The Foolproof Formula for Creating Your Own Cocktails

There's a secret to making a great drink, and it's all in the balance. Here, a formula for how to make cocktails that you can't screw up.

creating cocktails on bar top
Photo: Marcus Nilsson

There's a secret to making a great drink, and it's all in the balance. You want a hint of sweet, a touch of sour, and a surprising finish, like a bright, bold herb, according to Natalka Burian, the author of A Woman's Drink and the co-owner of two bars in Brooklyn, New York.

"These elements come together to give your cocktail complexity and a sense of playfulness," she says. We've laid it all out for you here, so you can learn how to make cocktails with whatever you have around.

how to create your own cocktails formula
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

How to Create the Perfect Cocktail

The basic formula for creating a cocktail is 2:1:1, says Burian. Add 2 parts alcohol, 1 part sweet, and 1 part sour to a shaker and shake the ingredients over ice. Strain into a glass with ice, then add your garnish. (If you want something a little lighter, check out these low-alcohol cocktail recipes.)

Pick one ingredient from each column to build your own signature blend.

Spirits: Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Lillet, Aperol, Campari, Tequila, Mescal, Rosé, or sparkling wine

Sweet: Simple syrup (boil equal parts sugar and water and let cool), Infused syrup (simple syrup with herbs, spices, or tea steeped in), Sugar cube (crushed during muddling), Agave, Honey, Maple syrup, Pomegranate syrup, Date syrup, Grenadine

Sour: Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Shrubs (vinegar-based syrups)

Finishers: Rosemary, Basil, Tarragon, Sage, Nut or hemp oil, Jalapeños, Chile peppers, Rainbow peppercorns

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