What is a Cocktail?
Drinks akin to cocktails first appeared sometime
during the 16th century, but cocktails, as we know
and use the term, was first introduced by American
bartenders in the 1920ies.
The reason the cocktail made it big in the happy
'20ies, was the prohibition, when producing and
imbibing of alcohol was made illegal. As good as all
spirits available was of a rather dubious quality
and tasted accordingly. Thus, the bartenders,
accommodating as always, started to mix the spirits
with various fruit juices and other flavorings to
make it more palatable. Later, the cocktail lost its
popularity most places, the United States being the
The last few years, however, the cocktail has
reclaimed lost ground everywhere, especially in
southern Europe and other places that are full of
tourists. Cocktails usually consist of three
different 'classes' of ingredients.
The first, the base, is most often some sort of
spirit, like vodka, whiskey, or tequila.
Occasionally, such as in many punches, some sort
of wine is being used as a base.
The second, the main flavoring, is added to bring
out the aroma of the base and to modify its taste.
The main flavoring is often such as Vermouth,
various fruit juices, wine, or even eggs or cream.
The third, the special flavoring, is added to
enhance the taste of the base, and often also adds
the color to the cocktail. Common special
flavorings include Grenadine, Blue Curacao, and
Most cocktails are also decorated in some way,
usually with fruit slices, orange peel, cocktail
sticks, mint twigs, etc. (see section below).
contraptions are manufactured for the making of
cocktails. Some of these are useful, some can be
definitely nice to have, and still others are
totally and utterly useless. It is up to you to
decide exactly what your cocktail equipment should
be, but some things are essential.
First out of the essentials is the cocktail shaker.
There are two basic types of shakers available. A
European cocktail shaker is usually made out of
metal, or glass with a metal top. It is, basically,
a container which holds about half a liter, fitted
with a top which closes tightly around the upper
edges of the container. This top also has a smaller
top, usually fitted with a built-in strainer,
through which the shaken cocktail is poured.
American shakers, however, consist of two cones
about the same size. One is often often made of
glass, and the other is metallic. These cones are
held together to form a closed container, and the
shaken cocktail is poured from either one. Most
American shakers do not have built-in strainers, so
if you use an American shaker, using a separate
strainer is a good idea.
Measures, also known as jiggers, are also essential.
Jiggers are most often made of metal, but glass
jiggers are common, as well. The standard
measurements of a jigger can vary widely, depending
on where you are. In the recipes in the following
articles, I will use a standard jigger of 30ml (appx.
1 fl oz).
In addition to the equipment mentioned above, you
will find that things like these are nice to have,
as well: Ice bucket, jugs, electric blender, bowls,
etc. You should also have access to ordinary
kitchenware, such as knives, corkscrews, chopping
board, etc. You will also need stirrers (also known
as swizzle sticks), straws, toothpicks, serviettes
Cocktail glasses come in four different basic types:
First, there are the glasses known as rocks
glasses, also known as tumblers. These glasses are
usually short and broad glasses, with straight or
slightly sloping sides. They normally hold about
125ml and are used for spirits with ice, fruit
juices and short drinks.
Second, there is the highball glass. These glasses
are usually of medium width, and are tall with
straight or slightly sloping sides. They normally
hold between 200 and 300ml and are used for long
drinks with ice.
Third, the champagne glasses are of two different
kinds. The most common, the champagne flute, is a
tall and narrow glass with a stem. Champagne
flutes have thin-glassed sides, and the long,
tapering sides can curve both inward and outward.
A champagne flute holds approximately 150ml. The
second type of champagne glass is the less-known
champagne saucer. The champagne saucer is a broad
and shallow glass with a stem. The broadness and
shallowness of the glass make the champagne loose
its fizz quickly, and the glass is therefore less
popular than it once was. It is still, however, in
use, and such cocktails as the Margarita use
exclusively such glasses.
Fourth is the group known as cocktail glasses.
These are the classic cocktail glasses; stemmed
and with sharply sloping sides, making it Y-shaped
when seen from the side. The classic cocktail
glass holds about 90ml and is best suited for
short, strong drinks.
In addition to these glasses, some drinks, such as
the Pina Colada, have special glasses. Unless you
are really serious about mixing your cocktails, you
don't really need to buy such glasses. Use glasses
you already have instead. There are also other
glasses available that will work just fine with
cocktails. Use your imagination, but remember that
plastic glasses (or shakers, jugs, mixing glasses,
or other such equipment for that matter) should
NEVER be used with cocktails, as it will make the
cocktail taste of plastic. A cocktail is supposed to
have a refreshing taste, not to taste like the
inside of a used plastic bag.
