Make Cocktails at Home

Learn Mixology – in your own home!

Category: Fundamentals (Page 2 of 3)


Cheaters Guide to making Grenadine at home



Sometimes it’s good to cheat…


Flavoured syrups are a useful component to cocktails as they allow us to add flavour at the same time as adding the sugar that is necessary in many drinks to achieve sweet:sour balance.


Unfortunately mass production and efforts to achieve economies of scale may be good for many of the big-brand syrup producer’s bottom lines but they have had a pretty negative effect on the quality of many of the products that reach the market. Spinning around to the ingredients list on a syrup bottle you’re more likely to find a long list of artificial flavours, colours, preservatives and other E numbers than anything resembling a simple combination of sugar, water and authentic flavouring. Grenadine is no exception.


Originally made from pomegranates, modern store bought Grenadine is usually a bright red, artificial ‘red berry’ flavoured syrup sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and is commonly used to provide a berry flavour without the alcohol of berry shrubs or liqueurs.


If we are going to make Grenadine to use at home then we want the original, proper pomegranate flavour; we could use real pomegranates but instead we are going to cheat and use pomegranate juice – its quick, easy, and still gives us the real fruity flavour we’re after.


Cheaters Grenadine


What you need

  • Pomegranate juice (we see note below)
  • Fine sugar




Very quick and easy; to make the Grenadine all you need to do is mix equal amounts of the Pomegranate juice and fine sugar in a bowl until the mixture is completely dissolved. Once the mixture has dissolved you can transfer the syrup into a bottle and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. It really is that easy!







Followed by juice…


then Stir! Stir! Stir!



The finished product – Grenadine






The key to making sure you make good grenadine this way is to ensure that you are using pure pomegranate juice – you want to make sure that the juice is 100% pomegranate juice so make sure you get a decent product like POM Wonderful. It’s worth paying a little more for a much better flavour.


Triple Stacked Collins

Mixing Cocktails 101 – The Methods – Build

The Built Cocktail

When it comes to making quick and easy cocktails there is nothing faster than a built drink.

As the name suggests, building a cocktail is a process of adding one ingredient after the other and stacking them straight into the glass, no shaking or straining necessary.


When do we build cocktails?

We use the built drink mixing method to make cocktails that do not need the extra cooling, mixing or dilution that the other more aggressive mix methods give us – it works best with ingredients that will mix together easily.


Built drinks are often long drinks (served in highball or Collins glasses) and will normally have few ingredients.


The easiest order to make a built drink at home is:


Non alcoholic ingredients -> Spirits & Liqueurs -> Ice -> Mixer -> Garnish/Straw


How to Build


 Non-Alcoholic Ingredients

Start by adding the non-alcoholic ingredients (lemon or lime juice, syrups etc) to the glass first. Alcohol is pricey [well it is here in Sweden anyway…] so this way if you make a mistake with the measures of syrups or juices you’re not going to have to throw any precious booze away.



Once the non alcoholic ingredients are in the glass it’s time to add the spirits and liqueurs. Remember to use a measure to ensure the correct amount of booze goes into your cocktail as we want these drinks to taste good and that’s only going to happen if our proportions are correct.



Non-alcohol and alcohol are now in the glass so it’s time to add ice. Remember that for most drinks (especially those in Highball or Collins glasses) we want to add as much ice as possible as this will slow down the dilution and also stop us from adding to much mixer.



With the glass stacked with ice we can now add the mixers/lengthening ingredients (soda, coke, fruit juices etc). If you are making a long drink then pour the mixer until about ½ cm from the top of the glass – if the glass is too full then you’re more likely to spill.



Use your bar spoon to carefully give the drink a stir, add your garnishes and straws as necessary and you’re ready to serve.


Build cocktail example:

Cuba Libre (click link for full cocktail recipe)


Start with non-alcoholic ingredients

Start with non-alcoholic ingredients


Measure the rum

Carefully measure the alcohol


The Rum goes in

Pour the alcohol into the glass


Cuba Libre

Add ice, mixer, garnish and you’re done



Non alcoholic ingredients -> Spirits & Liqueurs -> Ice -> Mixer -> Garnish/Straw


Lime juice -> Cuban style Rum -> Ice -> Coca Cola -> Lime wedge and straw


Next mixing lesson will be Shake & strain, until then let me know if you have any questions or comments.



Bombay Sapphire Shaker

Mixing Cocktails 101 – The Methods – Overview

Shaken or Stirred?


