Cocktail Knowledge

What is a Cocktail?

When learning about and making cocktails, it is important to remember that there are thousands of recipes throughout the world. Some are standard or universal, but many have been created by individual bartenders. Cocktails involve two or more ingredients and most important of all: alcohol.

Characteristics of spirits and liqueurs


A spirit is a strong alcoholic liquor which has been distilled from an already fermented (alcoholic) base. This base can be a fermentation of malted grain, unmalted grain, grape wine or sugar wine. Other ingredients such as fruits and herbs can be introduced during the distilling process to add flavour.


Liqueurs are spirit-based liquors, flavoured and sweetened with fruits, herbs and spices, beans and nuts. Other ingredients may include eggs and cream. There are two groups of liqueurs – propriety and generic.

Proprietary Brands

These are made by only one distiller, are based on quality aged spirits and are generally more expensive. They have a secret and sometimes complex mixture of ingredients and flavours in the recipe.

Examples of proprietary brands include:

  • Kahlua
  • Bailey’s
  • Malibu
  • Midori
  • Chambord
  • Cointreau
  • Mozart

Generic Brands

These are made by any number of distillers anywhere and can be made with any spirit base the distiller decides upon. They tend to be less expensive and have commonly known ingredients, flavours and a universal recipe.

Examples of generic brands include:

  • VOK
  • Seagram’s/ Continental

Common flavours include Triple Sec, Crème de Cacao and Blue Curacao.


  • Shaken and strained – involves using a Boston shaker and then straining the drink before service; this method is used for cocktails that need to be clear without being serviced over ice (e.g. Cosmopolitan)
  • Shaken and dumped – involves the Boston shaker, but instead of straining the cocktail, all contents of the shaker is dumped into the glass (e.g. Mojitos and Caprioskas)
  • Stirred – a method used to gently mix different ingredients (e.g. Martini)
  • Blended – involves combining all ingredients and ice in a blender to create a ‘slushy’ type cocktail (e.g. Frozen Daiquiris)
  • Built – this is when a cocktail is built in the glass it will be served in (e.g. Vodka or Tequila Sunrise)

What is a Mocktail?

This term is used to describe non-alcoholic cocktails. They are a great product to offer for those who do not consume alcohol or want to space out their drinks. The creativity remains with making drinks while practising responsible service of alcohol.

Mocktails can be popular:

  • for health conscious customers
  • at lunchtime when alcohol is not appropriate
  • for pregnant women
  • for people on medication
  • for customers looking for something ‘different’ or who are indecisive