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Expert’s guide: how to make a perfectly balanced cocktail

Mixologist Patrick Pistolesi serves up ten simple solutions to the most common mistakes

Do you remember Tom Cruise doing the “Hippy Hippy Shake” in the classic film Cocktail and thinking to yourself, “I could do that?”. Well, creating a tasty tipple is not always as easy as it looks. 

Many of us have tried our hand at mixology, but often the final product is let down by some simple mistakes. Luckily, these can be rectified easily, says Patrick Pistolesi, NIO Cocktails’ head mixologist and founder of Drink Kong in Rome, one of The World’s 50 Best Bars

In this expert’s guide to making cocktails, Pistolesi highlights the most common mistakes and serves up ten simple solutions.


Using the wrong ice

If you want a restaurant-quality cocktail, it pays to invest in a king-size silicone mould so the ice doesn’t melt and dilute your drink. A pro tip is to fill the moulds with boiling water before freezing it. This will remove air from the water resulting in maximum chill.


Forgetting to shake and stir 

The general rule of thumb is if a cocktail contains citrus or fruit juice, dairy or eggs it’s meant to be shaken. Pro tip: when shaking your cocktail, make sure you put in a bit of elbow grease to blend the ingredients well.


Skipping on bitters

An often forgotten ingredient - bitters can be an addition that gives your drink a professional edge. A bitter is a spirit infused with dried botanicals that can range anywhere from fruit to bark. Get creative and add a dash here and there but be careful not to overdo it.


Forgetting to chill your glassware 

The colder your cocktail is, the better it tastes. Put your glassware in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes before pouring in your drink. Did you know that spirits over 40% can also be stored in the freezer?   


Not using the right equipment such as a jigger

If you enjoy mixology, it’s a worthwhile investment buying the right equipment. There are some great kits available online that come with a cocktail shaker, strainer, bar spoon, muddler and a jigger - an hour-glass measuring cup that ensures the perfect balance of ingredients every time.


Patrick Pistolesi at Drink Kong bar in Rome, Italy

Patrick Pistolesi at Drink Kong bar in Rome, Italy

Alberto Blasetti

Not muddling your muddle

Muddling means pummeling fruits, herbs and spices with a muddler to crush and release their flavours. With leaves and herbs, muddle delicately while fruits and rinds should be muddled with a bit more force.


Using out-of-date spirits

This can easily happen to any of us so a quick check of the expiration date on that bottle of spirits sitting at the back of your cupboard can save you spoiling your whole drink with one sour ingredient.


Forgetting to garnish

Garnishing is not only for presentation but it also adds flavour and aroma to the cocktail. The general rule of citrus includes wedges, wheels, twists and peels. Adding fresh berries, spice sticks and herb springs are the true hallmarks of high-end cocktails.


Mixing overly-complicated cocktails

They say more is best but this isn’t always the case with mixology. If you’re starting out, I’d advise making a simple cocktail like a cosmopolitan or martini before experimenting with different ingredients. And watch out for too many different spirits in one drink - not only can this dilute the flavours but it can also leave you feeling not so great the next day.


Not matching your food and drink flavours 

If you plan on serving your cocktails with nibbles or a main meal, it’s important to match the flavours of your drink with your food. A whiskey-based cocktail pairs well with seafood, meat and cheese while rum-based drinks are best matched with Caribbean-inspired food such as chicken, fish and bananas. Cured meats and salads are great for vodka-based cocktails while those who prefer gin should stick to lighter foods such as smoked salmon and nuts.


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