Alcohol Mixing Rules


When you're preparing mixed drinks, you have to play by the rules -- otherwise, you could end up with a cocktail that tastes bad, looks unappealing or is just plain unsafe. By following the basic rules of alcohol mixing, you can shake, stir and serve up cocktails that look like they were prepared by a seasoned mixologist.

Pouring Your Ingredients

  • Whether your drink is served straight up or on the rocks, it starts with ice, and plenty of it. Your ice should be clean, clear and cold; odors absorbed from inside the freezer will compromise the drink, so keep an open box of baking soda in the freezer. Fill your shaker or glass with ice, and as you mix your ingredients, start by pouring any mixers, such as juice or soda. Save the alcohol for last, and pour it into the center of your vessel, over the ice -- not along the side. This helps chill the alcohol while ensuring that it melts the ice and dilutes the drink as little as possible.

Shaking and Stirring

  • Shaking a cocktail has a different effect than stirring it, and it isn't appropriate for all types of drinks. Carbonated drinks, for example, should always be stirred. These drinks take the least amount of mixing, because mixing too vigorously will agitate the carbonation, making it foam and then go flat -- instead, give it a quick and gentle stir to combine the ingredients while retaining the bubbly sparkle. Other cocktails, such as martinis and Manhattans, can be served either shaken or stirred, but are traditionally stirred so that they are served clear, not cloudy. Shaking a cocktail thoroughly emulsifies the ingredients, but can leave the drink with a murky appearance. For this reason, shaking is traditionally reserved for colored drinks or those with thick, difficult-to-mix ingredients, such as cream or eggs.

Dangerous Combinations

  • Playing by the rules of alcohol mixing doesn't mean simply creating delicious, aesthetically pleasing drinks; it also means serving alcohol responsibly. When you consume a mixed drink, your body doesn't react only to the alcohol; it reacts to the mixers, as well. The low caloric content of diet soda, for example, makes your body absorb alcohol faster; if you mix alcohol with diet drinks, you must be mindful of how fast you consume them, and should consider drinking more water and/or snacking while you drink. Similarly, energy drinks are popular mixers with spirits such as vodka, but the combination of powerful stimulants and alcohol can be dangerous. Stimulants can increase your level of intoxication while eliminating the feelings of sluggishness that alcohol creates, making you feel less intoxicated than you are. When mixing energy drinks and alcohol, keep careful track of how much you consume rather than depending on the physiological signs typically associated with intoxication.

Special Recipes

  • Certain cocktail recipes have their own rules for mixing ingredients, so be sure that you follow directions closely. For example, a rum runner may be served with a floater on top: This is a layer of alcohol carefully poured into the drink after the cocktail has been mixed, so that it floats rather than emulsifying. Other drinks rely on specific mixing instructions so that the ingredients don't negatively interact with each other. For example, any drink that contains both cream and lemon or lime should be served immediately after preparation, because the fruit juice will curdle the cream. This effect has led to the popularization of drinks such as the cement mixer: a shot in which a person combines Irish cream liqueur and lime juice in his mouth, curdling the cream to create an unpleasant taste and texture.

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