Martini with three olives

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Classic Cocktail Fundamentals and How to Twist

Learn the key principles of how to make classic cocktails and how to twist them. 

Author: Steve Timpson, Certified Diageo Bar Academy Trainer

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Learn the Classics

Classic cocktails should serve as the basis of your drinks menu. These cocktails have stood the test of time and remain some of the most popular drink options about.

Understanding the fundamentals through making classic cocktails gives you the tools to innovate and create your own serves. But before you get experimental, you must know how to get the classics right.

Steve Timpson shares the secrets to perfect classic cocktails and guidance on what to do when making your own versions

The Golden Ratio

Balance is vital to a quality cocktail. Many classic cocktails achieve perfect balance and structure by following the Golden Ratio.

The Golden Ratio breaks down the proportions of your cocktail into an easy-to-remember ratio, and following it is a quick way to ensure all your classic and modern drinks taste perfect.

This ratio is 2:1:1, broken down into:

  • 2 parts Spirit
  • 1 part Sour
  • 1 part Sweet

You must follow this ratio to make a great classic cocktail, but it's even more vital if you change a recipe to create something new. If not, the drink won't be successful.

Learn classic cocktail recipes to master the golden ratio.

Classic Cocktail Fundamentals

There are a lot of classic cocktails you can choose to include in your menu. Each uses a core spirit, with the flavour tweaked by additional ingredients. Many classic cocktails consist of more than one spirit category, but the core element will be the one with the larger measure.

The key spirits you can make cocktails with are:

  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Whisky
  • Rum
  • Tequila

No matter the drink, all will be prepared similarly and require five key components to create a quality classic:

Glassware

The glass used for a cocktail must be the right one for the drink. Some options work best in a highball glass, while others suit a coupe. Chill the glass to help prevent drink dilution.

Ice

Ice is crucial; it helps chill the drink and brings out the flavour. Ice should be fresh and kept in a freezer to stop it from melting. The colder the ice, the less dilution.

Spirit

The core component of your drink, a great spirit, makes for a great cocktail. Choose premium options to get the most out of your serve.

Mixer

Your mixer accents the cocktail with additional flavour. Never fill a mixer to the rim of the glass to avoid spillage.

Garnish

Your garnish is the finishing touch to your drink and offers a final dash of aroma or taste. Opt for a garnish that complements the drink and ensure it's fresh.

Now Do the Twist

Bartending is a creative field, so you have licence to make changes and add new life to older classics. Twisting an old favourite allows you to show flair and skill.

Ben Potts, experienced bar director, shares insight on successfully twisting classics without removing what makes them great.

  • The best way to twist is by substitution. e.g., replacing a spirit with a spirit. A great example is the common alteration of the Negroni, where gin is replaced with Zacapa 23 rum to add a new dimension.
  • Adding an ingredient can make a cocktail burst with life. For example, adding fruit liqueur to a classic Martini creates an exciting alternative. Make sure to keep balance when adding ingredients.

Key Takeaways

  • Making Classic Cocktails teaches you balance and structure.
  • Follow the 'golden ratio' 2:1:1 for ultimate consistency when making classics and alternations.
  • Pay close attention to the glass, ice, spirit, mixer, and garnish used to elevate the cocktail further.
  • The key to twisting classic cocktails is substitution. Replace spirit with spirit, sweet with sweet, and ensure no one ingredient overpowers the others.

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