The Three Basic Skills You Need to Mix a Cocktail

Learn How to Make Great Drinks At Home with the OOFT! Bar School

Yes, the hospitality sector is opening up again. We can finally buy a decent cocktail from those with a few years of bar training under their belts, but that doesn't mean we need to halt our progress when it comes to the humble homemade beverage. So, while the kids get back to brushing up on their phonics and maths, we're also heading back to school to learn how to build your perfect drink.

Cocktails are like well-oiled machines. Each drink has its own intricate ratios, ingredients and technique. It's not rocket science, though, and with just a bit of guidance, you can put the parts together to form your favourite cocktail.


Pick a recipe to suit your taste and capacity to drink alcohol first. If you like Gin Martinis or Old Fashioneds, you can handle 100% alcohol ingredients. If you prefer fruit-based drinks like the Porn Star Martini or Pina Colada, go for around 50% alcohol. If you want something along the lines of a Gin and Tonic, Pimm’s Cup or Moscow Mule, try recipes that are about 25% alcohol.

Overpowering a drink with too much base spirit can result in the delicate notes of a drink being drowned out and lost, so you want quality, not quantity, here. You don't need to spend a fortune, but avoid spirits with lots of additives if you can afford them. That means quickly reading the back label and checking for added caramels, sugar, corn syrups or a long list of chemical flavourings.

If you're using fruit, fresh is best. If you're using fruit juices (and don't have a fancy juicer at home), go for 100% whole juice rather than 'from concentrate' juices. And here's a handy hint, don't ever use shop-bought lemon or lime juice. The contents of these plastic jiffy bottles are far too sharp and don't contain any of the lovely fresh taste of a squeezed citrus. Citrus juicers are cheap and reliable, a worthy investment.

There are hundreds of mixers available these days. You are spoiled for choice. Again, avoid high sugar, glucose, fructose or corn syrup ingredients. It's not that OOFT! have a problem with sugar, but it's easier to control your recipe ratios without loads of sugar inherently present in the ingredients.

The Ratios

Cocktails and maths don't typically mix well, however with a little preparation and practice, you'll be able to keep to a recipe even after you've sunk your third mojito.

A ratio is basically a puzzle, so imagine your cocktail like a picture. If you have a ratio of 2:1, your image will have twice as many sky pieces as land puzzle pieces. If your ratio is 2:1:1, your picture will have twice as much sky as it does sea and land, but add the sea and land piece together, and they'll match the sky.

Now swap out the picture for a glass. Inside that glass, you want twice as much rum as lime juice and sugar syrup. So if you start with 50 ml of rum, you'll need to mix in 25 ml of each lime and sugar syrup — make sense?

Here are some typical ratios found in the professional cocktail making industry:

The Martini Ratio: Best for personalisation. Mix 7 parts gin: 1 part dry vermouth. Everyone who likes a martini has an opinion on how to make it best, and rightly so. This is a highly adaptable recipe, great for conducting a bar school experiment with your mates. If you like the more potent drinks, try making a Manhattan at 5:1, an Old Fashioned at 12:1 or a Negroni at 1:1:1.

The Golden Ratio: Best for sour cocktails. Mix 2 parts spirit: 1 part sour: 1 part sweet. You'll find that this is the foundation of many classic cocktails: The Daiquiri, Margarita and Cosmopolitan all use this ratio. If you find this too sweet, famous cocktail writer David Embry suggests using the 8:2:1 spirit-sour-sweet ratio instead.

The Long Ratio: Best for large groups. Mix 1 part spirit: 3 parts mixers. Both the humble Gin and Tonic and summer Pimm’s Cup all rely on this ratio to deliver a simple, crowd-pleasing beverage. It's easy to mix in advance and serve in a jug or a punch bowl. The only real challenge lies in how you drink it; OOFT! advises you give everyone fresh ice and put a nice looking garnish in each individual drink to make it tiptop.

Unlike in school, using a ratio is not law, rather a starting point that'll help you begin to understand how recipes work and gain the confidence to play around with your own recipes.

The Cocktail Mixing Techniques

The mixing is the process; how your drink is made—the 'build' or 'method' you use to make your cocktail. The three basic mixing techniques are pouring, stirring and shaking.

Pouring. The most simple is the pouring method. This is when you add the ingredients to a glass and serve it straight away. You might want to add a stirrer and ice for your guests.

Stirring does two things, it blends ingredients together and cools them down. This technique always involves using fresh ice, a vessel that is not the serving glass and a proper stirring tool, like a long-handled bar spoon. Add your ice to your vessel — we like mixing tins or mixing glasses — then your measured ingredients, and stir them with the bar spoon until a frost appears on the vessel. Strain the drink as you pour it into a pre-chilled glass or cup to ensure no lumps of ice get into the serving glass. It sounds deceptively simple, but the skill is in knowing when the contents are cold enough but not too watery from the diluted ice.

Shaking. Finally, those bartenders impressing behind the bar with shiny silver shakers are, you guessed it, using the shaking method. Shaking is great for those cocktails that need chilling, diluting, but also aeration. The quick back and forth of the shaker tin breaks the ice down, and the rapid movement creates a frothy texture to your drink, blending the flavours. Almost every cocktail with heavy ingredients, like thick fruit pulp, honey or egg white, is better shaken, as the viscosity mixes better with the other ingredients. Making sure to strain your mixture into a serving glass, potentially with fresh ice, is key, as you don't want to go reusing the ice that's been battered around. It's just not the same.

Adding a garnish is always a good idea. A visual feast on the top or side of a drink not only makes the tipple aesthetically pleasing but can also add to the taste. Think orange peels, lemon slices, olives and so on. Think about what colours, shapes, and flavours could enhance your drink best.

We have some great bar school videos on our You Tube channel, but if you’re ready to step up to professional level, there are courses you can take. OOFT recommends The Mixology Group in Brighton, for a good introduction to bar tending basics, and The Mixing Glass WSET certified Spirits courses if you’d like to learn more about your ingredients. Most importantly- remember to have fun! Keep a playful approach and enjoy discovering your next favourite drink.

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