Use the Bartender's Golden Ratio to Master Dozens of Drinks


In the course of a busy shift, a craft bartender may make drinks from 40 to 50 different recipes. To be efficient, some bartenders may have dozens—if not hundreds—of recipes memorized, but most bartenders don’t have time to commit all that information to memory.

Instead, they focus on templates. For example, the Whiskey Sour, Margarita, Gimlet, and Daiquiri all follow what’s called the "golden ratio" of cocktails—2:1:1, meaning made from two parts liquor, one part sweetener, and one part sour. This formula is the basis for many other kinds of drinks as well. For example, substitute lemon juice for lime juice in a Gimlet and add soda to make a Tom Collins. Swap the soda for champagne and, voila, it’s a French 75.

Punch This

All of these cocktails follow the formula for a traditional sour: booze, a sweetening agent, and a souring agent. This, along with most other genres of cocktails containing fruit, was born from the tradition of making punch.

From about the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s, punch ruled the drinking scene. Instead of sipping on a single serving of your favorite beverage, you’d split a bowl with a group of friends. At the time, it was usually a mixture of liqueur, spirits, water, and locally available spices and fruits. Later, if you could afford it, it also included a block of ice.

Interestingly enough, the rhyme most associated with punch (“One of sour/Two of sweet/Three of strong/Four of weak”) doesn’t match up with the golden ratio. This discrepancy is probably due to a few things including regional differences in punch-making as well as the variations in dilution and consistency between punch and cocktails.

Right In The Glass

During the mid-1800s the drinking scene became more individualistic, and the quickly quaffed cocktail gained steam. The sour was likely preceded by a very simple punch. It’s likely that this format also got a boost from bartenders trying to cover up foul-tasting spirits during Prohibition.

Whatever the cause, the golden ratio became prevalent. Although stirred cocktails have a couple similar templates, none of them is quite as ubiquitous as the 2:1:1 of the shaken sour.

Hit The Lab

The golden ratio is also an easy way to formulate cocktails at home. Start with two ounces of a base spirit, add one ounce of simple syrup, then choose a citrus juice that compliments the booze and add one ounce of that. Shake with ice, strain, and add your garnish of choice.

But this ratio isn’t for everyone. If it’s too sweet, try 3/4 ounce of sweetener. If you want some more depth, substitute your favorite liqueur for the sweetener. Too boozy? Add a splash of soda water or your favorite sparkly beverage. If you think that might thin the texture out too much, use a thicker syrup such as gomme syrup, or add an egg white.

If you want to get really fancy, add a dash of bitters for depth. You can also use two bases, juices, or sweeteners—just cut the amount of each that you use in half. Or, rinse the glass with absinthe or spray it with aromatic water. You can also muddle fruit or herbs for a seasonal twist.

For tasting's sake, just change one ingredient at a time. Start with simple syrup, citrus juice, and the base spirit, and work from there. Make notes on what you like (or don’t) so you can tweak the recipe a little bit at a time. When you put something together that you like, Google the ingredients list. This formula has been used so often it’s likely that you’ve stumbled upon a drink that’s been made before. If not, name it yourself!

What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?

If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.


Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.


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