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Home Bartending 101

By Miye Bromberg Published

With the right ingredients, equipment, and recipes, you can elevate your cocktails from simple to sublime.

Mixing a drink is pretty similar to cooking a dish: For the best results, you need good ingredients, good equipment, and a good recipe. If you’ve never made a cocktail before, this guide will give you all the information you’ll need to get started. And if you’ve already been making drinks for a while, you might find something that will allow you to improve your technique or expand your repertoire. By adding to your collections of spirits, barware, glassware, and recipes, you can bring your cocktail-making expertise to a new level.

Spirits and Other Ingredients

By using these core ingredients in different combinations and proportions, you can make a wide variety of cocktails. Quality matters, but we recommend saving your very best spirits for sipping on their own. For making cocktails, we prefer to use bottles that are more moderately priced, from $15 to $40. And while many types of each spirit exist, we’ve highlighted the specific kind or kinds we recommend buying, where applicable, because we feel that they are the most versatile and appropriate versions for the broadest range of cocktails.

Other Ingredients

Two Vermouths

Dry VermouthATK Recommends: Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambéry
Sweet VermouthATK Recommends: Cinzano Rosso Vermouth or Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino

 

Two Liqueurs

Cointreau: An orange-flavored liqueur
Campari: An intensely bittersweet aperitif with a distinctive red color

 

Two Bitters

Angostura Bitters: Concentrated digestif flavored with bitter herbs and warm spices
Orange Bitters: Digestif with bright, citrusy flavor

 

Mixers

SeltzerATK Recommends: Polar Original Seltzer
Tonic WaterATK Recommends: Polar Premium Tonic Water

 

Fruits for Fresh Juice: Lemon, lime, grapefruit
Garnishes: Olives, maraschino cherries, citrus peels

 

Other Spirits to Expand Your Collection

Additional Base Spirits: Other types of gin, rum, and whiskey; mezcal, sake, shōchū, Scotch whiskey, cachaça, and more

 

Fortified Wines

Additional Liqueurs, Aperitifs, Digestifs, and Fortified Wines: Chartreuse, maraschino, Lillet Blanc, Aperol, Amari, Cynar, Sherry, Port, Eaux de Vie

Barware

A few basic pieces of equipment make the processes of measuring, shaking, stirring, and serving cocktails much easier, neater, and more efficient.

  • Cobbler Shaker

    Easy for novices to use

    ATK Recommends: Tovolo Stainless Steel 4-in-1 Cocktail Shaker

    Winning Traits

    - Leakproof

    - Easy to open, fill, and seal

    - Large capacity

     

  • Boston Shaker

    Requires a little more experience to seal properly but is ultimately simpler and more foolproof to use and clean

    ATK Recommends: The Boston Shaker Professional Boston Shaker, Weighted

    Winning Traits

    - Leakproof

    - With practice, easier and quicker to open, fill, and seal

    - Large capacity

    - Easier to clean

     

  • Hawthorne Strainer

    For straining finished cocktails into glasses; holds back ice and muddled ingredients

    ATK Recommends: Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer

    Winning Traits

    - Closely spaced coils that filter out most ice and debris

    - Wide wings that span even large shakers

    - Short handle for better balance

     

  • Jigger

    For accurately and easily measuring the small volumes of liquid used in cocktails

    ATK Recommends: OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup, Clear

    Winning Traits

    - Accurate, easy-to-read measurement lines

    - Wide mouth for easy filling

    - Neat

     

  • Barspoon

    For stirring spirit-only drinks in tall shakers and retrieving olives and cherries from jars

    ATK Recommends: Cocktail Kingdom Teardrop Barspoon

    Winning Traits

    - Good length for favorite shakers

    - Twisted handle that is easy to grip and rotate

    - Medium-size bowl that corrals ice, scoops garnishes, and layers cocktails well

     

  • Muddler

    For muddling (pounding to express the essential oils of) herbs and citrus

    ATK Recommends: Fletcher’s Mill Maple Muddler

    Winning Traits

    - Good height for favorite shakers

    - Large head covers more ground quickly

    - Good weight for ease of use without fatigue

    - Easy and comfortable to hold

     

  • Manual Citrus Juicer

    For juicing lemons, limes, and grapefruits

    ATK Recommends: Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer

    Winning Traits

    - Quickly and efficiently juices and drains citrus

    - Easily accommodates citrus of different sizes

    - Durable

     

  • Peeler

    For making basic citrus-peel garnishes

    ATK Recommends: Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler

    Winning Traits

    - Light but sturdy

    - Razor-sharp blade

     

Glassware

The right glassware can elevate the presentation of your drink. These glasses are the most useful and versatile for serving cocktails.

