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.
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.
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
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.