Hows & Whys of Mixing

COCKTAILS  – The Origin

The Definition

Cocktails are said to have first made their appearance in the United States at the turn of the 19th century, though some recordings go back as early as the 1850s. But their popularity reached dizzying heights during the great Prohibition of 1920 (1920-1933). Cocktails were a great way of masking the taste of the poor quality alcohol smuggled in from unlikely sources. From these shaky beginnings, gushed forth the greatest, most delectable creations that went on to make cocktail history. Some all-time greats have endured the passage of time, and are as popular today as they were then. As long as bartenders continue to succumb to the intrigue of creating new cocktails, we can look forward to being pleasurably surprised.

There are innumerable tales about the origin of the word cocktail. The most popular one goes like this – when a drink made with a little bit of this and that was served garnished with the feather of a cock’s tail, someone announced cocktail, and the name stuck.

Technically speaking:

A cocktail can be defined as `a delicate combination of ingredients, all of which constitute their share in building up a unique beverage, possessing an individualism of its own’.

Or, putting it simply, `a cocktail is a drink consisting of two or more ingredients, stirred or shaken, as a short or long drink, as required’.

Still better, `a cocktail must be strong enough to excite the senses, just sweet enough to hint at sensuality, a pleasure to the eye and chilled to the point of brief and pleasurable anaesthesia’.

But the most appropriate definition I have ever come across, is by American mixologist Trader Vic who claims that `cocktails are mostly little drinks made up from people’s screwy ideas of what tastes good or sounds better. They are usually invented during the middle stages of a beautiful glow’. Sounds good to me!



There are plenty of information available on food. But there is very little on how to mix a great drink or why to do it in a certain way. It is true that fine ingredients contribute immensely towards making a good cocktail. However, improper mixing can ruin the best alcohol. So let us focus on getting our fundamentals right.



If there is one thing you cannot afford to have in short supply when mixing drinks, it is ice. It is, in fact, the key ingredient to a great cocktail. Ice is commonly used in two sizes – crushed and in cubes. Always use plenty of ice. The ice must be placed first in the mixing glass, shaker or glass, before adding the liquor. Liquids poured over ice are off to a cold start, and the whole process of chilling the drink is accomplished more quickly. A tall drink without enough ice is foul, and a warm cocktail revolting.

Use crushed ice for short drinks with mostly spirits & very little other liquid. Use ice cubes for tall drinks and those served `on the rocks’.

About The Ice Itself:

Use aged ice, whichever form it is in. This means that the ice should be frozen hard and not already melting. Therefore, when you take ice out of the freezer, keep it in a well-insulated pail. If the ice is already melting, your drink is likely to be a watery mess. The idea is for the ice cubes to survive even after you are through drinking. Aged ice gives the drink its correct texture and temperature and what’s more, maintains it to the end.

Ice In Quantity:

If ready cubed ice is available in your city, get yourself the required quantity. Make sure they pack it in an well-insulated container or bag it in usable quantities in your freezer. Five kilos of ice cubes are normally adequate for 15 people unless you seriously have cocktails on the agenda.

Even better, start making your own ice a few days before the party. Transfer cubes from trays into polythene bags – two trays per bag – and keep on making more bags till you have enough. This way you take out only one bag at a time and the ice is frozen solid. And do use trays that give you large ice cubes.

Having said that, most working freezers are usually packed to capacity (unless it’s a bachelor’s existence!). Get the quantity you need from the supermarket or vendor just before the party and dump the bags into the washing machine. Ok. So you think I’m crazy. Think about it. The drum’s insulated. Will keep the ice from melting too fast. And what does melt can be drained off. No mess, no fuss!


In the beginning, measure all your drinks carefully while making a cocktail. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you can free pour. Some drinks are shaken with ice for proper blending; others are stirred with ice. Still others are built up in the glass itself. Don’t change the technique or you will spoil the drink. Examples of shaken drinks are Cosmopolitan, Whisky Sour, flavoured vodka martinis…

Shaken Drinks:

These drinks taste best when shaken by hand using a cocktail shaker, although you can use an electric drink mixer or even a regular kitchen blender. These gadgets come in handy especially when a drink uses fresh fruit. It is important you remember to use crushed ice while blending or you could damage the blades.

Cocktail shakers are normally available at most supermarkets. Stick to stainless stell & stay away from the silver plated ones (EPNS). If you cannot find a proper shaker, a plastic Nescafe or Complan shaker will do just fine. Even a wide mouthed glass bottle or plastic container with a tight fitting lid is a good substitute. Of course, you will need to use a plastic kitchen strainer when pouring out a strained cocktail. And keep that strainer strictly for the bar!

Method: Fill 3/4 shaker with ice cubes and add in all ingredients. Shut the lid tight and shake like crazy for about 10 seconds. Strain or pour unstrained into the glass as required by your recipe.

Stirred Drinks:

These are drinks which don’t have too many ingredients, especially those that need force to mix. The purpose here is to get a very cold drink with all the flavours married with their intensity intact. Very little dilution happens here. They are then served cold, without the ice, in a pre-chilled stemmed glass to keep the drink as cold as possible for as long as possible. Popular examples are classic forms of the Martini, Black Russian, Rusty Nail…

Method: Fill 3/4 shaker with ice cubes and add in all ingredients. Make sure the level of the liquid is well below the level of the ice. Top up with more ice if the level has dropped. Stir with a long spoon for about10 seconds. Strain into the prepared (preferably pre-chilled) glass.