Mixing a Cocktail
Not all cocktails are made in the same manner. Just
as the ingredients may vary, there are several ways
in which to mix a cocktail. The most frequently used
methods are the following:
Shaking: The cocktail is mixed by hand in a
cocktail shaker. The shaker is first filled three
quarters with ice, preferably cubes, as crushed
ice will tend to melt and dilute the cocktail. The
ingredients are then poured on top of the ice, in
order of alcohol content (highest first). When
shaking a cocktail, hold the shaker in both hands,
one hand on the top and the other supporting the
base of the shaker, and shake vigorously. When
water has begun condensing on the outside of the
shaker, the cocktail is sufficiently chilled, and
the cocktail should immediately be strained into
the glass. In general, shaking creates a colder
cocktail than stirring does, but also a cloudier
Stirring: The cocktail is stirred with a glass or
metal rod in a mixing glass, before the cocktail
is strained into a glass. As with shaking, crushed
ice should not be used, and water condensing on
the outside shows that the cocktail is finished.
Blending: An electric blender is used to mix fruit
juices, alcohol, fruit, etc. Blending is an
excellent way of mixing ingredients which do not
blend easily in any other way. Blend the cocktail
till it has reached a smooth consistency. If the
recipe requires ice, add crushed ice last, but be
careful not to add too much, as the cocktail may
be watered down. Blending is a much disputed
method of mixing a cocktail, and in general,
blending should be avoided unless the recipe
Building: When building a cocktail, the
ingredients are poured into the glass in which the
cocktail will be served. Usually, the ingredients
are floated on top of each other, but
occasionally, a swizzle stick is put in the glass,
allowing the ingredients to be mix
Almost all cocktails are decorated in one way or
another, most often with some kind of fruit, but no
matter the exact decoration, cocktail sticks are
almost always invaluable. Cocktail sticks come in
two types; Wooden and plastic. Wooden sticks are
most often used, and are suited for just about any
kind of cocktail, but they cannot be reused. Plastic
sticks, however, should be carefully used, as they
tend to give the cocktail a slightly artificial
appearance. Unlike wooden sticks, plastic ones can
be reused, but should be carefully washed and boiled
Cocktail sticks are, whatever the type, used for
spearing slices of fruit, cherries, and just about
anything else you care to decorate your cocktails
with. Straws are also essential and go well with
highballs. Straws should not be reused. The
traditional cocktail garnish is, however, the red
Maraschino cherries. These are used in just about
any kind of cocktail, and are now also available in
green, yellow and blue. In addition to this, slices
of fruit, strips of orange or lemon peel, mint
twigs, etc. can also be used.
One often used method of decorating cocktails is
that which is called frosting. Frosting leaves an
edge of sugar, salt, cocoa, or any other fine
powder, on the rim of the glass. There are several
ways to frost glasses, and one of the most
frequently used of them is this: Rub the rim of the
glass with a slice of orange or lemon, then submerge
the rim in sugar or salt (or any other powder), just
so that it lines the top of the rim. Other methods
use egg white or other substances for 'gluing' the
powder to the glass. For a more colorful frosting,
use small drops of food coloring in the powder. With
some cocktails, such as the Margarita, frosting is a
Tips and Tricks
1/2 oz. of liquor is equal to 1 count, assuming you
are using a pourer on your bottles. To measure 1 1/2
oz. of liquor, count "1001...1002...1003" as you are
pouring. After a while, you should be able to do it
To make highballs, fill glass two-thirds full of ice
before adding liquor. Always pour liquor in before
the mixer. Do not stir drinks containing carbonated
To make cocktails, low balls, and other shaken or
stirred drinks, fill shaker half-full of ice. For
low balls, fill the glass about half-full of ice
before pouring drink.
Most shaken drinks which contain light cream can
also be made as blended drinks, substituting vanilla
ice cream for the light cream.
To make blended drinks, first fill blender half-full
of ice. If necessary, add more ice as you are
Always keep fruit juices and other mixers
In fruit drinks, e.g. strawberry margaritas always
use fresh fruit, not frozen Bar terms.
When using a cocktail shaker there is one golden
rule to remember. Always put the ice in the shaker
first, and the liquor last. This is to ensure that
all ingredients are properly chilled by the ice when
they are poured over the ice, and by adding the
liquor last you reduce the chance of dilution.
drink that is stirred instead of shaken will retain
its clarity and be free of ice chips. Drinks based
on clear liquors, like a Martini, should always be
stirred and not shaken (don't listen to James Bond
when he order his Martini "shaken, not stirred").
