How to Make Mixed Drinks: Steps Made Simple

Updated February 2, 2022
assorted bar tools for making mixed drink 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 any type of mixed drinks.

Mixing Drinks Using a Cobbler Cocktail Shaker

cobbler shaker pouring drink cocktail

Shaking a cocktail serves two purposes: blending and chilling. This is the most common style of shaker you'd have at home or find in a home goods store.

  1. In a cocktail shaker, measure your ingredients.
  2. Add approximately one cup of ice.
  3. Place the lid on, ensuring it's on tight and that the strainer is also covered tightly.
  4. Place one hand at the base of the shaker and the other on the lids, holding the lid in place.
  5. Shake vigorously in an up and down motion for approximately one minute.
  6. Remove the lid from the strainer.
  7. Strain your drink through the screen into a glass.

Mixing Drinks Using a Boston Cocktail Shaker

man demonstrating Boston Shaker for cocktails

You might be more familiar with the Boston shaker, it's two tins that nest together after being tightly pushed together. Like the cobbler shaker, its focus is on blending and chilling.

  1. In the larger of the two tins, add your ingredients.
  2. Add approximately one cup of ice.
  3. Place the mouth of the smaller tin inside the mouth of the larger tin, giving a solid tap to ensure it's sealed.
  4. Place one hand on the top shaker and the other on the bottom, keeping the tins firmly connected.
  5. Shake vigorously in an up and down motion for approximately one minute.
  6. Remove small tin from shaker. If it's stuck, lightly tap where the tins are connected on a corner surface, such as the lip of counter, making sure to keep the tin upright.
  7. Strain your drink using a Hawthorne or cone strainer.

Mixing Drinks Using a Parisian Shaker

bartender demonstrating Parisian shaker for cocktails

The Parisian shaker is a happy medium between the Boston and cobbler shaker. It resembles the cobbler shaker but doesn't have a strainer attached, so much like the Boston shaker, you need to strain your drinks using a Hawthorne or cone strainer.

  1. In the bottom tin, add your ingredients.
  2. Add approximately one cup of ice.
  3. Securely place the lid on top.
  4. Place one hand on the top shaker and the other on the bottom, keeping the tins firmly connected.
  5. Shake vigorously in an up and down motion for approximately one minute.
  6. Remove the lid.
  7. Strain your drink using a Hawthorne or cone strainer.

Build the Perfect Cocktail

Making home made gin and tonic
cocktail garnish rosemary peppercorn lemon wheel
Row of assorted drinks in a bar

When to Shake a Cocktail

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

  • It would be best if you shook any drink that uses fruit juices so as 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 Dry Shake

dry shake cocktail

Dry shaking is most important when working with egg whites, or its counterpart aquafaba. Shaking without ice creates a thicker foam thanks to the aeration produced without ice.

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add your liquid ingredients along with the egg white or aquafaba.
  2. Shake vigorously for approximately 45 seconds to mix ingredients and create a froth.
  3. Add approximately one cup of ice.
  4. Shake to approximately 30 seconds.
  5. Strain drink into glass.

How to Mix Muddled Cocktails

muddler for making 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.

  1. Add your to-be muddled ingredient to a glass or 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

bartender mixing cocktail with long stir spoon

Some cocktails call for stirring to mix instead of shaking so you don't dilute spirits or other delicately balanced 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.

  1. Combine all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass, pint glass, cocktail shaker, or glass you'll be serving the drink in.
  2. Hold the spoon between your pointer and middle finger together and with the thumb, stirring the drink while rolling the spoon as you do so. This takes time to master.
  3. Stir for approximately 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Strain drink into glass.

When to Stir a Cocktail

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

  • The easiest rule of thumb is: is it spirit-forward? Is it a cocktail you wouldn't want as diluted? Is the cocktail meant to be clear? Then go ahead and stir the 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

blender cocktail

Blending is most frequently used for frozen drinks.

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender with 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. If these aren't available, you can slowly pour the liquid down the back of bar spoon.
  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 shot cocktail

Layered shots are a hit at parties. Try these:

How to Make a Basic Highball

highball cocktail with seltzer

A highball might be the most famous style of cocktail that no one knows. How? Think of all your simple spirit plus carbonated beverage cocktails.

  1. In a highball glass, add your spirit and any other ingredients, such as juice, simple syrup, or liqueur.
  2. Top off with the carbonated beverage, such as tonic, club soda, or cola.
  3. Stir briefly to mix the ingredients, cautious not to ruin the bubbles.
  4. Garnish as desired.

How to Include Carbonation in Your Cocktails

man holding cocktail with carbonation

Whether you're crafting a highball, topping off your French 75, or whipping up an Aperol spritz, you want to add those fizzy bubbles the right way.

  • Never shake your carbonated ingredients.
  • Do not pour the carbonation straight into the glass when possible. Tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle, or however far you can without spilling the cocktail. Gently pour the carbonation down the inside of the glass, slowly straightening the glass upright as you go.
  • If you're adding carbonation to a highball glass, you don't need to tilt it at such an extreme angle. Just slightly to the side or down the side of the glass if it's upright.

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 and 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 by mixing up some basic bartending drinks everyone will enjoy.

How to Make Mixed Drinks: Steps Made Simple