How Do You Do That?!
It’s no secret that we love classic cocktails — they’re classic for a reason! They’ve survived and thrived throughout history because they’re balanced, nuanced, and just plain tasty! But we’re frequently asked how we go about creating our own new cocktails. What does that process look like? Well, like most creative endeavors, it’s simultaneously systematic, messy, and fun!
So today, we thought we’d pull back the curtain and share our cocktail development process in hopes that you’ll give it a whirl, too! (Disclaimer: this is the process that works for us. If you have ways to improve the system, please do tell us! Sharing is caring, and inventing terrific cocktails benefits everyone! 😉)
Here are 10 steps to help you create your own custom cocktail! Set aside an uninterrupted afternoon or evening so you can enjoy the process.
Step 1: Choose a direction
What kind of cocktail do you want to develop? Something boozy and stirred? Or maybe juicy and shaken? What about a frozen blended drink? Because there are so many different ways to go with your cocktail, pick one and focus exclusively on that (at least for the current R&D session you’re planning!).
Step 2: Decide on a flavor profile
Did you just pick up a new bottle of gin? Maybe you have a bumper crop of blackberries from your garden. What about that amazing dessert you had at the new restaurant the other night? Start with a central flavor that will serve as the “theme” of your cocktail. You’ll later choose complementary flavors and aromas to make a cohesive whole.
Step 3: Pick a template
Especially when you’re new to developing your own cocktails, it’s helpful to use an existing classic cocktail as a baseline. Remember, they’re classics for a reason! This will give you a starting point for ingredient proportions, which you will then sub, swap, tweak, and tinker with later. Grab a classic cocktail recipe book or start Googling your favorites to check out the ingredients and ratios.
Step 4: Decide which other flavors to include
Using your theme or central flavor, find other complementary tastes that will play nicely together. There are some great books that can help in this process, such as The Flavor Matrix, The Flavor Bible, and The Flavor Thesaurus. Or, just start Googling, “What flavors pair well with….?” Gather up the ingredient options that sound interesting to you.
Step 5: Prep your ingredients
Do you need specific kinds of syrups? Any teas or coffees that need to be brewed ahead of time? Fruit that needs to be peeled or otherwise transformed? Prepare all of these ahead of time so that the actual cocktail trial process is smooth and seamless.
Step 6: Mise en place
“Mise en place” in a term borrowed from the French culinary tradition meaning “putting everything in its place.” Having an organized set-up while building your cocktail trials is essential. Make sure you have all of your tools, potential ingredients, enough glassware, as well as a pen and plenty of paper organized in your space. The set-up should make sense to you, but should also be easy to physically navigate. You don’t want to be knocking over your cocktails or inadvertently mixing flavors!
Step 7: Select your baseline measurement
We never build full cocktails for our trials! First, for obvious reasons — you’ll be quite out of your wits by the first or second iteration if you’re consuming full sized cocktails! But also, some of the trials don’t turn out so great or can be just plain gross! You don’t want to waste your ingredients on cocktails gone awry. So, we utilize the “part” system — 1 part of ingredient X, 1/2 part of ingredient Y, 1/4 part of ingredient Z, etc. This way, you can use small measurements while you’re still figuring things out, but can extrapolate it out to a full sized cocktail when you’re ready. For initial trials, we use 1 teaspoon as our 1 part — therefore, we can use 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon, etc. for our smaller ingredients. This gives us teeny tiny cocktails to try, but also gives a good idea of whether ingredients work well together. As you go along and find something that you like, you can move up to a larger baseline measurement, such as a tablespoon.
Step 8: Start experimenting!
For your first iteration, use your chosen classic cocktail template as a starting point for ratios. Build the cocktail that seems like it will taste the best to you. Take careful notes and document everything you tried. When making changes, only alter one thing at a time, and take notes as to whether that tweak produced your desired result. Sometimes, a small change such as increasing citrus juice by 1/4 oz. will make great improvement on the balance of the drink. Don’t be afraid to try many iterations! Sometimes, with particularly tricky cocktails, we done as many as 10, 12, 15+ attempts with tiny changes before we’ve reached our desired result!
Step 9: Evaluate
Once you think you have your experiment dialed in to where you like it, translate the proportions into a full sized cocktail…then drink it!
How it looks - is it visually appealing? No one wants to drink a yucky looking beverage!
How it smells - is the aroma pleasing?
How it tastes - is one flavor dominating the whole drink, or are the flavors integrated and well balanced?
How it makes you feel - do you like it?! Are you excited by your creation, or do you need to still make some changes?
Then, have other people try it, and ask them the same questions. If you AND your crew gives it a thumbs up, you have a winner!
Step 10: Document & enjoy
Write down your precise measurements and detailed instructions so you can make it again. Don’t forget to name it! Then, whip up another one, sit someplace that you love, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Congratulations — you just created your very own cocktail!