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Home Bartending 101

With the right ingredients, equipment, and recipes, you can elevate your cocktails from simple to sublime.
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Published Aug. 14, 2020.

Mixing a drink is pretty similar to cooking a dish: For the best results, you need good ingredients, good equipment, and a good recipe. If you’ve never made a cocktail before, this guide will give you all the information you’ll need to get started. And if you’ve already been making drinks for a while, you might find something that will allow you to improve your technique or expand your repertoire. By adding to your collections of spirits, barware, glassware, and recipes, you can bring your cocktail-making expertise to a new level.

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Spirits and Other Ingredients

By using these core ingredients in different combinations and proportions, you can make a wide variety of cocktails. Quality matters, but we recommend saving your very best spirits for sipping on their own. For making cocktails, we prefer to use bottles that are more moderately priced, from $15 to $40. And while many types of each spirit exist, we’ve highlighted the specific kind or kinds we recommend buying, where applicable, because we feel that they are the most versatile and appropriate versions for the broadest range of cocktails.

Other Ingredients

Two Vermouths

Dry VermouthATK Recommends: Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambéry
Sweet VermouthATK Recommends: Cinzano Rosso Vermouth or Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

 

Two Liqueurs

Cointreau: An orange-flavored liqueur
Campari: An intensely bittersweet aperitif with a distinctive red color

 

Two Bitters

Angostura Bitters: Concentrated digestif flavored with bitter herbs and warm spices
Orange Bitters: Digestif with bright, citrusy flavor

 

Mixers

SeltzerATK Recommends: Polar Original Seltzer
Tonic WaterATK Recommends: Polar Premium Tonic Water

 

Fruits for Fresh Juice: Lemon, lime, grapefruit
Garnishes: Olives, maraschino cherries, citrus peels

 

Other Spirits to Expand Your Collection

Additional Base Spirits: Other types of gin, rum, and whiskey; mezcal, sake, shōchū, Scotch whiskey, cachaça, and more

 

Fortified Wines

Additional Liqueurs, Aperitifs, Digestifs, and Fortified Wines: Chartreuse, maraschino, Lillet Blanc, Aperol, Amari, Cynar, Sherry, Port, Eaux de Vie

Barware

A few basic pieces of equipment make the processes of measuring, shaking, stirring, and serving cocktails much easier, neater, and more efficient.

Cobbler Shaker

Easy for novices to use

ATK Recommends: Tovolo Stainless Steel 4-in-1 Cocktail Shaker

Winning Traits

- Leakproof

- Easy to open, fill, and seal

- Large capacity

 

Boston Shaker

Requires a little more experience to seal properly but is ultimately simpler and more foolproof to use and clean

ATK Recommends: The Boston Shaker Professional Boston Shaker, Weighted

Winning Traits

- Leakproof

- With practice, easier and quicker to open, fill, and seal

- Large capacity

- Easier to clean

 

Hawthorne Strainer

For straining finished cocktails into glasses; holds back ice and muddled ingredients

ATK Recommends: Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer

Winning Traits

- Closely spaced coils that filter out most ice and debris

- Wide wings that span even large shakers

- Short handle for better balance

 

Jigger

For accurately and easily measuring the small volumes of liquid used in cocktails

ATK Recommends: OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup, Clear

Winning Traits

- Accurate, easy-to-read measurement lines

- Wide mouth for easy filling

- Neat

 

Barspoon

For stirring spirit-only drinks in tall shakers and retrieving olives and cherries from jars

ATK Recommends: Cocktail Kingdom Teardrop Barspoon

Winning Traits

- Good length for favorite shakers

- Twisted handle that is easy to grip and rotate

- Medium-size bowl that corrals ice, scoops garnishes, and layers cocktails well

 

Muddler

For muddling (pounding to express the essential oils of) herbs and citrus

ATK Recommends: Fletcher’s Mill Maple Muddler

Winning Traits

- Good height for favorite shakers

- Large head covers more ground quickly

- Good weight for ease of use without fatigue

- Easy and comfortable to hold

 

Manual Citrus Juicer

For juicing lemons, limes, and grapefruits

ATK Recommends: Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer

Winning Traits

- Quickly and efficiently juices and drains citrus

- Easily accommodates citrus of different sizes

- Durable

 

Peeler

For making basic citrus-peel garnishes

ATK Recommends: Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler

Winning Traits

- Light but sturdy

- Razor-sharp blade

 

