How to Make Mixed Drinks

Karen Frazier
Two barmen making cocktails

Learning how to mix drinks isn't difficult. Making cocktails involves a few different and simple drink mixing techniques. With the basics in your back pocket, you're free to experiment with making an array of mixed drinks.

Mixing Drinks Using a Cocktail Shaker

Shaking a cocktail serves two purposes: blending and chilling.

Bartender shaking cocktail
  1. Fill a cocktail shaker about half full with crushed ice.
  2. Add your ingredients.
  3. Put the lid on tight, making sure you have both the strainer lid and the cover for the strainer.
  4. The shaker will get cold, so it's helpful to hold it in a towel. Place one hand at the base of the shaker and the other on the lids, holding the lid in place.
  5. Shake vigorously in a circular motion for one or two minutes.
  6. Remove the lid from the strainer.
  7. Strain through the strainer into a chilled cocktail glass.

When to Shake a Cocktail

Use the following tips when deciding whether to shake a cocktail.

  • Any drink that uses fruit juices needs to be shaken to bind the juice and alcohol. This is particularly true for drinks containing citrus juices. Otherwise, the ingredients may not be well-blended, so the flavors of the drink won't be consistent throughout.
  • For carbonated drinks using fruit juice and alcohol, you can shake the juice and alcohol first and then stir in the carbonated ingredient.
  • You'll also need to shake drinks that contain ingredients such as heavy cream or egg whites.

Examples of Shaken Mixed Drinks

Try these shaken cocktails.

How to Mix Muddled Cocktails

Muddled cocktails require you to add ingredients, such as fresh herbs, fruit, or a sugar cube and bitters, to an empty glass and use a muddler to bring out the flavors.

Muddler and mojito ingredients
  1. Add whatever it is you will muddle to a glass or the bottom of a cocktail shaker.
    • Muddled ingredients are typically things like fresh herbs, sugar, fruit juice, fresh fruit, citrus zest, or bitters on a sugar cube.
    • Fruit requires heavier muddling, while with fresh herbs, you only need to gently press it to release the flavors; over-muddling herbs can draw out bitter or unpleasant flavors.
    • If muddling herbs, you may want to add simple syrup or a little fruit juice with the leaves. This flavors the syrup or juice with the herb and allows it to evenly distribute through the cocktail.
  2. Hold the glass or shaker on a flat surface in one hand and a cocktail muddler in the other. Using the wide, flat end of the muddler, work the flat surface against the ingredients and bottom of the glass in a circular pattern for a moment or two, or until the herbs release their scent or the fruit releases its juice.
  3. Add the remaining cocktail ingredients and prepare drink as required by the recipe.

Examples of Muddled Cocktails

Muddling is common in a number of cocktails.

  • In a classic mojito, you muddle the mint with simple syrup and lime before adding the remaining ingredients.
  • In an old-fashioned, you muddle bitters with a sugar cube before adding the bourbon.
  • The Southern classic mint julep also calls for you to muddle the mint before adding additional ingredients.

How to Make and Mix Stirred Cocktails

Some cocktails call for stirring to mix instead of shaking so you don't bruise spirits or other delicate ingredients. You'll also stir drinks containing fizzy ingredients such as soda or sparkling wine. Stirring is a gentler process that accomplishes both mixing and, if using ice, chilling. Using a bar spoon is ideal because it is long enough to stir in pitchers, cocktail shakers, and tall glasses, but a regular spoon will do in a pinch.

Cocktail spoon
  1. Combine all ingredients with ice in a tall glass, pitcher, or a cocktail shaker with the lid off.
  2. Put the spoon in the drink with the back of spoon up against the edge of the glass, shaker, or pitcher.
  3. Stir gently with a spoon for a minute or two to mix ingredients and chill.
  4. If using a cocktail shaker, strain into a chilled glass. Alternatively, pour into a glass with additional ice.

When to Stir a Cocktail

There are certain times when it is best to stir a cocktail.

  • Stir any drink that is primarily a spirit, such as an old-fashioned or a martini.
  • Stir drinks containing carbonation. In some cases (such as when making a citrus-juice based cocktail), you may want to shake the non-carbonated parts first to chill, and then add the carbonation and stir.
  • Stir hot cocktails.

Examples of Stirred Cocktails

"Shaken or stirred?" is a common question asked about the martini. Spirits with delicate aromatics such as gin are often stirred instead of shaken because some people believe shaking bruises gin, which negatively affects flavor.

Making Blended Cocktails

Blending is most frequently used for frozen drinks.

Frozen cocktail in a blender
  1. Add all ingredients to a blender with crushed ice.
  2. Pulse the blender a few times to begin to further crush the ice.
  3. Then, blend on high for one to two minutes, until smooth and frosty.

When to Blend Cocktails

Knowing when to blend cocktails is actually fairly intuitive.

  • Blend cocktails that contain thick ingredients such as ice cream that will have a milkshake like quality.
  • Blend frozen fruity cocktails where you want the ice crushed throughout.

Examples of Blended Cocktails

Blended cocktails are often popular "umbrella drinks."

How to Make Layered Shots

Of all the cocktail techniques, layering requires the most finesse.

  1. Follow the recipe exactly. Layers are ordered with the densest at the bottom and the least dense at the top.
  2. Use liquor pourers in the bottles to make pouring easier.
  3. Pour the heaviest layer on the bottom of the glass.
  4. Place a spoon over the shot glass with the convex side up.
  5. Slowly and gently pour the next ingredient over the back of the spoon in the desired amount. Repeat for each layer.

Examples of Layered Shots

Layered shots are a hit at parties. Try these:

  • The brain eraser layers vodka and Kahlúa.
  • A B-52 is another popular layered Kahlúa drink.

Tips for Expert Drink Mixing

If you're having a party and want to mix drinks like a pro, consider the following tips.

  • Stock your liquor cabinet appropriately. This checklist for a well-stocked liquor cabinet can help.
  • Having appropriate tools is a must for expert drink mixing. At the least, you'll need a cocktail shaker, bar spoon, jiggers, and a muddler.
  • Mixing drinks requires lots of ice, so don't forget to stock up before the party.
  • Follow recipes, but don't be afraid to branch out. If you'd like to try things, then go ahead an experiment. At their most basics, cocktails include a spirit, a mixer, and ice. From there, you can add other ingredients such as syrups, flavorings, bitters, liqueurs, cream, herbs, fruit, and more.
  • Get creative by making infused simple syrups. To do this, add ingredients while you make the simple syrup such as fresh ginger, fruit, whole spices like star anise, or herbs. Strain the syrup to remove solids.
  • Finish your cocktails with a simple garnish. The right garnish not only makes a cocktail look finished, but it also can add an additional layer of flavor or color.

Learn How to Mix a Variety of Cocktails

With just these few simple techniques, you can make a variety of cocktails. So gather your tools and mixers and have a cocktail party to show off your new skills.

How to Make Mixed Drinks