to come up with a cocktail to help it sell through.

Old Fashioneds [I know it’s technically an old fashion, but old fashion’ed’ has since claimed the common name of the drink] were already popular at our bar, so I decided to play off of that. Old Fashioneds typically have brandy or whiskey in them, so why not try it with the white whiskey? Being more pungent I knew I’d have to balance it with heavier elements. Conveniently, we also had some Bordeaux cherries that we also weren’t moving through as fast as desired. Bordeaux cherries are dark, ripened, almost purple colored cherries that carry a bolder tartness not found in standard maraschino cherries. This was the perfect match for the white whiskey. The savory tartness cut the harshness of the whiskey and brought out the raw flavors. The cherries were muddled with raw cane sugar and an orange peel, paying special attention to muddle against the rind to release the extra flavor and aromatics. In this way the rich, almost sour, flavor of the cherries and the orange peel brought in my acid/tart element. The orange fruit itself as well as the cherries added a sweetness.

Adding two dashes of bitters (imperative in an old fashioned) added that garnish to bring the elements together and opened the drink up for a full mouthfeel. It wasn’t quite right though. Aside from being just alcohol for a liquid other than muddled juices and bitters, it needed a little more. I didn’t want it to be overly sweet as to accent the nuances in the white whiskey. I also, had enough of the tartness with the boldness of the Bordeaux cherries and the muddled orange peel. Straight seltzer added the effervescence to tantalize the tongue but hid the flavors a bit. Adding straight sweet or sour made the drink too overpowering in each direction respectively. I settled on a press which was the perfect match. Half seltzer and half sweet cut the harshness of the whiskey and the tartness of the cherries to bring everything together into a perfect, balanced cocktail.

As I mentioned in an earlier article on how to sell your free and overstock liquors, drinks sell better if they have a great name. So, I thought about it for a while. I obviously wanted to play off of the white whiskey that was the base of the drink. Additionally, as suggested in the overstock liquor article, I wanted to play off of the color. With the white whiskey, it was lighter than a standard old fashioned but with the Bordeaux cherries it added an almost eerie dark reddish hue. This paired with the unfiltered look provided by the muddled elements made this drink almost spirit-like, no pun intended.

I settled on the name ‘Moonshiner’s Ghost.’ I felt it let you into the process of the white whiskey but also adding a sort of curiosity to ask more; which is exactly what you want. You want guests to ask about your specialty drinks.

In the end it turned out really well. In fact, so well that I had to start ordering more white whiskey and Bourdeax cherries because the drink was order so frequently.

Conclusion

Crafting a perfect cocktail takes some experimentation and a little bit of patience. However, if you can follow the Bar Master’s Ratio, complement your base liquor, and accent with a garnish or additives, you can start to produce memorable, delicious cocktails that will keep guests coming back again and again.