The 10 Commandments of Cocktail Making

Mark Yocca / Supercall

Among craft bartending aficionados and tiki kooks, cocktails can verge on religion. And just like any religion, there are infallible rules by which all devotees must abide. If you want to mix drinks like the masters, follow these 10 cocktail making commandments.

I. Thou Shalt Not Use Sour Mix (or Pre-Bottled Citrus Juice)

Fresh citrus is always superior to the pre-bottled stuff, which has a weird, metallic, plastic taste. And while those little plastic limes may seem convenient, a little extra effort to squeeze real ones will vastly improve the quality of the final drink. Ditch the fake ingredients and prep with the fresh stuff.

II. Thou Shalt Shake Citrus and Stir Spirit-Forward Drinks

Knowing when to shake or stir a cocktail is less about memorizing recipes and more about remembering simple rules. Shake cocktails made with with citrus juices like lime or lemon to aerate and incorporate the tart, sweet and boozy elements. Stir strong, spirit-forward sippers like a Manhattan or Negroni with tender care.

III. Thou Shalt Always Measure

Eyeballing an Old Fashioned is one thing, but you should always measure complex drinks with a jigger. If you free pour, you'll likely just make a completely different drink than the one you're going for, and chances are that new invention won't taste quite right. Just like baking, bartending is a science.

IV. Thou Shalt Muddle Herbs Gently and Muddle Fruits with Vigor

Muddling is not a one-size-fits-all act. Some ingredients, like the mint in your Mojito, require delicate pressing to release oils without bruising the greens. Others, like limes, require you to really go to town with all of your suppressed rage.

V. Thou Shalt Use Good Ice

Honor thy ice. Decent ice doesn’t add muddy notes to a drink like poor quality ice does, vastly improving an otherwise passable cocktail. It takes zero extra effort to use a proper ice mold that will create crystal clear cubes.

VI. Thou Shalt Chill Thy Glasses

Chilling glassware takes a bit of forethought, but not much. Any cocktail glass will cool down nicely in the time it takes to prepare most drinks. Just place your intended vessel in the freezer as you retrieve your ice. Or devote some permanent freezer space to glassware, so you'll always have an icy coupe when you need one.

VII. Thou Shalt Not Use a “Martini Glass

Second to Prohibition, the Martini glass is the worst crime perpetrated against drinkers. The straight-walled spill trap easily tips your cocktail out of the glass and onto your shoes. Instead of wasting good booze on the floor, serve your Martini (and all other up drinks) from a coupe glass.

VIII. Thou Shalt Never Finger Stir

Get your hands out of that mixing glass, you damn dirty ape.

IX. Thou Shalt Garnish in Odd Numbers

Add one or three olives to a Martini, stick one or three slices of pineapple on the rim of a Piña Colada, and float one or three edible flowers on your floral springtime drink. There is no logical reason for this except tradition. The cocktail gods will it to be so.

X. Thou Shalt Serve Others Before Thyself

That's just good manners.