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Cocktail Dos & Don’ts: Top Tips from the Mad River Team

When it comes to making cocktails—much like the art of cooking a meal from scratch—there are certain things one should and should not do for best results. For example, if a pancake recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon salt, don’t just eyeball the amount of salt to add… measure! No one wants salty pancakes for breakfast. 

There are do’s and don’ts when it comes to making a good cocktail. Here, we tap into the Mad River team’s cocktail-making expertise to offer you our top tips for creating excellent cocktails from home.

Mind the Recipe, and Measure!

  • Do follow a recipe, and measure everything! A great cocktail is about being precise, and you’ll never do that without measuring. 
  • Don’t substitute ingredients if you’re following a recipe, or the result won’t be as expected. Good recipes are fine tuned and specific ingredients are listed for a reason.
  • Do measure away from your mixing glass or shaker, and pour the least expensive ingredients in the mixing vessel first, in case you over pour or make a mistake.
Bartender measures ingredient in a jigger.

Ingredients Make an Impact

  • Do use quality ingredients. It probably goes without saying but the quality of your ingredients will directly impact the quality of your cocktail. 
  • Don’t use cheap store-bought or frozen juices, which could be full of preservatives and other chemicals. Freshly squeezed is always best, or use cold pressed juice with natural ingredients.
  • Do make your simple syrup at home using equal parts water and sugar. Sugar in the Raw or Demerara sugar (our sugar of choice) will offer a richer, deeper flavor over white granulated sugar. 
  • Don’t leave vermouth on your bar! Vermouth can—and will—go bad. It needs to be kept in the refrigerator.
Bartender shakes a cocktail in a shaker.

When To Shake or Stir, and Pour

  • Do know when to shake your cocktail, and when to stir. An easy rule to remember? Shake with citrus/juice, stir with spirits. 
  • Don’t wait more than a few seconds after shaking to strain your cocktail. Doing so dilutes your cocktail, and it can lose all the liveliness and aeration the shaking provided. The end goal is a foamy white head on the top layer of your cocktail.
  • Do shake or stir longer/harder based on the size of the ice you use. The smaller and wetter the ice, the quicker it chills, melts and dilutes your drink, so a short shake or stir will do. Shake or stir for longer when using large ice cubes.
  • Don't use the same ice that you used to stir or shake a cocktail when serving over the rocks (ice). This is referred to as "Dirty Dumping." Set up your glass with fresh ice, and strain your cocktail over that! It results in both better flavor and presentation. 
  • Do double strain shaken cocktails that are served straight up (without ice) using a tea strainer to avoid a layer of water from melted ice chips on your cocktail.
  • Don’t add ice to your cocktail until the last step. Adding it first dilutes your drink before you even get to stir or shake.
Bartender pours a cocktail into a glass.

When It’s All Said and Done

  • Do taste before you serve. Dilution can be your friend if your cocktail is too acidic, too sweet or too strong.
  • Don't over-complicate things. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your delicious craft cocktail!
  • Do sip. Good cocktails deserve to be enjoyed slowly, especially with a complementary food pairing and good company!

The last “do” and “don’t” on this list are perhaps the most important. At the end of the day, it’s all about making something you like and taking the moment to savor your creation. While we hope these tips help you to improve your cocktail game, we’re firm believers that the best kind of cocktail is one that you enjoy. Cheers!

Written by Brianne Lucas, Mimi Buttenheim, Alex Hilton, Maeghan Phillips & Taylor Sacco.

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