When you watch a seasoned bartender mixing you a cocktail, it can look like the operation requires an endless supply of mystery syrups, twisty spoons, and whimsical garnishes to make an impressive drink. And sure, those recipes can be fun to play around with if you’re looking for something outside the box. But if you’re looking to make a classic cocktail, all you really need is what many call the “golden ratio.”
What is the bartender’s golden ratio?
A typical bar set includes one double-sided jigger with a 1-ounce serving on one side and 2 ounces on the other. It’s the most important tool for building a standard cocktail because it perfectly aligns with the golden ratio: 2:1:1.
Those numbers correlate to what was initially thought to be the perfect balance of cocktail components: two parts liquor, one part sweetener, one part sour. More often than not, your sweetener will be some form of simple syrup or sweet liqueur while your sour is some kind of citrus.
Consider the whiskey sour, which in its most classic form is two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of simple syrup, and one ounce of lemon juice. Or how about the margarita: two ounces of tequila, one ounce of triple sec, one ounce of lime juice. Even drinks that may sound a little fancier follow this formula, like the Bee’s Knees, which is two ounces of gin, one ounce of honey syrup, and one ounce of lemon juice.
For more liquor-forward drinks like a martini or a manhattan, just go ahead and drop the sour requirement for what I’ll dub the silver ratio: 2:1. Those classic cocktails are simply two parts liquor, one part vermouth, with the garnish of your choice.
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How 2:1:1 helps you make the best drinks
The beauty of a ratioed recipe is that it’s easy to measure for single-serve drinks made to order and just as simple to scale it up for batched and bulk cocktails. Say you want to make a pitcher of margaritas for your weekend cookout. You can follow the ratio by the cup instead of the ounce without compromising the balance of flavors.
This ratio also provides a great roadmap for experimenting with other flavors, allowing you to impress your guests while masquerading as a seasoned bartender. Two parts bourbon, one part maple syrup, one part cranberry juice, for instance, meets all the requirements and could make for a nice fall-inspired drink. With the golden ratio by your side, you’ll be an expert mixologist in no time.