Next-Level Gear

- Cocktail Ice Cube Molds

ATK Recommends: OXO Good Grips Covered Silicone Ice Cube Tray - Large Cubes, Zoku Ice Ball Molds, True Cubes

 

- Handheld Smoke Infuser

ATK Recommends: Breville/Polyscience Smoking Gun Pro

 

- Home Seltzer Maker

ATK Recommends: SodaStream Source

 

- Channel Knife/Citrus Zester

ATK Recommends: Messermeister Pro-Touch Combination Zester 

 

- Mixing Glass

- Small Fine-Mesh Strainer

Glassware

The right glassware can elevate the presentation of your drink. These glasses are the most useful and versatile for serving cocktails.

Old-Fashioned (Rocks) Glass

For stirred drinks (either “neat”—with no ice—or “on the rocks”—with ice) and for shaken cocktails served on the rocks

Size: 8–12 ounces

 

 

 

Collins (Highball) Glass

For “long” drinks made with a spirit and a nonalcoholic mixer (soda, juice, etc.) 

Size: 10–12 ounces

 

Martini or Coupe Glass

For cocktails that have been shaken and strained; both glasses are common and acceptable. 

Size: 5–6 ounces

Shake or Stir?

As a rule of thumb, stir a cocktail that is made only of spirits, and shake a cocktail that includes juices, cream or milk, or egg whites. (For highballs—tall, iced drinks—with carbonated mixers, such as gin and tonics or vodka sodas, the carbonated mixer should be added to the spirit right before serving and very briefly stirred to combine without losing too many bubbles.)

Stirring and shaking effectively accomplish the same task, agitating the ice in the cocktail shaker so that the cocktail ingredients are chilled and diluted. Chilling and dilution go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other, and both are important for good results. Dilution isn’t a bad word in this context; the water that melts off of the ice is essential for bringing the drink ingredients into harmony, toning down any acids and softening the alcohol content to a more palatable level. 

That said, stirring and shaking yield finished drinks with very different textures. It takes longer to dilute and chill a drink to the proper levels by stirring, but the result is a clear, silky-smooth, spirit-forward cocktail. Shaking is much more efficient, thermodynamically speaking: Because you are forcing ice cubes to interact and collide dramatically with the drink ingredients (and each other), you can chill and dilute a drink much more quickly. And because of all that turbulence, shaken drinks have more body than stirred ones do, as air and minuscule particles of ice are incorporated into them.

How to Stir a Cocktail

How to Shake a Cocktail in a Cobbler Shaker

How to Shake a Cocktail in a Boston Shaker

How to Make a Twist

A simple twist is one of the prettiest and most versatile garnishes you can make for most cocktails—and one that can impart the drink with its scent, as well. While you can use a channel knife (citrus zester) to make these, a vegetable peeler and paring knife work just fine, too.

How to Muddle

To muddle, add ingredients to bottom of shaker and use muddler to pound them, turning muddler occasionally.

Our Classic Recipes

The following classic cocktails can all be made with the core ingredients listed above. Think of these cocktails as building blocks for other cocktails; by altering the type and volume of each ingredient, you can get very different drinks. To provide a sense of the options, we’ve included notable variations and alternatives for each drink where possible.

Gin Martini

The perfect martini is subject to debate. Here's our idea of perfection.
Get the Recipe

Manhattan

In terms of status as an icon, stories of cultural lore and legend, and debate over proper formulation, the Manhattan is right up there with the gin martini.
Get the Recipe

Negroni

Our recipe for this wildly popular beverage, which has countless variations and even an entire “Negroni Week” held in cocktail bars worldwide.
Get the Recipe

Sidecar

The sidecar is a member of the daisy family of cocktails: a strong spirit, balanced by citrus and a flavored liquid sweetener, most often in the form of orange liqueur.
Get the Recipe

Daiquiri

A daiquiri is a classic sour—a family of cocktails built from a spirit, citrus, and sweetener—that is elegant (and delicious) in its simplicity.
Get the Recipe

Mojito

While the origins of the mojito are unclear, the deliciousness of this king of muddled drinks is not.
Get the Recipe

Americano

This gorgeous-looking low-alcohol cocktail is a perfect introduction to the bittersweet charms of Campari and the elegant complexity of sweet vermouth.
Get the Recipe

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