Mixing the Perfect Cocktail

Looking to shake and stir? Check out these mixing tips from Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author of Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide.


  • In the old days, bartenders took blocks of ice and cut off pieces to suit the drink. In our more modern age, ice is more plentiful, and you can use more of it. (Don’t ever reuse ice cubes from one cocktail shaker to the next, though; never use the same ice twice!) If a recipe calls for “cracked” or “shaved” ice, take a good amount of cubed ice and wrap it in a clean, dry bar towel. Then, using a wooden mallet or heavy spoon, beat the heck out of it and drop the ice into the cocktail shaker. For drinks that are shaken, use cracked ice. The longer you shake it, the colder the drink.


  • Cocktail shakers and mixing glasses are essential to superb cocktails. In his book, Imbibe!, bartender historian David Wondrich clarifies when to shake and when to stir: “Modern orthodoxy dictates that one should shake any drink with fruit juices, dairy products, or eggs and stir ones that contain only spirits, wines, and the like. This is based partly on the fact that shaking clouds up liquids by beating thousands of tiny bubbles into them.” Cloudy drinks come from the shaking, which is why a Manhattan or Martini that’s crystal clear is stirred, not shaken. A muddler requires a lot of work, but the effort of mashing the ingredients between your palm and a wooden stick are worth it when making your concoctions by hand.


  • When straining a drink made in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, keep the ice out of the glass by holding a cocktail strainer or julep strainer over the top of the shaker or mixing glass. Carefully pour the drink into the glass, and the ice won’t fall in.


  • If a recipe calls for a float, this means pouring one liquid atop another. To do this, pour the first spirit in the glass. Then, hover a bar spoon upside down just over the surface of the drink. Pour the second, floated spirit slowly over the back of the spoon so it drips on top of the first.


  • Cold cocktails. Of course. Always use chilled glassware. Store them in a refrigerator or freezer for at least an hour before use. Another trick is the “flash chill,” which means filling them with crushed ice for 15 minutes. Always handle the glasses by the stem or bottom, not the sides, so your body heat doesn’t transfer to the drink. Always serve mixers such as soda and fruit juice cold. Never pour them warm from a bottle or can.


  • Finally, make it and serve it. Your cocktails have to be served immediately to be any good. London bartender god Harry Craddock was once asked the best way to drink a cocktail: “Quickly,” he replied, “while it’s laughing at you!”


From Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick (Lyons Press)

One thought on “Mixing the Perfect Cocktail

  1. Pingback: Vodka | Lyons Press

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