Bartending Essentials – 5 Basic Skills for Making Cocktails at Home

Learn all about the basic skills and techniques you should know to mix up perfect drinks every time.

Basic Bartending Skills / Techniques 

Making a good drink isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t take years of practice to master the basic bartending skills you need to build a tasty cocktail. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention. Check out this list, practice a little bit with each technique, and before you know it, you’ll be confidently mixing up any kind of drink that you or your guests can dream up. 

1. How to Properly Shake a Cocktail

Shaking a cocktail

The key to shaking a cocktail is this: don’t be shy. Not every recipe calls for shaking, but if it does, go ahead and shake that bad boy up like it owes you money. When you shake a cocktail, you introduce extra oxygen bubbles into the mixture, creating a frothy appearance. For this reason, drinks that contain fruit juices, eggs, or dairy-based ingredients are typically mixed by shaking. Just grab your favorite cocktail shaker, fill it about half way with ice, then dump in your ingredients and get shaking. Strain as you pour and enjoy a perfectly mixed cocktail. 

2. How to Make a Stirred Cocktail

Stirring a Cocktail

Unlike the brute force of shaking, stirring is a much more subtle technique. Typically, you’ll want to stir when making all-alcohol cocktails like Martinis or Manhattans. You want just enough dilution to smooth things out and make sure that your vermouth blends nicely with the base spirit. When stirring a cocktail, fill a mixing glass with ice about half way. Using a long bar spoon, stir quickly enough to almost create a “vortex” in the center of your cocktail. Stir for roughly 30 seconds, let the cocktail rest for a few more seconds, then strain and pour. 

3. Building a Cocktail

Building a Cocktail

If your cocktail uses a carbonated ingredient (like soda or tonic water), neither shaking nor traditional stirring is the right choice for mixing. In this case, simply layer your ingredients into the glass, gently stir (no need to create a “vortex”) for 10 seconds or less, then enjoy. Typically, a cocktail that features carbonation is not going to be judged on its subtlety anyway, so all you want to do is make sure that every sip contains an equal distribution of booze and mixer. 

4. How to Muddle Mint & Fruit for Cocktails

Muddling a Cocktail

Some of the best classic cocktails, like a Mojito, require a bit of muddling to make the ingredients really sing. Muddling herbs and/or fruit with sugar releases essential oils and juices to enhance the flavor of your cocktail. This may sound intimidating, but trust us, it’s not hard. All you need is a dependable muddler and a little bit of elbow grease. Place your ingredients in the bottom of a glass or shaker tin, then use a muddler to press and gently twist. If there’s fruit in the glass, you should see juice squirting out from the flesh. There’s no set time for how long this will take, but when your nose picks up that herb-y or fruity scent, you’re done!

5. How to Use a Cocktail Strainer

Straining a Cocktail

Many cocktail shakers have a built-in strainer, making it pretty much fool proof when it’s time to pour. But if you’re using a basic shaker tin or pouring out a drink that’s been stirred, you’ll need the proper tools. There are two main kinds of strainers available: a hawthorne strainer or a julep strainer. You can really use either of these, but standard practice is to use a hawthorne strainer when pouring from a tin and a julep strainer when pouring from a glass. Both of these strainers will keep the majority of ice and ingredients away from your cocktail, but if you really need a clean pour, you may want to invest in a fine mesh strainer to essentially guarantee that nothing ends up in the glass except for the liquid itself. 


This is Part 3 in our three-part blog series about the things that every home bar owner needs to feel like their space is complete. If you missed Part 1 (The Six Bar Tools You Absolutely Must Have) or Part 2 (Five Mandatory Cocktail Ingredients for Mixology Magic) you can click the link to catch up.

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