At culinary school, students are taught how to make the five mother sauces: Béchamel, a thick cream sauce, Velouté, a poultry or fish based roux, Espagnole, a brown sauce, Tomat, an aromatic tomato sauce, and Hollandaise, that thick mayo-esque sauce you’ve seen at brunch. These sauces are the cornerstones on which all other sauces and recipes in French cooking are based. In bartending, a similar hierarchy of cocktails exists. From ur-cocktails that simply mix water, spirits and bitters, to the sour family of drinks, which combines fresh citrus and sweeteners, here are the six mother cocktails that you should master.
If You Can Make These 6 Cocktails You Can Make Any Cocktail
This ultra-classic cocktail is a simple mix of booze, water, sugar and bitters. Understanding the balance between a liquor, a sweetener (or modifier), a bittering agent and dilution, will pave the way for any spirit-forward, stirred cocktails. After perfecting the Old Fashioned, you have all the tools you need to master drinks like the Manhattan, the Martinez and the Negroni.
Behold, the grandfather of all sours. The Brandy Crusta is, essentially, a mix of brandy (or Cognac), fresh lemon juice and sugar (with some Angostura bitters and Curaçao thrown in). Finding that harmonious balance between sweet and sour is one of the most important dynamics to master in cocktail making. Once you perfect the Brandy Crusta, you can make deliciously sweet-tart drinks like Daiquiris, Whiskey Sours, and Margaritas.
The Whisky Highball is one of the most underrated and deceptively simple cocktails to construct. When made correctly, the drink delivers the flavor of whiskey on a fizzy, refreshing wave of ice-cold soda water. Use this cocktail to master long bubbly drinks, like the Gin & Tonic (another deceptively simple drink), the Cuba Libre, and the Dark and Stormy.
Your arsenal of bartending skills will be nearly complete after perfecting this simple cocktail. The drink’s foundations can be endlessly tweaked for countless effervescent variations. It consists of one part bitter liqueur (or amaro or vermouth or sherry, etc), three parts sparkling wine and one quick splash of soda. After making an Aperol Spritz, try whipping up another classic spritz like the Airmail, or try a modern interpretation like this High Garden Spritz.
This is not just a carbonated Gin Sour. The classic drink calls for one of the most fickle ingredients used in cocktails: egg whites. Egg whites lend a tart dryness to cocktails and create a tight and fluffy foam. To master the Fizz you have to master separating egg whites and perfect your shaking technique to get the best creamy head. Without those techniques under your belt, you can’t make more advanced egg white based cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz or whole egg cocktails like the Flip.
The Smash family is comprised of cocktails made with crushed (or shaved) ice, fruit or fresh herbs (or a combination of both), a sweetener or modifier, and a spirit. Mastering the smash will give you a better understanding of how to muddle herbs and fruit properly, and how to crush ice. Conquer the Whiskey Smash and you’ll have all the skills you need to make drinks like swizzles, cobblers and tiki cocktails.