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  • The Chopping Blog

Cocktail Creativity

Posted by Dan on Feb 22, 2024


Cooking professionally allows you to constantly taste new flavors, experience new combinations and techniques and develop your palette, but this doesn’t end with food. That is why many chefs find themselves in a qualified position to offer alcohol accompaniments to the food they make. Cocktail creation is a perfect playground to understand how certain flavors, tastes, textures and techniques can interact with each other.

Here is an important note on the distinction between flavors and tastes, because they are not the same thing. Flavor is the combination of aromas and chemicals that exist within foods, which we perceive almost entirely through our noses. Tastes are the physical reactions our mouth feels from specific components of ingredients (i.e. salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami). These five tastes are considered the building blocks of Flavor Dynamics which is the theory behind why we like food the way we like it. There is more to this (Do you taste fat? Why are things spicy? What is umami?) than can be covered in a single blog post so for more I would direct you to our Flavor Dynamics class. Tangent aside, it is in experimenting with flavors and tastes and the balance between them that all dishes, cocktails included, are made.

Mandarin Orange Mezcal SourMandarin Orange Mezcal Sour

So, how does one balance a dish or a cocktail? The short answer is by tasting it. The long answer is by training your senses to distinguish between these different tastes to better understand how they can be balanced. I almost hesitate to use the word balance as it does not mean all the tastes are completely equal, at that point they are just cancelling each other out, effectively muting one another. What I mean by balance is using the different tastes to round out or amplify each other to achieve the desired outcome. Sweet and sour tend to mellow each other out, when sour is more prevalent (margarita) we call that tart. Sweet can pull back on bitterness (think Campari vs Aperol, similar liquors with a different amount of sugar) and sour can amplify it. Salt and Umami exist as flavor enhancers, amplifying all the tastes (even each other, think salted margarita, Bloody Mary). Again, this is a massive simplification of this concept and as you introduce more complex flavors you will discover more complex combinations.

Key Lime MartiniKey Lime Martini

Keeping those simple rules in mind, consider what you know to be classic cocktails and use them as a base. Sours utilize sweet/sour, martinis might emphasize bitterness, sparkling cocktails like spritzes use strong bases that are diluted and mellowed with the addition of sparkling water, wine or tonic. Consider the flavors and tastes of different spirits (try your next espresso martini with Reposado tequila or high-proof Jamaican rum). Consider the different ingredients known to altar the texture of a drink like egg whites or fat washing/clarifying.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to experiment with the possibility of failure. It doesn’t have to come out perfect on the first try. This practice is the best way to develop your senses for discerning different tastes. You will be surprised by the amount of flavor and taste combinations that sound not-so-great on paper but end up being a top contender.

I’m including a couple of recipes for some slightly out-of-the-box cocktails I came up with in my last brainstorming session. Having a group of friends around who are willing to try your experiments, for better or worse, definitely helps in the creative process!


Tropical Manhattan

Yields: 1 Cocktail

Total time: 7 minutes


1oz Pisco

1oz Rye whisky (or whisky of choice)

1/2oz Cynar (bitter amaro made from artichokes)

1 Maraschino cherry

  1. Add liquor to mixing glass.
  2. Cover generously with ice.
  3. Stir until ice is below liquid (about 20-25 rotations).
  4. Strain cocktail served strait up or on the rocks.
  5. Garnish with maraschino cherry.

Tropical Manhattan

White Miso Espresso Martini

Yields: 1 Cocktail

Total time: 7 minutes


1oz Coffee Liquor

1oz Jamaican Rum

1 shot (1.5oz) espresso, chilled, with 1tsp white miso added while warm

  1. Add liquor to cocktail shaker.
  2. Add miso-steeped espresso.
  3. Cover with ice (one large cube will help with aerating the cocktail producing a foamier head).
  4. Shake until sides of shaker are frosty.
  5. Strain (once with shake and a second time with fine strainer if available) into glass.
  6. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.

White Miso Espresso MartiniTo learn even more new cocktail recipes, join us for these upcoming classes with our Spirits Expert Christophe Bakunas:

See our class calendar

Topics: cocktails, flavor, cocktail, flavors, flavor dynamics, mixology, balance

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