Cocktail Formula For Perfection
The stupid simple cocktail formula for your traditional “sour” is 2:1:1. The 2:1:1 formula for cocktails cannot be beat and stands the test of time. You can be a newbie cocktail creator or a 20 year veteran of mixology–that 2:1:1 is your friend. Lets understand this perfect cocktail formula before breaking down the most common cocktail recipe templates:
2 parts spirit (e.g. rum)
1 part acidity / citrus (e.g lime)
1 part sugar (e.g simple syrup)
In the United States a “part” is often referred to as an “ounce” because that’s our most common measure. The “part” can be any unit of measure from ml to cups, the ratio always works out (e.g. 40 cups vodka, 20 cups lemon, 20 cups sugar). Although, more commonly this ratio would break down as “2 oz spirit, 1 oz citrus, 1 oz sugar.”
The Template Cocktail
This 2:1:1 ratio is categorized as a “sour.” Cocktails that follow this recipe are the daiquiri, margarita, clover club, whiskey sour, mojito, and hundreds of others. Note however, the ratio does not force a 3-ingredient cocktail combination. For example, a cocktail with 1 oz of gin and 1 oz. campari could be paired with 1/2 oz of lime, 1/2 oz. of lemon and 1 oz of Demerara sugar. The ratio for a 4+ ingredient cocktail can still conform to a 2:1:1 ratio!
Personally, I utilize the 2:1:1 as a base recipe to begin my cocktail creations. You can “riff off” the 2:1:1 and work out from that base by adding a few dashes of bitters, a muddled orange peel and/or an absinthe/herbal liqueur rinse. Or, when utilizing a high proof whiskey it may require a bit of sharper sugars like a maple syrup combined with a cane sugar to round out the flavor. The 2:1:1 is a starting point to jump back to when you create a cocktail that just feels unbalanced and weird–backup to your 2:1:1 and see where things went wrong in the design.
David Embury’s 8:2:1 Ratio
The 2:1:1 isn’t the only cocktail formula to build your cocktails. David Embury, author of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948) defined his popular 8:2:1 ratio, which favors spirit and sour over sweet. This is a great balance for those that find most “sours” a bit too sweet. This can change a basic daiquiri from 2 oz rum, 1 oz. lime and 1 oz simple to become 2 oz. rum, 1/2 oz. lime juice, 1/4 oz. simple syrup. Toning down the sugar with an 8:2:1 ratio means you’ll feel the prominence of the base spirit a bit stronger. I find the 8:2:1 ratio works best on more experienced cocktail enthusiasts that often request a more flavorful base spirit (e.g. instead of light rum in their daiquiris maybe a Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum or a Penny Blue XO).
Yet other cocktail formulas exist, such as the 2:¾:¾ ratio. This ratio is great for those that want a slightly more alcohol-forward cocktail without as much sweet/tart blend. You can convert any of the standard 2:1:1 drinks into this ratio by simply removing ¼ from both the sweet and the sour. When your guest isn’t sure what they “like” in a cocktail, start with a 2:1:1 and modify it from there. When they say “it’s a bit too sweet”, try a 2:¾:¾ or the 8:2:1 and see what they think of that cocktail formula on their palate.
Stirred Cocktails & Punches
You will find the 2:1:1 ratio falls down for stirred cocktails and punch bowl sized recipes. A two ingredient stirred cocktail, as defined by David Embury, is usually 5:1 or 7:1 (with 5 parts spirit, 1 part modifier/liqueur) such as 2.5 oz whiskey to .5 oz sweet vermouth for a manhattan (with a dash of bitters). The go-to ratio for punches follows the rhyme, “One of sour, Two of sweet, Three of strong, Four of weak.” A punch may be a bit stronger on spirit flavor and be slightly more sweet than sour, which often works well for island cocktails and picky drinkers.
The Golden Ratio
The 2:1:1 ratio is often referred to as the Golden Ratio because it’s the ratio that has risen above all others. Cocktail trends have changed over the last hundred years and the 2:1:1 ratio is the key balance that has prevailed as the industry standard. This cocktail formula does not define a cocktail or the drinker, it is simply the base for where much greatness has started. It also happens to be the ratio that will help the home bartender go from guessing their way through drinks, to defining a direction for their next creation.
Next time you’re picking a recipe from your favorite cocktail book or online resource, look at the ratios closely. There is a great chance that recipe is or started as the 2:1:1 cocktail formula.
Watch Lesson 01: Understanding Sugar & Simple Syrup In Cocktails.
Watch Lesson 02: Sours, Sour Mix, and Acidity in Cocktails.
Watch Lesson 03: What are cocktail bitters?
Watch Lesson 04: Mixed Drinks, Highballs, and Cocktails Oh My!