When stirring a cocktail you should stir it enough
to mix the ingredients, but not stir it too much. If
you stir too much the ice will begin to dilute the
liquor. A general rule is that 10-15 stirs will be
sufficient for proper mixing.
A drink containing carbonated beverage(s) should be
stirred gently and briefly to retain the sparkle.
Instead of stirring, you can shake the drink. This
will mix the ingredients more than stirring, but
will also result in a less clear drink. Drinks that
contain ingredients that are hard to mix, such as
cream, fruit juices and eggs, should be shaken
vigorously to ensure that the ingredients has been
Use an electric blender to mix fresh fruit, liquor,
juices and ice instead of using a shaker. Not too
popular everywhere, but perfect for making frozen
cocktails or to blend ingredients that are otherwise
impossible to mix.
The purpose of floating is to keep each ingredients
in the drink in separate layers that do not mix with
the others. This will create a drink with separate
layers, and this is why floating often is referred
to as layering.
The easiest way to float one liquor on top of
another is to use a demitasse spoon, holding it over
or in the glass and slowly trickle the ingredient
over the back of the spoon.
Muddling is a simple mashing technique for grinding
herbs, such as mint, smooth in the bottom of a
glass. You can use a wooden muddler that you buy in
a bar supply store or buy a bar spoon with a muddler
on the end. It crushes the herbs, much as the back
of a soup spoon might, without scaring the glass.
To frost a glass, first dip it in water and then put
it in the freezer for half an hour or so. Also note
that metal and silver mugs and cups will frost
better than glasses.
The History of the Cocktail Shaker
Antecedents of the cocktail shaker can be traced to
7000 BC in South America where the jar gourd was
valued for its use as a closed container. Ancient
Egyptians in 3500 BC knew that adding spices to
their grain fermentations before serving made them
more palatable. A forerunner of the cocktail? Well,
archaeologists have yet to find a hieroglyphic list
of cocktail recipes inside the Great Pyramid of
Cheops. But we do know in 1520 Cortez wrote to King
Charles V of Spain from the New World of a certain
drink made from cacao, served to Montezuma with much
reverence, frothy and foaming from a golden
By the late 1800s, the bartender's shaker as we know
it today had become a standard tool of the trade,
invented by an innkeeper when pouring a drink back
and forth to mix. Finding that the smaller mouth of
one container fit into another, he held the two
together and shook "for a bit of a show."
At the turn of the century, New York City hotels
were serving the English custom of 5 o'clock tea and
it was a short leap to the 5 o'clock cocktail hour
with shakers manufactured for home use looking very
much like teapots.
In the 1920s martinis were served from sterling
silver shakers by high society while the less
affluent made do with glass or nickel-plated
devices. The Great War was over and sacrifice was
replaced by a euphoria marked by party-going and a
frenzied quest for pleasure. The mixed drink and
cocktail shaker was powered by Prohibition. People
who had never tasted a cocktail before were knocking
on speakeasy doors. The outlaw culture had a
powerful pull. Flappers with one foot on the brass
rail ordered their choice of drinks with names like
Between the Sheets, Fox Trot, and Zanzibar,
liberated more by this act and smoking in public
than by their new voting rights.
International Silver Company produced shakers in the
form of the Boston Lighthouse and golf bags, as well
as, traditional shapes. There were rooster- and
penguin-shaped shakers, and from Germany zeppelin
and aeroplane shakers. Many of these shapes were not
entirely capricious. The rooster, or "cock of the
walk," for example, had long served as a symbol for
tavern signs. The penguin with its natural "tuxedo"
symbolized the good life. The Graf Zeppelin had
become the first commercial aircraft to cross the
Atlantic - an 111-hour non-stop flight that captured
the attention of the world.
Such ingenious designs were all the rage, cocktail
shaker skills and drink rituals were as important in
the Jazz Age lifestyle as the latest dance steps.
Colorful cocktails with sweet mixes stretched out
the supply of illicit alcohol and helped disguise
the taste of homemade hooch. While gin, easier to
duplicate than rye or scotch, became the drink of
choice and the martini society's favorite.
