Cocktail Science for Dummies – mastering the 6 basic cocktails and becoming the Sultan of Drinks sooner than you could dream of

You, like everyone, probably already know what a pangram is, it is a sentence that uses every alphabet of the English language, at least once. “The Quick Brown Fox Jumped over the Lazy Dog” is one such you already knew and “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs” is probably one you just knew, now. But knowing one of these sentences would theoretically mean, you knew all the alphabets.

Similarly, there are cocktails too, six of them, mixologists and cocktail historians consider to be the six basic cocktails, understanding which blesses you with the knowledge of unlimited iterations and combinations to create cocktails of your own.

Core, Balance and Seasoning – the core science of mixology

In mixology, there are three key elements that are used to create cocktails: core, balance and seasoning.

The core is the main ingredient of the cocktail, the liquor, such as vodka, rum or whiskey.

The balance helps to offset the sweetness of the core, or often just for the opposite reason, to add sweetness and herbal flavours to the neutral or unfavourable taste of the core and that and can be achieved with bitters, acid, sugar or liqueurs that bring delicate spices, fruits and herbs to the palate.

The seasoning is used to add flavour and aroma to the drink and can include fresh fruit, herbs or spices.

The purpose of these three elements is to create a well-rounded cocktail that is not too sweet, too strong or too bland. When used correctly, they will work together to enhance the flavours of the drink and make it more enjoyable to consume.

Core Balance and Seasoning
Six Basic Cocktails

The Six Basic Cocktails – experimenting with the core or balance and adding different seasonings to these will bring new cocktails to your table

There are six basic cocktails that every bartender should know how to make. They are the Martini, the Eggnog, the Old Fashioned, the Margarita, the Daiquiri, and the Mojito. Each of these cocktails has a unique flavour and history, and they are all essential drinks to have in your repertoire. With these six cocktails, you will be able to make any number of variations and create countless new drinks. So, learn them well and enjoy making them for your friends and family!

There are several probable candidates for the basic six

However, there are a few differences in this list too, since for some experts, like those at vinepair the six are Old Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Whiskey Highball, and Flip.

So there is no final list! True, but that’s what we are trying to explain here, there is a core reason behind one cocktail replacing another in the lists, it’s because they belong to the same group/class, and each one could be considered the candidate for the list equally, based on their heritage and popularity.

For example, Margarita and Sidecar replace each other in the lists, and if you look into the cocktails and their ingredients, you’ll see both cocktails use a Triple Sec as the Balance. Traditionally Margarita recipes uses Cointreau, which is an expensive refined orange-liqueur and Sidecar uses Triple Sec, the lesser expensive brand of Orange Liqueur.

NOTE: Triple Sec refers to both the Category of the liqueur and the brand Triple Sec, so technically a Triple Sec is a Triple Sec and a Cointreau is a Triple Sec too. And thus, as one of the basic cocktails of the Tequila/Cognac Core, Cointreau Balance and Lime Seasoning, the Sidecar and Margarita are interchangeable.

The other basic group of cocktails is the Base Liquor, Soda Water/Seltzer Water and Lemon Wedge group and in this group the Whiskey Highball and the Mojito are usually referred to as one of the major recipes from this group in the basic cocktails lists above. So, in list one we have Mojito while in list two we have Whiskey Highball. In these two recipes, the Soda Water, Lime Juice/Wedge balance and seasoning remain same while the core changes from Whiskey in the Whiskey Highball to White Rum in the Mojito.

The third and final replacement between the two lists is Flip for Eggnog. This is a simple replacement since one can easily see that both fall in the liquor (wine, brandy, sherry, port and also whiskey or any other liquor), egg, sugar and nutmeg class of cocktail.

Egg whites add a foam texture, mouthfeel and volume to a cocktail” says Sergio Leanza, the owner of and a bartender at Funkidory in London, and this class of cocktail making aims at a textured white cocktail and if you think a little, you can easily remember several other cocktails that fall in this class.

six Basic Cocktails by Vinepair
Six Basic Cocktails by Vinepair

Now to the three cocktails common to both lists…

Old Fashioned, for example, is a liquor, sugar and bitter cocktail, and if you keep digging into cocktails using our Cocktail Builder, this class will lead you to Champagne cocktails like A Goodnight Kiss, which follow the same combination of core, bitter and sugar.

Martini, the core, vermouth balance and lemon or olive seasoning is another class of cocktails that will lead you to other popular cocktails like Manhattan and lesser known ones like Gaudi Johann while cocktails like Snake in the Grass will be those that fall into both Martini and Sidecar/Margarita class since it uses both Cointreau, Vermouth balance with Lemon seasoning.

The third class common to both lists is the Daiquiri, the family of cocktails that are essentially Rum, citrus juice and sugar. And is extended to other Liquors, Citrus Juice and Sugar combinations like Caipirinha and Gimlet.

How did someone arrive at this list or two lists? Do they cover all cocktail types?

There are many cocktails that can be considered “basic,” but six in particular stand out as being essential to any bartending repertoire. They are chosen because each of these drinks has a long history and iconic status within the world of mixology, and all are relatively simple to make. Though there are other cocktails that could be considered basic (such as the Negroni or the Manhattan), these six drinks provide a good foundation for any bartender looking to hone their skills. And as you proceed, you’ll find that Manhattan and Negroni, both are similar in class to the Martini, all of them use a Vermouth Balance and a lemon/orange or bitter seasoning.

