Local Expert: The Principles of the Perfectly Balanced Cocktail

The world of mixology can seem daunting when you’re witnessing your local bartender in action, but creating a delicious cocktail isn’t rocket science. There’s a fantastic array of bars in London Bridge, but sometimes, a delicious drink from the comfort of your sofa is just the ticket…

We’ve got the low-down from our local expert, Liam Scandrett at Bermondsey Street based WSET School London about the principles on the balance of cocktails, to help you along your way…

The principles of the perfectly balanced cocktail

Strong, Weak, Sour or Bitter + Sweet. As any experienced mixologist will tell you, these are the elements that form the vast majority of classic mixed drinks. This tried and tested format uses principles that have been perfected for over a century – and who can argue with that?

Strong vs Weak

Whether it’s rum in your Daiquiri, vodka in your Martini or whiskey in your Manhattan – the ‘strong’ element will form the backbone of your cocktail.

These high-alcohol spirits should always be balanced by a weak element. In short drinks, this is usually chilled water (generally in the form of ice) Humble h20 can change many things about a cocktail, but its main job is to chill and dilute – softening and lengthening the alcohol. In long drinks, the weak element can be a non-alcoholic ‘mixer’ (e.g. juice, soda, tonic or tea).

Sour/Bitter vs Sweet

These elements go hand in hand – one without the other would be disastrous to the harmony of your concoction, as these opposites off-set each other. In classic drinks, the sour element can be citrus juice (e.g. lemon or lime – think Daiquiri or Tom Collins).

Bitterness is often provided by cocktail bitters or a bitter liqueur – think an Old-fashioned or Negroni. Sweetness unsurprisingly comes from sugar; commonly in a syrup – think agave nectar in your Tommy’s or Triple sec in your Cosmopolitan.

The Twist

Now, what happens if you stick to these classic principles but ‘switch’ one simple sweetener for a more complex one, substitute from classic citrus to something more unusual, try out a different style of rum? You create a ‘twist.

Bartenders have been ‘twisting’ for years; switching out classic ingredients, using modern technologies and methods to create unique variations of traditional recipes. These new-wave cocktails are often distant relatives of the originals, but they all have one thing in common if done right: balance.



The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the worlds largest provider of wine and spirits qualifications for professionals and enthusiasts. The flagship WSET School London on Bermondsey Street offers beginner to expert courses and evening tasting events throughout the year.

Learn something new this autumn and join WSET School London for their first ever ‘Saturday Spirits School.’ A hands-on course including an accredited WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits course complete with a tour of two fantastic local distilleries.

Visit wsetchool.com to learn more.

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