When we mix cocktails we are usually trying to do two things – take different ingredients and combine them to make new tastes and flavours; and use ice to cool the ingredients and the final drink.


Some ingredients will mix together easily while others are more of an ‘oil and water’ situation where simply pouring them in the same glass will not be enough; depending on how much mixing is required we use the mixing method that will give us the best result, anywhere from simply pouring all the ingredients into the glass (building method, used with easily mixed ingredients) through to a long hard shake (shake and strain method) which uses your energy and the ice to smash and mix harder ingredients together.


The four main mixing methods we use are :

Each of these methods can be used to make cocktails and which one you decide to use will depend on how much mixing and cooling is required – building is the most gentle method and they become progressively more intense as we work our way down to blending.


There are a few more mix methods that we use for slightly more specific functions:

  • Layering
  • Dry Shaking
  • Rolling

Don’t worry about these for now as they are used for slightly different reasons (we’ll cover them later).


So when do we stir? When do we shake?


In general, the more simple the ingredients in a cocktail the less mixing it will need. For example – a Martini is made of only two clear ingredients, gin and dry vermouth [I realise that some old recipes call for orange bitters and such but I’m keeping this simple for now]. Gin is the base spirit and contains around 40% abv, vermouth is also alcoholic so simply stirring the two ingredients in an ice filled mixing glass will allow them to mix nicely and chill down.


When we start adding juices, syrups, liqueurs and such then we need to get a little more aggressive and this is when we’ll want to shake the drink.


Example – In a Classic Daiquiri we are mixing rum, fresh lime juice and sugar together – we could stir these ingredients but it would take a long time for them to mix and cool to a satisfactory level. Instead we can add them into a shaker, fill the shaker with ice and shake hard – the ice will help to agitate the ingredients inside the shaker, helping them to mix together while also cooling them down. For a frozen daiquiri we would need to be even more aggressive, so instead of shaking we would move to blending.


Clear ingredients – easier to mix – build or stir

Juices, syrups, liqueurs, milk and similar ingredients – harder to mix – shake or blend


Of course a lot of this really comes down to personal preference – I’ve certainly served my fair share of shaken Vodka Martinis during my time on the bar so feel free to experiment and see what you like most.


So it’s all about mixing and cooling, right?


Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. There are more elements making up the taste of a cocktail than just the initial raw ingredients; the final product is also going to be a result of the cocktails dilution, texture and appearance, all of which can also be manipulated through the mixing method chosen.



Dilution is the amount of water that is in your cocktail as a result of ice melting. Many people seem to think that water is the enemy of cocktails but it is actually an important ingredient in itself as it can help soften the flavour of the alcohol and allow background flavours to be more apparent.  Think of the Mojito; if you didn’t have the crushed ice melting and diluting the cocktail the rum flavour would be much stronger and it would be harder to appreciate the mint, sugar and lime flavours that make the cocktail special.


How much dilution you get is directly related to how much ice melts (which is also directly related to how cold the cocktail becomes as you cannot chill the cocktail with melting). The speed at which ice melts is related to the surface area of the ice [check out ‘Cocktail Science – Does crushed ice dilute more? a great blog with a full ‘sciency’ explanation of all this] so the smaller the ice cube = the faster it melts = the more it will dilute your cocktail.

Crushed ice will dilute more than large ice cubes so keep this in mind when you are making your cocktails – this is why we use large ice cubes when we stir or shake. More ice = a colder drink = slower melting, which is why we always try to fill our glasses with ice when we are making drinks; we are trying to minimise unnecessary dilution.

Also, when we shake hard the ice in the shaker will chip into small pieces that will dilute the cocktail more – if you straining into a cocktail glass after a hard shake then you can use a tea strainer (fine strainer) to catch these little ice shards and at the same time make the cocktail look a little nicer.



If you shake clear ingredients then you often end up with a cloudy looking drink so you can also keep this in mind when deciding which mix method to use. A stirred Martini will look clear and refreshing when placed next to its cloudy, shaken counterpart.

Cloudy ingredients usually need more aggressive mixing and this can actually improve the appearance of the cocktail with some ingredients – things like pineapple juice, coffee, eggs or crème can create foams and layers when shaken that can really add to the overall appearance of the drink.


Texture/Mouth Feel


Finally, the mixing method you select can also play a part in the texture or mouth feel – how the drink actually feels in your mouth; light, heavy, creamy, oily etc.


Just like whisking an egg, heavier ingredients, juices, crèmes and similar will often fluff up and become soft and foamy in texture when they have been shaken. In fact many cocktails will actually use egg whites shaken hard for exactly this reason [we’ll cover this more in depth in a later post].

