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Why The 2:1:1 Ratio For Cocktails Is A Beginner’s Best Friend

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As you set up your first home bar, or plan the first of many gatherings for your friends in the comforts of your manor, you may have grand visions of tossing bottles of spirits into the air and catching them perfectly, maybe even getting in a suave swirl ot two as you pour the contents into a cocktail glass. But — hold up. Those fancy cocktails skills take some work, and before we sprint, we must learn to walk. For most of us, it is enough to master the classic cocktails and mix them to perfection. 

Thankfully, there is a way to do that without displaying any very complex acrobatic manoeuvres. And it all starts with this, the Bartender’s Golden Ratio. Wait, we see you backing away, wondering why we’re bringing math into what was hitherto a very fun equation. It’s important though, because even those well-practised in the arts of mixology admit that this simple combination “leads to delightful and dependable results” (their words, not ours). So what is this Golden Ratio? 

Understanding The Golden Ratio

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It’s a universally accepted rule that cocktails must be mixed in measures of 2:1:1. The 2:1:1 ratio is a way of remembering in what quantities essential ingredients should be added to a cocktail. The “2” is for the base spirit, the actual alcohol that is being used. Making a Daiquiri? The recipe will need two parts of rum to the other ingredients. Mixing a Margarita? The tequila is what you’ll need two parts of.

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Next comes the “1”. This represents the sweet element of your cocktail. Generally, this takes the form of a syrup or a liqueur. Simple syrup is a very common ingredient you’ll see listed in cocktail recipes, and it’s a mixture of sugar and water. You can make it at home by slowly dissolving 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in 1/2 cup of water, and then storing in a tightly-sealed jar once it cools. It’s perfect to use for up to one month when stored in the refrigerator, so don’t be hesitant about prepping a batch because it really makes mixing cocktails easy. Keep in mind though that simple syrup is just one of the many sweetening elements you can add to your cocktail. As you grow more confident, you can explore more variations. 

The last “1” of the Golden Ratio stands for the sour element. This is where citrus comes in: your lemons, limes, oranges, other tart fruits. 

How Does This Rule Help?

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Professional bartenders and mixologists may mix many drinks in the course of one evening. Does this mean they have every possible recipe memorised? Well, yes to some extent, but mostly they follow the Golden Ratio and adapt it to their needs. For instance, if the Daiquiri sees them mix rum, simple syrup and lime juice in the 2:1:1 proportion, then swapping the rum for a similar quantity of gin transforms this into the recipe for a Gimlet. If the rum is replaced with tequila in the same proportion, then you have a Tommy’s Margarita. (One standard drink of each of these cocktails would have about 45 ml of the base spirit.) What if you’re mixing a drink with two base spirits? Here, the “2” of the ratio would get split between both of these ingredients.

So How Did The Golden Ratio Come Into Being Anyway?

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Some accounts trace the rule to the actual drink many modern cocktails originated from: the Punch. Reportedly, Punch was a popular beverage in the 17th-19th centuries, and a rhyme that best expressed its mixing proportions went like this: “One of sour / Two of sweet / Three of strong / Four of weak”. While this isn’t an exact replica of the 2:1:1 rule, you can see where the idea of these fixed measures may have arisen from. As the cocktails and mixology movement picked up steam — aided in no small part by the imposition of Prohibition in America, which meant that the unpalatable taste of strong bootlegged spirits often had to be concealed with plenty of other, better-tasting ingredients — this ratio entered the mainstream, and became the norm.

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