  • Old-Fashioned (Rocks) Glass

    For stirred drinks (either “neat”—with no ice—or “on the rocks”—with ice) and for shaken cocktails served on the rocks

    Size: 8–12 ounces

     

     

     

  • Collins (Highball) Glass

    For “long” drinks made with a spirit and a nonalcoholic mixer (soda, juice, etc.) 

    Size: 10–12 ounces

     

  • Martini or Coupe Glass

    For cocktails that have been shaken and strained; both glasses are common and acceptable. 

    Size: 5–6 ounces

Shake or Stir?

As a rule of thumb, stir a cocktail that is made only of spirits, and shake a cocktail that includes juices, cream or milk, or egg whites. (For highballs—tall, iced drinks—with carbonated mixers, such as gin and tonics or vodka sodas, the carbonated mixer should be added to the spirit right before serving and very briefly stirred to combine without losing too many bubbles.)

Stirring and shaking effectively accomplish the same task, agitating the ice in the cocktail shaker so that the cocktail ingredients are chilled and diluted. Chilling and dilution go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other, and both are important for good results. Dilution isn’t a bad word in this context; the water that melts off of the ice is essential for bringing the drink ingredients into harmony, toning down any acids and softening the alcohol content to a more palatable level. 

That said, stirring and shaking yield finished drinks with very different textures. It takes longer to dilute and chill a drink to the proper levels by stirring, but the result is a clear, silky-smooth, spirit-forward cocktail. Shaking is much more efficient, thermodynamically speaking: Because you are forcing ice cubes to interact and collide dramatically with the drink ingredients (and each other), you can chill and dilute a drink much more quickly. And because of all that turbulence, shaken drinks have more body than stirred ones do, as air and minuscule particles of ice are incorporated into them.

How to Stir a Cocktail

How to Shake a Cocktail in a Cobbler Shaker

How to Shake a Cocktail in a Boston Shaker

How to Make a Twist

A simple twist is one of the prettiest and most versatile garnishes you can make for most cocktails—and one that can impart the drink with its scent, as well. While you can use a channel knife (citrus zester) to make these, a vegetable peeler and paring knife work just fine, too.

How to Muddle

  • To muddle, add ingredients to bottom of shaker and use muddler to pound them, turning muddler occasionally.

Our Classic Recipes

The following classic cocktails can all be made with the core ingredients listed above. Think of these cocktails as building blocks for other cocktails; by altering the type and volume of each ingredient, you can get very different drinks. To provide a sense of the options, we’ve included notable variations and alternatives for each drink where possible.

Recipe Gin Martini

The perfect martini is subject to debate. Here's our idea of perfection.

Recipe Manhattan

In terms of status as an icon, stories of cultural lore and legend, and debate over proper formulation, the Manhattan is right up there with the gin martini.

Recipe Negroni

Our recipe for this wildly popular beverage, which has countless variations and even an entire “Negroni Week” held in cocktail bars worldwide.

Recipe Sidecar

The sidecar is a member of the daisy family of cocktails: a strong spirit, balanced by citrus and a flavored liquid sweetener, most often in the form of orange liqueur.

Recipe Daiquiri

A daiquiri is a classic sour—a family of cocktails built from a spirit, citrus, and sweetener—that is elegant (and delicious) in its simplicity.

Recipe Mojito

While the origins of the mojito are unclear, the deliciousness of this king of muddled drinks is not.

Recipe Americano

This gorgeous-looking low-alcohol cocktail is a perfect introduction to the bittersweet charms of Campari and the elegant complexity of sweet vermouth.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.