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Feb 10, 2010 10:30 AM

Mixology 101

I'm normally a beer and wine guy, occasionally I'll take a nip from my annual bottle of single malt during the colder months. Aside from the rare margarita, bloody mary, banana daquiri or martini, that's as far as my mixing skills go. I'd like to step it up a notch and learn a couple classic + seasonal "gourmet" cocktails. Can anyone point me in the direction of some great resources web or print to learn this? Any favorite mixes you'd like to share?

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  1. Negroni-I like those. That's a place to start!

    1. I would start with either of the following two books:

      - Gary Reagan's "The Joy of Mixology"
      - Dale DeGroff's "The Craft of the Cocktail"

      ... with a very slight preference toward the former because I prefer Reagan's versions of certain drinks over DeGroff's. But both books are a great reference for basic technique, ingredients, and a number of quality classic drinks.

      1 Reply
      1. Book-wise, I thought Art of the Bar was pretty good - the recipes and photos are good, but there's also some helpful background on bartending techniques, ingredients, etc. There's respect for some classics, but they also put their own spin on certain things, and have some froofier drinks with fancypants ingredients. A lot of the recipes call for things you may not have laying around, though.

        The Regan book is pretty helpful for basic methods and standard recipes. It also has some interesting "family trees" of cocktails, showing various drinks which have a common ancestor.

        Lots of good material online, too, including some videos - check out some of the Jamie Boudreau ones ( - check out the "Ice" "Stirring" and "Shaking" ones in particular). They're pretty short, but after watching them a time or two, you should have a pretty good sense about how to do these things.

        I would start with the classics, because they're classics for a reason, and most other drinks are just variations on these themes. I would get the ingredients you need for these drinks, and try making them over and over until you're pretty confident. Then you can start branching out. Examples:

        Old Fashioned
        Sazerac (lots of bad recipes around; I suggest reading
        Martini (or its forerunner, the Martinez)
        Whisky Sour (try both with and without egg)
        Negroni (later, you can try variations like the old pal, new pal)

        You should be able to get by at the beginning with:
        Rye Whisky
        Gin (Plymouth is probably the most general-purpose)
        Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula or Dolin); keep cool, get the smallest size you can, and replace every couple months if you don't use it up
        Dry Vermouth (small bottles, replace even more frequently; skip it if you don't use it)
        Herbsaint Original or Absinthe (for the Sazerac)
        Angostura and Peychauds Bitters

        + homemade simple syrup, homemade brandied cherries if you have time, and lots of fresh citrus

        I probably sound like a broken record, but I can't recommend Cocktail Kingdom highly enough for barware - get yourself a good quality barspoon (I like the Japanese ones) and heavy mixing glass, as well as a metal shaker tin / mixing glass or cheater tin set (boston shaker). These and some big ice cube trays should take you far. They've got some great classic cocktail book reproductions as well.

        1. You might find a drink you like and learn to make it and variations well. For example, I made a lot of Caipirinhas and Batidas (flavored Caipirinhas) before I got sucked into the cocktail nerd thing a few months ago. A bottle of cachaca, maybe a variant or two (Pama is very popular in my house, as is Cassis and ginger), some limes and simple syrup (or just sugar) make a lot of variations. A straight-up Caipirinha with minimal sugar is quite bracing and strong. One with Cassis and less sugar is quite girlie. Or make it with fresh watermelon water. Or a bit of left-over syrup from the Thanksgiving cranberries. I'm not saying you should do this particular drink, but I found being able to make just a few drinks plus a lot of variations suits my guests.

          If you're mixing for yourself (rather than guests), follow your palette. For example, I love Campari. Campari and Soda with Lime. Scotch neat. Gin Martini with an olive. Gin, Campari, and Soda if want. I could be pretty happy for a long time with just those 4 bottles.

          Alas, I've fallen prey to the cocktail bug, and my liquor cabinet has expanded twice and is already overfull. The fridge has so many bottles in it, there' barely room for food it seems.

          1. As someone whose career is all about spirits and cocktails I feel that if you're going to get one cocktail recipe book, then get the latest edition of Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide (2009 edition or later), the one edited by Jim Meehan. Jim, manager of PDT in NYC the worlds top cocktail bar 2009, winner of 2009 top US Bartender, and editor of the Food & Wine cocktail book series, rewrote the Mr. Boston book from top to bottom, went over every single recipe and tweaked them into shape, and got around 100 of the top bartenders and mixologists to submit recipes. The book has great info for both the beginner and true cocktailians. The first chapters are all about bar basics, and the classic cocktails. Then it goes on to list more than 1500 top cocktail recipes, both classics going back to the mid-19th century, right up to present day hits. I keep a copy next to my desk, and another in my traveling bar kit.

            I agree with what will47 and davissqpro say as well. There are several shows on the small screen network and I think all three spirits/cocktails ones are worth watching.

            Also there are some great cocktail bloggers out there. World-wide there are around 30 who really know their stuff, but dozens more who have some good stuff to say. Check out this site, and look at the blog list on the lower right. Dr. Bamboo has put together links to tons of sites.