What makes a good cocktail? As most people know, you start with the basic recipe guidelines of two parts strong (spirit), one part sweet (syrup), and one part sour (citrus). But there is some science to cocktail creation, according to The Cocktail Guru Jonathan Pogash.
In his session title “Mixology 101: Build Your Own Signature Cocktails,” at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference on Jan. 17, Pogash said that the Margarita is “an awesome cocktail to start with as a base.” It’s a classic sour drink like a Daiquiri but it uses tequila instead of light rum and Triple Sec as the sweet element rather than simple syrup.
Pogash explained typical base alcohol and flavor pairings and combinations using a color wheel of primary and secondary flavors. Vodka, for instance, has fruity citrus notes as well as sweet (honey) and smoky (vanilla) flavors. Gin has citrus as well as floral flavors (eucalyptus, blossoms), as do pisco and cachaca, while rum has earthier fruit notes (fig, jam), tequila and mescal have mineral (earth) and wood (spruce, smoke) flavors, and whisky and cognac have dairy, spice, wood, nutty (oak, butter, cedar, cinnamon) flavor profiles. New flavors like salted watermelon show how opposites like sweet and salty can work well together, he said.
So how does one develop a great signature cocktail? Take a mixing glass and start with a base spirit ingredient, Pogash said. Then add a modifier (a liqueur or cordial) and flavor (fruit, herb, citrus, sweet). You also want to consider the type of ice you use, the glassware, garnish and drink name, he added.
Balance is key when developing a drink recipe, Pogash said. He cited the building blocks of a cocktail as one part inspiration—consider the ingredients, flavors, the time of year; one part experimentation—play around with the spirits and mixers; one part balance; and one part technique.
You definitely need the right tools, and you have to know how to use them, Pogash noted. A lot of the time, he said, “bartenders who don’t make drinks right don’t know how to use their tools.”