Picture the scene: you’re hosting a drinks night, your mates have turned up looking sharp and everyone’s ready for the night ahead. But what are you drinking?
Yes, you could grab something straight out of the fridge - but hosting drinks night is the time to level up your cocktail game. If you have no idea how to begin making cocktails, don’t panic - we’re here to save the day, night and your cocktail-making reputation.
From what cocktail-making equipment you really need to whether to shake or stir a drink, we’ve got the ultimate beginner’s guide to making cocktails.
Cocktail jiggers play an important part in any cocktail making
Essential cocktail equipment
Yes, you can go to town and fill your cupboards with fancy cocktail-making equipment. However, hear us when we say that it’s not necessarily needed. Just a few select pieces will allow you to create a range of cocktails:
We’ve all seen a fancy bartender throw a cocktail shaker around like a pro-juggler. While your juggling skills don’t need to be on point, a three-piece cocktail shaker is a key piece of kit. If you don’t have one to hand, fear not; a protein shaker or jam jar will do the job.
Cocktail mixing glass
Prefer elegant, crystal-clear cocktails? Stir, don’t shake. Iconic stirred cocktails like a classic Old Fashioned are best made in a cocktail stirring glass, but you can make a pint glass work if needed.
Often described as a cocktail spoon, this is simply a spoon with a long stem that’s used for stirred cocktails. You’ll want one long enough to reach down to the base of your cocktail mixing glass so it can stir all the ingredients together. Most good bar spoons come with a muddler on the base to allow you to lightly mash fruit, herbs and spices together.
Of course, you’ll need something to measure out the ingredients. Cocktail jiggers are hourglass-shaped stainless steel measuring devices that play an important part in any cocktail making set but as always, you can find alternatives including a shot glass, set of measuring spoons or even an egg cup. Just keep in mind that a single measure is 25ml while a double is 50ml, and you’ll make perfectly balanced cocktails every time.
Cocktails: shaken or stirred?
Prefer elegant, crystal-clear cocktails? Stir, don’t shake.
"Shaken, not stirred." We’re sure you’ve heard this Bond line about a martini countless times. But have you ever thought about what that really means?
Shaken cocktails and stirred cocktails might achieve the same aim of combining ingredients and flavours together, but they deliver completely different results when it comes to taste and texture. Stirring a cocktail is all about the temperature and dilution of the drink, giving you greater control over the final result. The goal is to stir the cocktail until the sides of the mixing glass feels cold to the touch - this usually takes around 10-15 seconds.
To master the stirring technique, hold the bar spoon between your thumb and first two fingers, with the long stem running between your middle and ring finger. When stirring, aim to hit imaginary quarter-hour marks on a clock face inside the glass with the spinning spoon. Just make sure to not stir too intensely - you don’t want your drink to become too diluted (or knock the glass off the side). This technique is often used for short, more intense cocktails such as the timeless Old Fashioned, as shaking would over-dilute its iconically intense flavour profile.
While shaking a cocktail takes around 10 seconds too, it has a different effect to stirring. Shaking makes a drink colder in less time, adds more dilution by melting the ice slightly quicker and breaks up enzymes in fruit to release the liquids and sugars into the drink. If you’re making a cocktail with egg white like a classic Whisky Sour, you’ll need to double shake it. A double shake is just shaking once with ice and once without - in any order - so the egg will emulsify and give the drink a velvety and creamy texture.
Simply pop your ingredients into the shaker with ice and then shake hard and fast. Always double check that your shaker of choice is sealed up tight - your guests are unlikely to appreciate having a drink thrown over them mid-shake. To dazzle your guests with a silky smooth cocktail, keep out unwanted extras like pulp and ice by using a strainer when pouring your creation into a glass.
A useful rule of thumb is that drinks made with clear ingredients are best stirred, whereas cloudy ingredients such as milk, cream or lemon juice often feature in shaken cocktail recipes that need a more bubbly, frothy consistency.
Did you know that shaking makes a drink colder in less time?
What to make?
You’ve now got all the equipment and knowledge needed to showcase your new cocktail-making skills. But if you don’t know which drink to start with, read on.
A beginner’s cocktail that’s impossible to get wrong is the classic Whisky Highball. As a simple yet refreshing combination of Scotch whisky and fizzy soda water, it’s easy to put your individual spin on it. For the Chivas Highball simply pour 50ml of Chivas Regal 12 into a highball glass, add 100ml soda water, then fill the glass to the top with ice. Add another 50ml of soda water then give it a swift stir to mix it all together, before adding a little more ice. Get creative with the garnishes - a twist of lemon zest, an orange wedge or even a slice of peach will all add that final flourish.
Chivas Highball: a simple yet refreshing combination
Looking to step it up a notch? Let us introduce you to the Chivas 75. Practice your shaking skills and then toast to the occasion, as this drink pairs champagne with velvety Chivas Regal XV for a truly luxurious touch.
Take a look at our selection of whisky cocktails to see a whole range of other cocktails you can whip up at home with our range of iconically smooth blended Scotch whiskies.
Cheers to that!