Built Up drinks:

Some cocktails are neither shaken nor stirred but are created in the glass in which they will be served.  The ingredients are added one on top of the other & then mixed with a spoon or left alone to create layers of colour. These could merge subtly or you could have each layer forming a distinct ring of colour, making for a vibrantly colourful vision. Bloody Mary, Blue Lagoon, Long Island Iced Tea are some examples

Muddled Drinks:

Muddling is done to infuse a drink with the essential oils of fruit peels, fresh fruit, herbs, spices & more into a drink. Post muddling, a drink may be shaken, or built up to complete. Caipirojkas & Mojitos are made this way.

Blended Drinks:

Thick creamy drinks with ice cream & cream or light, frothy & juicey ones which bebefit from a mechanical shaking to either thicken or simply froth a drink use blending. Pina Colada, milkshakes, iced coffees, fruit sorbets are examples.

Frozen Drinks or Slushies:

Blending ingredients with crushed ice to get a smooth, frozen ice slushie requires this method. Both jar & hand blenders offering high power (400 watts upwards) will work.

To Chill A Glass:

Fill the glass with crushed or cubed ice or place it in the refrigerator. Shake the ice out well before pouring in the drink.

A pre-chilled glass helps a cocktail stay cold longer.

Frappe (pronounced frap-pay):

A drink poured over a stemmed glass full of crushed ice, sipped through short straws – usually liqueurs.

On an Ice Mist:

On The Rocks:

A drink poured over a glass filled with ice cubes. The drink is usually neat alcohol with or without the addition of some flavouring agents.


A garnish to a cocktail is what icing is to a cake, what a cherry and wafer biscuit are to an ice cream sundae.

It takes only a second to make up a decorative fruit stick with a slice of lemon, orange or pineapple and a cherry on a stirrer or to spear an olive on a toothpick and place it in the drink. A sprig of mint leaves is always refreshing. These small details make the cocktail look colourful and exciting.

Use your imagination with garnishes, both edible and others like fancy stirrers, cocktail sticks, straws and even flowers. Just make sure they do not clash directly with the flavour of the cocktail – for instance, a cherry with a Bloody Mary or an olive with a Screwdriver.

Let‘s list out the more commonly used garnishes to make your options easier. To simplify it further, we can divide them into groups.

Fruit: every seasonal fresh fruit; dried fruits; berries & dried berries…

Vegetables: carrot, radish, spring onion, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes…

Spices: green chillies, fresh red chillies, cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, fennel, aniseed…

Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashewnuts, hazelnuts…

Confectionary: cookies, wafer biscuits, chocolate, sweets, toffee, jujubes, marshmallows…

Non-edible: stirrers, decorative umbrellas, straws, fruit peels, flowers…

Ideal garnishes for various cocktails are suggested in the recipe section. The photographs may not always use the listed garnish but offer variants, thanks to seasonal availability. They also show you simple ways of presenting the garnish – on the rim, through a cocktail stick or stirrer, or even just dropped into the drink itself. Once you get the hang of things though, give your creativity free reign.

FLOATS: A rather unconventional and unusual garnish idea

A float is a ring of, either spirit, liqueur, juice or wine, which forms a layer of colour contrasting with the colour of the drink. Remember that the density of the float must be lower than that of the liquid on which it is to be floated.

Pour the required float into a spoon and gently slip it onto the drink. Floats poured on top of ice retain their shape more easily.

RIMS: A simple garnish which can add a whole new dimension to presenting a cocktail

Sugar Rims: The sugar-rimmed glass is a nice touch for a sweet cocktail. It looks .good, and starts off the drink with a pleasant flavour of lime or orange.

Method: Dampen the rim of the glass with a slice of lemon or orange, then dip it into a plate containing powdered, grain or brown sugar.

Variations: Adding a pinch or two of nutmeg or cinnamon powder to the sugar with a little walnut or almond powder makes an exciting rim for some cocktails. A Campari flavoured grain sugar rim is quite exotically pink.

Salt Rims: These are indispensable to a Bloody Mary, Margarita and a few others. The salt cuts the tartness of the drink, at the same time adding its own flavour.

Method: Dampen the rim of the glass with a lemon slice, then dip it into a plate containing table salt. Make sure that the salt is free of moisture.

Variations: Add a pinch of crushed black pepper to the salt for a spicy flavour or dampen the rim of the glass with a cut celery stick instead of with the lemon.

Coconut Rims: These make unusual and interesting rims and are best with Coladas. Use good quality desiccated coconut powder. After buying, transfer the coconut into an airtight container and always store in the refrigerator.

Method: Dip the rim of the glass into a plate containing fruit juice and then into another with the coconut powder.

Variations: Use fruit juice to correspond with the Colada – pineapple juice for Pina Colada and strawberry crush for Strawberry Colada.

Peppermint Rims: With mint lovers these are going to be a hot favourite. They add a touch of freshness, especially to after dinner drinks. Powder a pack of mint rings (Minto/Polo) with a spoonful of sugar in a grinder and store in an airtight container.

Method:  Dampen the rim of the glass with a slice of lemon or orange, then dip it into a plate containing the powdered mint rings.

TOPPINGS: A simple, uncomplicated garnish

These are especially good in some creamy cocktails. The topping could be a sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg, cocoa, chocolate or coffee powder, or maybe even a few curls of chocolate.

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