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A Complete Guide to Great Cocktails for Beginners

Have you dreamt about having your own home bar and shaking your own cocktails? You might think mixing cocktails requires skills like Tom Cruise or Bryan Brown in the movie “Cocktail”. But making your own cocktails at home can be very easy. You don’t need complex gastronomy and recipes that require 10 different ingredients to make delicious and impressive cocktails at home. 

You might be surprised at how many easy cocktail recipes there are out there. And maybe you have already tried a few without knowing it. Not only are the recipes easy but the actual techniques are pretty simple too. There are just some basic essentials that you will need in terms of equipment and alcohol to get started. So read on and learn about cocktails for beginners. 

Setting Up a Bar at Home

When it comes to setting up a bar at home you don’t need to renovate an entire room and install shelves and an actual bar complete with barstools. But you should dedicate a cupboard or two as the liquor cabinet  with enough space to store bottles, glasses, and other tools and equipment

If you are lucky enough to have the space and money to set up a full bar in your house, there are certain essentials in a proper setup, such as: 

  • A fridge with a good freezer section to store plenty of ice. 
  • Enough storage space for your bottles, glassware, bar tools, etc.
  • Large enough countertop space for mixing.

The Liquor Cabinet

Having a well-stocked liquor cabinet is great, but you don’t need every alcohol under the sun to be able to serve up tasty cocktails. When you are just starting out in the home cocktail game it is more important to have the essentials. So just what are the essentials? We are glad you asked.

The original cocktail formula, which remains true today, was a mixture of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. To make easy beginner cocktail recipes you are going to need 6 basic spirits, 5 liqueurs, bitters and a few mixers. You might already have some other basic items, such as juices and sodas in your fridge. 

You will also need basic equipment like a shaker, jigger, bar spoon, strainer, and glassware. You can learn more about how these items work and see our full lineup of cocktail tools here.

Basic Spirits

A few basic spirits are all you need to make almost any of the beginner cocktail recipes. 

Some spirits, particularly gin and whisky, have very specific flavour profiles, but there are some that will work with nearly any cocktail recipe.

Vodka is the most essential of all the spirits as it is used in more cocktail recipes than any other spirit. Every cabinet should have at least one bottle of vodka. The good news is that it is ok to use budget-friendly vodka in cocktail recipes. A more expensive vodka works best for martinis or drinking neat. 

Gin has a wider range of flavours, hence why different brands have their fans. A good versatile gin with a range of botanicals is best for cocktails, but you might need to try a few to find the one that suits your palate. One bottle of gin will do, but again different gins will give you different flavours options.

Tequila is a must-have in every home bar, despite its bad wrap. There are 3 main types of tequila: blanco (silver), reposado, and añejo, with blanco being a clear white spirit and the last two being aged, which makes them best for drinking neat. A good bottle of blanco tequila will be most versatile and all you need to start making margaritas.

Rum is something you will probably need two bottles of. Light or white rum (clear) is the workhorse and will be good for most rum cocktail recipes. The second rum would be either a dark, aged or spiced rum, which are fantastic for mixing tropical drinks.

Whisky has the widest range of styles and flavours, from Scotch to Bourbon, they can all be very different. Most bars need at least two. Canadian and Irish whiskeys are some of the most versatile, while bourbons have more of a robust flavour and feature in many of the classic cocktail recipes.

Brandy is not essential but having one will expand your cocktail repertoire.

Basic Liqueurs

Many cocktail recipes call for more than just a spirit and juice or mixers. You will need the unique flavours of some liqueurs as well. And when it comes to liqueurs there are so many to choose from, so how do you decide which to have on hand? For beginner cocktail recipes you will find there are 5 popular liqueurs bartenders use more than others.

The 5 liqueurs that every versatile liquor cabinet should have are:

  • Amaretto – almond liqueur
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Sweet Vermouth 
  • Triple Sec – orange liqueur
  • Coffee liqueur

As you continue to expand your knowledge and skills you will find your cabinet filling up with more and more liqueurs.