But the real popularity explosion of cocktail
shakers occurred after the repeal of Prohibition in
1933. Now they were featured frequently on the
silver screen, shakers and accoutrements part of
every movie set. Stars were constantly sipping
cocktails when they weren't lighting each others'
cigarettes, both de rigueur symbols of
sophistication. Nick and Nora Charles, the
delightfully sodden couple that poured their way
through endless martinis in The Thin Man
series, knew how to shake a drink with style, as did
the tens of thousands of Americans who shook,
swirled, and swilled cocktails by the shaker-full in
the years following the repeal of Prohibition. Movie
fans watched Fred and Ginger dance across the
screen, cocktail glass in hand, and wanted their own
symbol of the good life to shake themselves out of
the Depression that gripped the country.
Art Deco movie set aesthetic was perfect for the
Depression-driven cocktail shaker. To meet popular
demand, machine age factories, geared for mass
production, began turning them out in droves.
Fashioned from the high-tech materials of the day,
chrome-plated stainless steel shakers with Bakelite
trim replaced those of sterling silver and were
advertised as "non-tarnishing, no polishing needed."
The great glass companies, such as Cambridge, Heisey,
and Imperial, leaped into action. Stunning etched
and silk-screened designs were created, often in
brilliant hues of ruby or cobalt. Industrial design
was at the height of popularity and superstar
designers such as Russel Wright, Kem Weber, and
Lurelle Guild created streamlined modern
masterpieces, many in the shape of the new deity of
architecture, the skyscraper. If there is a
definitive classic it would have to be the sleek
1936 chrome-plated "Manhattan Skyscraper serving
set" by master industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes,
sought by collectors of today as the perfect mix of
form and function.
By the end of the decade, shakers had become
standard household objects, affordable to all. Every
family had at least one shaker on the shelf. There
were now cocktail shakers in the shape of bowling
pins, dumbbells, town criers bells, and even in the
shape of a lady's leg. The cocktail party had
influenced fashion, furniture, and interior design.
Coffee tables were now cocktail tables, and the
little black dress, designed by Coco Chanel, went
from fad to fashion, and is now an institution.
At the beginning of the 1940s, the Depression ended,
but not in the way most had hoped. It ended on
December 7, 1941. The golden era of the cocktail
shaker was over, and America's involvement in World
War II began. All metal went to the war effort.
Companies that once made cocktail shakers, now made
artillery shells. After the war, few thought of the
shakers. We were in the atomic age, thinking of
jet-propelled airplanes, a thing called television,
and new cars with lots of chrome.
In the early 1950s, a brief renewal of interest in
cocktail shakers occurred when new homes featuring
finished basements, called "roc rooms," were
equipped with bars. But the push-button age had
taken the fun out of mixing drinks. Shakers came
with battery-powered stirring devices. Worse yet,
electric blenders became popular; drop in some ice,
add the alcohol of your choice, a package of "redi-mix,"
flick a switch and.... Gone were the rites and
rituals, the showmanship, the reward for effort.
Small wonder, then, that these elegant stars of the
1930s were forced into retirement.
And there they sat - in attics and closets
nationwide - waiting to be recalled to life. Over 50
years have passed now, and one can faintly hear the
clink of ice cubes as shakers are, once again, a
symbol of elegance.
Stocking your bar
You cannot make drinks out of the equipment, so
you'll probably want to buy a selection of liquors
and mixers too. It is impossible to make a list that
"fits all" without including every possible liquor
in the World, but here are a few guidelines on what
You should always choose your bar stock to suit your
guests. Young people often prefer the more exotic
drinks, so you will need various fruit juices and
flavored liqueurs instead of the darker liquors
(like whiskey) older people often prefer.
It is likely you will experience requests for drinks
you cannot make, but that happen to almost every bar
now and then. You can add new liquors to your bar
stock later, and should learn how to mix what you
have in the meantime.
well stocked bar should have the following,
but you should consider the number and type of
guests you expect before buying.
In addition to the liquors, you will need different
mixers, flavorings and garnishes.
Fruited Ice Cubes
Suggested Fruits Beverage
Strawberries, raspberries, Lemonade
Pineapple chunks; grapes; Punch
mandarin oranges; orange,
Lime slices, strawberries, Ginger ale
To make fruited ice cubes, fill an ice-cube tray
halfway with water; freeze until firm, about 1 1/2
hours. Place one or two pieces of desired fruit in
each section of the tray. Fill with water; freeze
until firm, about 1 1/2 hours. If desired,
substitute lemonade or a light-colored juice for the
When making layered drinks, also known as a Pousse
Cafe, you'll need to know which ingredients are
heavier than the others. The technique is simple;
the heaviest liquor is poured into the glass first,
and the lighter ones are layered carefully on top
with the lightest one on top.
This table lists some common liquors, along with
their Specific Gravity that is the weight of the
liquor relative to water. Higher values indicate