Example – A French Martini (Chambord liqueur, vodka and pineapple juice) stirred will feel a bit dull and watery but if it is shaken hard then the pineapple juice will expand and foam giving the cocktail a much more appealing texture when you taste it.


Coming up


That’s a general overview of why we use different mixing methods, next up we will cover the actual mechanics behind each of the methods (how to stir, how do you actually use a shaker to shake etc).


Any questions then feel free to either leave a comment below or contact me,


// David

Sugar Syrup/Simple Syrup

Make Sugar Syrup at Home

Make Sugar Syrup at Home

Sugar Syrup (or Simple Syrup as it is also commonly known) is one of the most common sweetening ingredients used in cocktails and also one of the easiest to make at home.


Sugar is an essential ingredient in cocktails as it allows us to add a sweetener to bitter or sour ingredients and help create a balanced drink. As we are working with liquids when we make cocktails sugar syrup has the advantage of already being dissolved making it mix into our cocktails much faster/easier than if we were using granulated sugar, especially as we will be using ice in the majority of our drinks (I’m sure many of you realise it takes longer for sugar to dissolve in cold liquid than warm).

All about Ratios


The standard ratio for simple syrup is 1:1, meaning 1 part sugar to 1 part water. I prefer to make a syrup with a 2:1 sugar:water ratio with gives a slightly thicker, richer flavour; if you are going to make this then remember  to be careful when using it in cocktails as the extra sweetness means you will not need to add as much syrup as you would from the 1:1 ratio (more sugar = use less in drink).

Put simply, for a 1:1 simple syrup you’ll need 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. It’s that easy.


You will need

  • Water
  • Sugar
  • A pot
  • An oven (a camp stove will probably do if you need to MacGyver it)



Pour your water into your pot and turn the heat on. Wait until the water is hot but not boiling and pour in your sugar -now stir stir stir!

You want to make sure the sugar dissolves completely but we don’t really want the mixture to boil so now is a good time to turn off the heat.

Continue stirring until the mixture is completely dissolved.

Leave your dissolved syrup to cool off and once cold pour it into a bottle, put a lid on and keep it in the fridge until you need to use it. Refrigerated and with a cap on the syrup should last a few months at least.


Done! I told you it was… simple (hahaha… I’m sorry)


We’ll have a look at making flavoured syrups (like Grenadine) an upcoming post…


Until then, happy mixing


// David



Mozart chocolate liqueur

Easy Guide to Alcohol pt 2 – Liqueurs

Mozart chocolate liqueur




For an explanation of how alcohol and spirits are made check out the first post in the series,

Easy Guide to Alcohol pt 1 – fermentation, distillation and spirits


Time for some sugar.


The easiest way to differentiate between spirits and liqueurs is that liqueurs are usually much sweeter do to the addition of significant amounts of added sugar. If you compare the sweet taste of the Italian liqueur Lemoncello to a lemon vodka (as both are lemon based) you’ll notice the Lemoncello is significantly sweeter – it has had a significant amount of sugar added to it.


How Liqueurs are made


A typical liqueur is a combination of a base spirit, such as vodka or brandy, raw flavouring ingredients, and added sugar.


Broken down and simplified this becomes:


Base Spirit + Flavouring + Sugar = Liqueur


Let’s look at each of these components in a little more depth.


Base Spirit


The base spirit refers to the distilled alcohol that makes up the bulk of the liqueur. Depending on the mash (fermented alcohol) that was used in distillation and how the spirit was treated post-distillation (was it aged in barrels? Charcoal filtered?) the spirit can be used merely to add the alcoholic-bulk to the liqueur or as an actual flavour component.


If the major flavouring of the liqueur is to come from the added ingredients (oranges, coffee etc) then the makers will commonly use neutral spirit (odourless, flavourless spirit with a very high ABV – you can think of it like a very strong vodka). The high level of alcohol and lack of flavour in the spirit helps draw the flavours out of the added ingredients and allow them to be fully pronounced and uninfluenced by the spirit. A well known example is the French liqueur Cointreau. which is made by soaking orange peels in neutral spirit – when you taste Cointreau you get orange flavours but the taste of the spirit itself remains very much in the background.


Other liqueurs may want to use the spirit to add to the overall flavour – spirits such as whiskeys or brandies tend to be distilled to a lower ABV and retain more of the flavour from the mash, and are also commonly barrel aged. When used as your base they will give the liqueur some of the more complex flavours that tend to go along with these spirits – smokey flavours, rich chocolate or coffee notes, vanilla, it all depends on the particular spirit used.