Once you are through with the six basic cocktails and have been sufficiently amused to see that most cocktails are variations of the basic six, or rather there are essentially majorly six broad classes of cocktails, the next questions that’ll come to you are

Cocktail mixing is easy once you have a grip on the basics

How to decide which liqueur is the best balance for the liquor I have chosen to be the core of my cocktail

There are a few ways to find the correct balance for a liquor while creating a cocktail. The first is to use a spirit guide, which can be found online or in many bartending books. This will give you an idea of how much liquor to use in relation to the other ingredients in your cocktail. The second way to find the right balance is to experiment and taste as you go. This will help you get a feel for what proportions work well together. And finally, ask a bartender for advice! They have likely made countless cocktails and will be able to give you some helpful tips.

There are a few things to consider when choosing a liqueur for your cocktail. The first is the flavour of the liqueur. You’ll want to choose a liqueur that compliments the flavour of the liquor you’re using. The second is the sweetness of the liqueur. You’ll want to balance the sweetness of the liqueur with the other ingredients in your cocktail. The third is the alcohol content of the liqueur. You’ll want to make sure that the alcohol content of the liqueur doesn’t overpower the other flavours in your cocktail.

Now that the key elements behind the six major classes of cocktails are explained, take a look at the infographics presented by vinepair, and add your own to each tree, and you’ll have a far better understanding of cocktails than most people around you.

Here is how to say Cheers in different regions of the world

Drinking has always been associated with social order and trust, and thus from the most cultured to the savage, every kind of people have their own drinking rituals, ranging from fascinating to weird. But before delving deep into rituals. First things first.

Here is how to say Cheers! around the world

In Span say ¡Salud!

In Italy say Cin cin! ( do not say that in Japan, that would mean a male genital in Japanese )

In France it would be Santé !

In Germany celebrate with a Prost!

In Scandinavia it is Skål! ( although a skohl translates to a bowl, it also meand a Skull, reminding one of the old way of drinking from the Skull of a fallen enemy )

In Russia kiss your drinking partner and drink chilled Vodka by saying За здоровье!, which would mean "To your heart's content and is pronounced as na zdorovie!. Although in anglophone world, this salutation is more commonly attributed as the Russian way of saying Cheers, the more regularly used is Будем здоровы! ( BOOdym zdaROvy) meaning to our health.

While in Turkey,, say ?erefe!

In Portugal say Saúde!

Finally, while in Japan say Kampai! with a lot of respect

and in Korea say Geonbae which translates to Bottoms Up, with an intention to empty the glass of soju after the formal toast following customs of an informal hoesik with elders or bosses.

Cheer however you may, drink responsibly :)

  • Simple Guide to Cocktail Glasswareany-glass

    When there is no specific glass suggested for a cocktail, it's up to you to chose a glass.
    Either you just go ahead and serve using any glass available to you following these simple rules
    A. Go for Tall or Collins Glasses, Highball Glasses or even Hurricane Glasses for cocktails with loads of non-alcoholic mixes, and those that require crushed or cubed ices,
    B. But if your cocktail is aromatic and liqueur based, and has a complex character that must reach the nose use a wide mouthed Cocktail Glass.
    C. Red Wine Glasses for cocktails that have a Red Wine as the base spirit. Red Wine Glasses have a wider mouth and a long stem, so that the wine can be swirled an aerated to release the aroma while the long stem keeps the fingers away and avoid quick warming of the wine.
    D. White Wine Glasses for cocktails with a White Wine base, since White Wines must not be aerated as much as a Red Wines, since they oxidise fast when in contact with air, White Wine glassware, in contrast to the wide mouthed bowl of a Red Wine Glassware, is narrow with a narrow mouth. A White Wine has much lighter and delicate notes and the narrow mouth and less surface area in contact with air helps retain the aroma.
    E. If your cocktail is based on a Sparkling Wine like Champagne then a Flute Glass is more suitable since a Sparkling Wine is a White Wine with a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, and the narrow mouth flute prevents the bubbles from escaping.
    F. If it's winter and you are in the mood for some hot cocktails like the Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy, go for the Irish Coffee Glass, it has a heat resistant glass and a handle.
    G. Martini Glasses for Martinis or "Tinis" in general, but since these glasses have fallen off of favour these days, a Cocktail Glass will be good too.
    H. IF you are serving Margaritas, don't look for Margarita Glass if you don't have one at home, Double Old Fashioned Glass or other glasses are more common these days, for serving Margaritas.
    I. If you are the adventurous one, and are serving shots or shooters, of course the Shot Glass is your choice of glass,
    J. Finally, if you are going all out and serving depth charges and car bomb shots, all you need is a Double Old Fashioned Glass or a Beer Mug for the beer and a shot glass to drop the bomb in.

Please Note All Recipes and Articles on this site are for entertainment and general information only. None of it is to be considered final or absolutely correct or medical in nature.

All photos used are representative and don't reflect the actual look of a cocktail. Representative Cocktail Photos are watermarked with FreePik logo and are mostly random cocktail images from FreePik.
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