Cocktail Mistakes to Avoid at Home

by
August 20, 2020

There’s no use crying over spilt milk; though spilt martinis may be another matter. Still, missteps can and will happen around the home bar. That much is unavoidable. The important thing then is to learn from those errors. Perhaps even better is to learn about some of the most common cocktail mistakes so you can avoid them before you make them.

Not Making Your Drink Cold Enough

You should almost always be using more ice to stir or shake your drink than you think you need. This is one of those cocktail mistakes that even some professionals make. Err on the side of more ice and colder temperatures, along with more time spent stirring and more vigorous shaking. Cocktail historian David Wondrich, for instance, often recommends cracking several of the ice cubes you’re stirring with, all the better to inject an immediate dose of cooling and dilution. Unless you’re purposefully making a room temperature cocktail, which is a niche pursuit, the colder your drink, the better.

Cocktail Mistakes: Ice in a cocktailIce in a cocktail

Shaking vs. Stirring at the Wrong Time

Let’s put aside the specific debate over whether you should shake or stir a Martini. Instead, think more about the guiding principles you need to make the correct decision for any given drink. Shaking is performed as a necessity, when stirring won’t accomplish the job of fully mixing and integrating a drink’s ingredients. For instance, if your drink has any form of citrus, you should be shaking it. Also, if it has an egg white, or dairy, it’s a shaken drink. And finally, if it has a heavy syrup of any variety, shake her up. In all other instances, stirring is the correct, default decision.

Making Everything from Scratch Every Time

As you start making more cocktails around the house, you’ll find that many of your prep steps are the same across a range of different drinks, whether you need fresh squeezed citrus, or a batch of simple syrup. The cocktail mistakes to avoid here would be to make these ingredients anew each and every time. Simple syrup can be safely stored in a sealed container in your refrigerator for one to two weeks with no issue. Meanwhile, fresh citrus can last for two to three days, ideal for a whole weekend of Margaritas, for instance. With ingredients like that ready to go, it’s a breeze to put together your next round.

Cocktail Mistakes: Making simple syrupMaking simple syrup

Skipping the Garnish Game

Cocktail mistakes can occur easily by neglecting the final flourish to your drink. The act of adding a garnish is a small step that makes a big difference. But it’s often skipped over around the home; whether the ideal garnish isn’t on hand, or it’s deemed as unimportant. One way to avoid that is by buying a trio of citrus every time you’re in the grocery store, regardless of what you have planned or not. It never hurts to have a fresh lemon, orange and lime ready to be deployed.

Now, we aren’t saying you need to adorn your drink with an Instagram-friendly bouquet of peels and accompaniments. But the recommended garnish of a classic cocktail is there for more than aesthetics. It serves an essential function, providing a burst of aroma that makes the entire drink pop, or melding the other ingredients together into a collective force. And your drink will be kept from its perfect form without it.

Not Measuring Ingredients

The difference between cooking and baking is that the former allows for you to freestyle, while the latter requires step-by-step precision. Making cocktails is much more akin to baking. Common cocktail mistakes occur when you eyeball a pour—unless you’re a seasoned bar pro. For example, if you misjudge one ounce to be either .75 ounces or 1.25 ounces, that’s a substantial change to the specs of a drink which might call for only three or four total ounces. Jiggers are inexpensive and vital tools for your home bar so make sure you’ve got them handy.

Cocktail Mistakes: Measuring with a jiggerMeasuring with a jigger

But Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak

The flip side to that coin is that after you make a drink once, you should always feel free to tweak a recipe to produce a flavor profile more attuned to your own preferences. That might mean dialing up a citrus or a sweet component, or adding less of one particular spirit or another. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to try new flavor combinations, to sub one ingredient out for another, and to generally play around with all of your cocktail toys. Rules are rules, but they’re made to be broken.


Now that you can tackle common cocktail mistakes, it’s time to whip up some drinks of your own.

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