Let’s look at an example of a brandy based liqueur to compare to neutral spirit liqueurs:


Grand Marnier

(c) Grand Marnier


Grand Marnier

Like Cointreau, Grand Marnier is a French orange liqueur brand, made by soaking orange peels in spirit,  however Grand Marnier has a darker colour and heavier, richer flavours (it also tends to cost a bit more).




Grand Marnier is made from a blend of neutral spirit and Cognac. Cognac is a type of French grape brandy that by law must be aged in Oak barrels for a minimum of two years; during this time the Cognac picks up flavouring and colour from the barrels. Therefore, when the Cognac is used as a base spirit the final finished liqueur is also going to show these added flavours.




Liqueurs are made from a huge variety of raw ingredients which gives us a similarly huge variety of flavours. Common raw ingredients include fruits, herbs, spices, cream, coffee – almost anything you can cook with you can use to make a liqueur, and the flavours tend to be stronger in liqueurs than in spirits.


So how do we actually get these flavours into the liqueurs? There are a few methods:


  • Maceration/Infusion – soaking the raw ingredient in alcohol or water, which slowly draws the flavours out (this process can take months). You can think of this as similar to how you get flavour from tea.
  • Percolation – similar to brewing coffee and often used when the raw ingredient is a leaf or a herb. The spirit (often heated) is allowed to drip through the raw ingredient, extracting the essence and flavour as it goes.
  • Distillation – the same method as flavouring distilled spirits, the raw ingredients are placed in the still to steep for a couple of hours before the mixture is re-distilled, giving a lighter, softer flavour.




Liqueurs usually have at least 100g sugar per liter of alcohol which gives us that strong, sweet taste that they’re known for (not much luck if you’re ‘Low Carb and Loving It’). Different brands and styles of liqueur will have different amounts of sugar depending on what they intend to be used for.


Particularly high sugar liqueurs are sometimes known as Crèmes, such as Crème de menthe or Crème de banane; this is because they have so much sugar added they have reached an almost syrup like consistency and is not referring to the use of dairy. Crème liqueurs tend to be relatively low in alcohol (15-25%) and used only as cocktail ingredients as this level is sugar makes them simply too sweet to drink by themselves (if you’re bored then try drinking a glass of Crème de Banane – you’ll be looking for your toothbrush in no time).


Sugar is often added after the spirits have been flavoured in the form of a sugar syrup or simple syrup – a mixture of dissolved sugar and water. This allows all the components to mix together well and the water also  has the other happy side effect of lowering the ABV to the desired level ready for consumption.


An example Liqueur


We’ve looked at base spirits, flavours and sugar. Let’s recap this by looking at all of these in an example of a common liqueur:


Triple Sec


Triple Sec is an orange flavoured liqueur which gets its orange flavour from the oils in bitter orange peels. These peels are soaked in neutral spirit so the spirit is giving no distinctive flavour of its own – it is neutral. The high level of alcohol helps draw the oils and flavour from the orange peels, giving us what is basically an orange vodka (although a very strong one at this stage).


Once we have this orange vodka we can add plenty of sugar and water (essential a simple syrup, or sugar syrup) to bring it the ABV and flavour that we are looking for; in the case of Triple Sec that would be around 25% abv. Put it in a bottle and it’s ready to be used in your Margarita!


So, to brake it down Triple sec would be:


Base spirit + Flavouring + Sugar = Liqueur

Neutral Spirit + Bitter Orange Peels + Sugar + Water = Triple Sec


Liqueurs are pretty easy to make at home –there will be an upcoming lesson showing you just how to do this.


Why is all this important?


If we want to make great tasting cocktails at home then we need to understand what we are actually making. If we understand the different ingredients and components of a cocktail then it will be easier for us to make them. By now we should have a good foundation of spirits and liqueurs which means that we’ll be able to look more in-depth at the other components of the cocktails themselves – to do this, we’re going to deconstruct the cocktail in an upcoming post.


Key Ideas So far


Fermentation – chemical conversion of sugar in alcohol and co2 buy yeast, gives us alcohol to around 15%.

Distillation  – Pot and column stills separate the alcohol from other liquids in the mash and increase the ABV.

Spirits – Distilled beverages, abv over 20%, little to no added sugar or colour (whisky, gin etc)

Liqueurs – sweet from added sugar and strong in added flavours, base spirit + flavour + sugar


If you have any questions or comments  then feel free to leave them below or contact me.


// David


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