Easy Party Drink Basics
Most cocktail drinks consist of four basic parts. Whether you are making margaritas, martinis, daiquiris, or other popular cocktails and mixed drinks, each element makes a different contribution to a drink's flavor.
Basic cocktail components:
- Bases are the spirits, or liquor, in a mixed drink. Common cocktail bases include bourbon, vodka, gin, brandy, rum, and tequila.
- Modifiers (or mixers) will enhance your party drink without overpowering it. Popular mixers include vermouth, seltzer, mild or sweet fruit juices, sparkling wines, and soft drinks.
- Accents are strongly flavored ingredients. Common party cocktail accents are lemon, lime, bitters, grenadine, and complex liqueurs.
- Garnishes add color, flair, and a bit of flavor to cocktails. Olives, cherries, and citrus curls or wedges are a few traditional cocktail garnishes.
Basic cocktail recipe:
- 2 parts of any base (spirit)
- 1 part modifier or mixer, such as fruit juice
- 1 part accent, such as a flavored liqueur or simple syrup
In general, the base is the first ingredient placed in a glass, shaker, or pitcher. Add the modifiers, accents, and ice to the container; shake or stir as the drink recipe requires. Add garnishes to the finished cocktail just before serving.
Don't know how much to make? Get our free Beverage Quantity Guide.
Cocktail Mixing Techniques
There are three main ways to mix cocktail drinks: shaking, blending, and muddling. With these easy drink-mixing techniques mastered, you can create all kinds of signature party drinks.
Shaking the cocktail ingredients with five or six large ice cubes incorporates water and softens the alcohol edge of your cocktail, resulting in a well-balanced mixed drink. Shake for 10-20 seconds, and use fresh ice for every batch.
Blending yields frozen party cocktails with unbeatable fresh fruit flavor and a smooth texture. The basic ingredients are fruit, liquor, and ice. When making blended drinks, such as our Lime Daiquiris or Ginger-Peach Margaritas, remember to blend the liquor, juices, and fruit before adding ice. You can also use crushed ice.
Muddling a cocktail means slightly bruising fruits, herbs, or zests to bring out essential oils and bold flavor. For the best results, use a drink muddler, or long pestle, and twist herbs and fruit to extract oils. Look for a heavy, flat-bottomed wood muddler, but you can also use the end of a wooden spoon.
Must-Have Cocktail Ingredients
Having a few cocktail ingredients on hand means you can quickly mix up memorable party drinks for guests.
- Bitters are strong alcohols distilled from herbs, flowers, seeds, and other aromatics. Bitters are an important ingredient in cocktail drinks such as an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan.
- Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine. It's worth seeking out a higher quality sweet vermouth to avoid sticky-sweetness.
- Prosecco is the Italian version of champagne. Drink it alone, use it in a sparkling specialty cocktail (such as the classic bellini), or make it a mimosa by adding fruit juices or purees.
- St. Germain is a low-sugar French liqueur made from elderflower blossoms. Mix it with white or sparkling wine or into one of our classic cocktail recipes.
- Simple syrup, a key cocktail sweetener, is equal parts sugar and water, and it's very easy to make at home. Simply heat equal parts sugar and water slowly in a saucepan to dissolve sugar.
- Sour mix is best when freshly made. Squeeze fresh lemon juice and strain with a sieve. Combine two parts lemon juice with one part simple syrup. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.