Mantras of Mixology

Shaken or stirred? What makes a good cocktail?


What is it about cocktails that makes them so exciting? Is it that suave man behind the bar who seems to move ever so slickly, a seamless source of form and functionality, layered over with heady intoxication?

While every bartender may not be Tom Cruise (from Cocktail, 1988), each one does have passion and an individual style that he brings to his drinks. At the finals of a cocktail competition organised by Bacardi in Barcelona it was evident that a cocktail menu is a stylised statement of the mixologist’s personality and it declares how he wishes to see the world unwind. Ten finalists from around the world stepped to show what it takes to make a great cocktail.

Ice This is perhaps the most important thing. There are a dozen types of ice. Using crushed when cube is required dilutes a drink quicker, and in case of the reverse, throws the balance off, making the spirit dominate.

Base spirit This is at the heart of your drink. Vodka is marked by its neutrality. With rum you already have a flavour to begin. Whisky poses a similar challenge. You have to build on that.

Balancing mixers Having just one ingredient is regarded as unimaginative. With vodka, almost anything blends in, but with a heavier spirit it often takes up to three ingredients to ensure a stable mix. Bitters can come in handy, providing a nice, well, bitter twist to an otherwise sweet or sour drink, thereby rendering it more refreshing. Fruit juices can work, but a balanced hand keeps them from being syrupy and cloying.

Measures and ratios The right amount is what brings out the nuanced best from every ingredient. Too much is as bad as too little. The only one way to get it right is by intuition and by practising. Or you pass out, whichever comes first.

Personalisation The mixologist might work with his own concocted extracts, like a floral maceration, or a particular spice. Any of these can be judiciously and cleverly used in a cocktail to add an edge to the drink. It also makes the drink hard to replicate.

Mixing method When James Bond asks for his drink to be shaken not stirred, somewhere a purist bartender slaps his head in disgust. The martini is meant to be shaken for technical reasons. Stirring creates a not-so-homogenised mix with a higher rate of dilution.

As a finishing tip Barmen prefer to double-strain their concoction for that bright crisp look with no floating particles. A shaking style is very individual and as long as it is consistent and gets the job done without creating a massive spill, go crazy with it!

Glassware Unless you manage to get your creation into a slick glass, all else is waste. Old style cut-glass and glassware with intricate hand-made patterns are back in fashion. So, dig into your ancestral stash!

Garnish Presentation matters. Earlier, one could get away with an olive thrown in. Today, the garnish can be anything from orchids to sensuous spices and whatever else that looks pretty under an umbrella.

One last point Always taste before pouring out the drink. A chef wouldn’t let any food pass his kitchen portals without ensuring all is in order, would he?
Each point is logical and simple. Trouble brews when you have to simultaneously remember them all when concocting.


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