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DIY Drinks: Creating a signature cocktail is easier than you think

Posted by Rachel Raczka  March 10, 2014 03:51 PM

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Whether youíre new to making your own drinks, or you've already perfected your method for carbonated Negroni spheres, thereís no reason not to try your hand at creating your own cocktail recipe.

At best, youíll have created something new, perfectly tailored to your preferences -- and, at worst, you wonít be thirsty anymore. -- words and photos by Andrew Fatato


First, itís important to understand that making drinks, much like cooking, operates off of a few basic principles. We know that certain flavors play nicely together, like salty and sweet, or sweet and sour. We also know that weíre looking for balance when weíre mixing flavors, we donít want one flavor to overpower the others. And, finally, weíre looking for that balance to elevate the ingredients. Or, as Citizen Public House's Sean Frederick puts it, "The end result should be greater than the sum of its parts."

Once we understand what weíre shooting for, itís good to have a starting point, whether itís your favorite drink, or a style of cocktail you know you like.

For example, letís say you love daiquiris, a frosty blend of rum, lime and sugar.


  • 1.75 Rum
  • .75 Fresh Lime Juice
  • .5 Simple Syrup

Shake with ice and strain.


Now, we want to understand whatís really going on in this daiquiri.

The rum, or spirit, is providing the alcohol, and, depending on what type of rum it is, itís probably adding some sweetness, some caramel, some fresh fruit notes, some grassiness, or maybe all of the above. The lime juice adds some acidity, sometimes referred to as "brightness." Itíll give the cocktail some sharp corners so the sugar in the syrup and rum doesnít overpower the drink, making it too cloying. The simple syrup provides sweetness, rounding out the cocktail and dulling any abrasiveness from the alcohol or lime. Finally, the ice dilutes the alcohol, and the force of the shaking brings all the ingredients together.

All of those ingredients are then subjected to the ratio in the recipe. With a drink as widely made as the daiquiri, there are bound to be arguments about the right ratio, so consider the recipe above as a guide. If you like more sour, maybe you add more lime, if you like more sweet, maybe you add more simple syrup.

So, now that you have a starting place, you want to start tweaking to your preferences.

For the sake of example, letís say youíre me.

First, Iím thinking about the spirit. I like rum, but itís a little colder out right now. I want something crisp, so Iím reaching for a dry gin instead. Next, I need to pick a citrus. Lime works with gin, but Iím not sure I want something quite so tart. Letís switch it to grapefruit. Next, we need a sweetener. I think Iím going to keep it the same, and stick with the simple syrup. The drink is still falling a little flat, so Iím going to throw in a couple dashes of sarsaparilla bitters. (I havenít mentioned bitters yet, but if youíre unfamiliar, think of them as the seasoning to cocktails. They help to add complexity, and tie the ingredients together.)

The final step is to fine-tune the ratio. The daiquiri ratio is a nice place to start, but we need to make a few tweaks to get the balance just right. You can do this by applying the Daiquiri ratio to our new ingredients and then looking for flavors that are too dominant or too subtle, adjusting the amounts to find the right balance.

I've done as much, and I think this is our final recipe:

Sarsaparilla Gimlet

  • 2 Gin
  • .5 Fresh Pink Grapefruit Juice
  • .5 Simple Syrup
  • 2 Dashes Sarsaparilla Bitters

Shake with ice and strain.


Playing with substitutions is only one way to come up with a new recipe, but I think itís the easiest place to start. Once you develop an intuition for balance, and the way different ingredients play together, youíll find improvisation only comes easier, much like cooking without a recipe.

So, take a shot at making your own cocktail recipe, and feel free to share your favorite creations in the comments below.

Andrew Fatato, formerly of drink, is a freelance writer and owner of Flask & Funnel.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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