Cocktail Mistakes to Avoid
Making the perfect cocktail is a skill. Like any other tool or talent, it takes practice and patience to master. Becoming a rock star behind the bar is about being willing to try new things, stretching your creativity and learning through trial, error and lots of experimenting. Of course, mistakes will be made. But that’s part of the fun of it.
That said, we know mistakes can become expensive quickly. So, we’re here to help you get ahead of some of the most common cocktail blunders. That way you won’t blow through your home bar budget dumping poorly made cocktails down the drain!
Keep at it and enjoy the process, not just the end product. With a little attention to detail, and this short list of common errors to avoid, you’ll be an expert behind the bar in no time.
DON’T START WITH YOUR SPIRIT
Get in the habit of building your drinks by adding the less expensive ingredients first (juice, syrups, etc.), leaving the spirits to be added at the end. That way, if you make a mistake and need to start over, you’re not throwing away the good stuff.
DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH ON SPIRITS.
Quality ingredients are important, but a higher price point doesn’t always mean that’s the best spirit for the job. We promise, you don’t need a $90 bourbon to make an amazing Old Fashioned. With a little research, you can find great bottles to fit your budget.
DON’T SKIMP ON THE MIXERS.
Spirits are just one part of the cocktail equation. Quality mixers can make a big difference and it’s worth spending a buck or two more to get the good ones. Treat yourself and your guest to the best fresh juices and high-quality sodas and tonics. You’ll definitely notice the difference.
DON’T OVER POUR.
Cocktail recipes are all about balance. Learning how to measure properly so you get the ratios (aka parts) right is important. Add too little or too much of any part—especially the spirit—and the entire recipe will be thrown off. Bartending isn’t a world’s strongest drink competition. Measure right and you’re guaranteed to have a more enjoyable experience all around.
DON’T SKIP THE BITTERS.
Adding a dash or two of bitters when making the perfect cocktail can add complexity beyond that of just another mix. ‘Dashing’ is also a nice way to add some panache to your bar skills.
DON’T MASSACRE YOUR MUDDLE.
Treat your ingredients well and they’ll return the flavor. When you’re muddling, the goal is to extract the oils and juices from fruits and herbs, not mash the ingredients beyond recognition. Be delicate muddling leaves and herbs like mint and basil—over muddling can release bitter flavors. Put a little more muscle behind it when muddling fruits and rinds. Practice a bit and you’ll find the right amount of finesse for every situation.
DON’T SHAKE JUST TO SHAKE.
We get it, Boston Shakers are super fun to use. But bartenders use more than one mixing technique for a reason. Shaking not only chills and dilutes a cocktail, but aerates it as well—changing the texture of the drink. This works great in cocktails that have ingredients like juices, purees or cream. Some cocktails should be stirred, which helps preserve a more "silky" texture, especially cocktails comprised of mostly spirits, like Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Negronis. Don’t worry if you don’t know which way to go—the recipes will tell you the right move.
DON’T FORGO THE GARNISH.
Garnishing adds freshness, flavor and finish to every cocktail. Remember that presentation matters. Forget the garnish and you’ll miss a chance to show off and add flavor at the same time. Cherries in a Manhattan. A lemon twist in a Cosmo. Game changers. Get your garnishes right and your friends may start tipping!
DON’T EVER STOP LEARNING.
Even the best bartenders in the world are constantly learning and experimenting. So, even when you get good…keep at it! There are a ton of videos on the Cocktail Project that showcase the skills mentioned above and a whole lot more. But enough learning for now. Go out there, grab a glass and get some real world bartending experience!