What makes a good cocktail?

Everyone thinks that bartending is a fun stepping stone job for their 20s, but does everyone know how hard making a cocktail really is?
Bartender pouring a cocktail
Bartender pouring a cocktail / Kai Schwoerer/GettyImages

Everyone loves going out to the bar and having a great cocktail that the bartender whipped up on the spot for them. So many people I know find themselves wishing they had been a bartender at some point so they'd easily know how to make the perfect cocktail for themselves at home. Most of those people don't know how much goes into being a bartender and creating cocktails for people. Once they do know, a lot will opt to keep going to the bar and having someone else make their drinks.

A great cocktail has four components: strong, sweet, sour, and bitter. To make a cocktail great it has to have all four of these components, and they need to be well balanced. Everyone's palate is going to be different, so this is where the components will start to look different with every drink. The strong component is going to be the alcohol of choice. Then, moving onto the sweet component, which is going to be sugar, liquor, fruit juice, or something of the sort. After we'll move onto the sour component, which is going to be citrus juice, vinegar, a shrub, or could even just be the garnish. The last component is going to be the bitter. This could be bitters, a bitter liqueur, or tonic water.

When it's laid out into the four components of what every great cocktail has it seems really simple to me, too. But, when it's put into action balancing these four components can be a lot harder than it looks. One ingredient can count for more than one component sometimes, and finding the perfect balance between three or more ingredients in a cocktail can be a tough experiment. Everyone's taste is different, so it's also great to adjust for your favorite balance in flavor when making cocktails at home. While it's a fun experiment to do at home, it's much more cost-effective for bartenders to experiment with cocktails.

There are five steps to making a great cocktail. The first is obvious, and that's alcohol. The type of alcohol that's being used, whether that be brand or type of liquor, is going to make a huge difference in a drink. The second step seems pretty obvious, too: mixers. This is going to be the other three components of making a balanced drink. Pick wisely, because this is where a lot of the flavor of drinks comes from. Step three is going to be equipment. It's pretty hard to make a shaken drink with egg whites without a proper shaker. Without the right equipment, the drink you're dreaming of may never come out the way you're thinking it will. The fourth step is close to equipment, but not quite. It's technique. If you stir a cocktail that is supposed to be shaken, or vice versa, it will come out tasting completely different than last time. The last step is one that I personally believe is the least important, but it's what makes those Instagram worthy cocktails: garnishes. Sometimes these will play into the taste of the cocktail, but most of the time they're just for show. Whether you like it or not, following these five steps will surely improve the taste of your home cocktails.

As much as making cocktails at home can be a fun venture, as someone who doesn't drink much I'm going to stick to having someone else make them for me. The mocktail trend has increased so much at bars, as well, because all of these steps are still having to go into making a mocktail, making it harder to do than you'd think. Balancing a cocktail isn't an easy thing, and whether it's a venture you're willing to take on or something you'll leave to the professionals it's a respectable decision.