Bitters

Bitters are a type of spirit infused with botanicals, such as gentian, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon. They can be aromatic, citrus, herbal or spicy and are often essential to the flavour and balance in cocktails. Classic bitters, like Peychaud’s and Angostura come in small bottles and pack a punch with just a few drops or dashes enough in a cocktail. Aperitivo style cocktails are also based on bitters known as amaro, so you’ll need a couple of bottles of this bitter aperitif. 

Non-alcoholic Mixers

A lot of the non-alcoholic mixers you will need such as juices, soda and bitters, might already be in your fridge or cupboard. Try this list of essential non-alcoholic mixers for your beginner cocktails:

  • Fruit juices – orange, cranberry, grapefruit, pineapple, lemon and lime (can be squeezed fresh), and tomato.
  • Sodas – tonic water, cola, ginger ale, ginger beer, club soda, lemon, and grapefruit. 
  • Others – egg, milk, cream, grenadine, sour mix, and simple syrup. 

Pro tip: unless you’re hosting a party, it is best to use small bottles of sodas so leftovers don’t go flat. Also, ensure you have garnishes, such as lemons, limes, and oranges. Dehydrated wheels are great. Other “good to have” garnishes are olives, mint, cinnamon and celery, plus coarse salt and sugar (mainly for the rim of the glass). 

Three Methods for Making a Cocktail

It is very easy to make a cocktail properly, even if you are a beginner. There are just 3 main methods we use for making cocktails. 

Stirred

Stirring is used to combine the ingredients in the glass while chilling them at the same time and is the most common method when mixing cocktails. It is the preferred method, especially when mixing drinks that contain only liquor and liqueurs. Stirring prevents the cocktail from becoming too diluted and prevents ice shards in the drink. Despite what James Bond said, a martini is best stirred, not shaken.

Shaken

Shaking a cocktail ensures the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, chills the drink and creates a froth. Cocktails that use fruit juices or cloudy ingredients are best shaken, but be sure to strain to prevent ice chips in your drink. 

Built

A built drink is simply pouring the ingredients directly into the glass that it is being served in. Although the term is not used as much as shaken or stirred, it is the method most commonly used. Carbonated cocktails should be built, as shaking can cause the drink to “explode”, while stirring can cause degassing.

To watch how our professional bartenders do it you can have a look here.

5 Easy Beginner Cocktail Recipes

Now that you know what you need and how to mix cocktails, here is a short list of 5 beginner cocktail recipes you can make and enjoy at home with your friends.

Gin & Tonic

A true classic served over ice, the G&T is a built drink with refreshing botanicals. The measures are 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic, but you can adjust it to your tastes. Garnish with a citrus that matches the botanical in the gin to make it shine through.

Martini

There are a few ways to serve a martini, but the standard is 2 oz gin or vodka to 1 oz dry vermouth. The ingredients are poured into a shaker over ice then stirred (no not shaken!) and strained into a glass, then garnished with a lemon peel, olive or cocktail onion. A martini can be served on the rocks, made “dirty” by adding olive brine, or some orange bitters in a gin martini.

Daiquiri

The daiquiri is a simple sweet and sour cocktail with a kick. 2 oz of light (white) rum, 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice, and ¾ oz sugar syrup into a shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a glass with a lime wheel garnish. It can be served on the rocks (over ice) or frozen (blended) when adding fruits such as strawberries.

Margarita

Out of the many popular cocktails in the world, you definitely need to know this one. 2 oz blanco (silver) tequila, 1 oz orange liqueur, and 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice over ice and shake until chilled. Served over ice in a glass with a salted rim (optional) and lime wheel garnish. The margarita can be served frozen and in additional flavours like mango or strawberry.

Mojito

Bring the taste of Cuba to your home with this built drink. Place ten mint leaves and 1 lime wedge in a sturdy tumbler and crush (muddle) contents to release the oils. Add 2 more lime wedges and 2 tablespoons of white sugar and crush again. Fill the glass with ice and 1 ½ oz of light rum, top with club soda and garnish with a lime wedge. 

That’s it! We’ve covered the essentials, but as your knowledge and skills grow, so will your liquor cabinet. Even as a beginner you will be able to impress your friends and family and take your cocktails to the next level. Welcome to the world of cocktails. 

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