Shaking Things Up

by | Dec 2021

cocktail shaker
Create personal cocktails using this simple trick.

If I have a party trick, it’s the ability to whip up personalized cocktails on the fly. But it’s much less impressive that you think—anyone who can remember “211” can make a custom cocktail. I specialize in drinks that fall into the “sour” category (think whiskey sour, lemon drop and margarita). These contrast with stronger drinks that are very alcohol-forward (think Manhattan, old-fashioned and martini). Though they may contain a bit of sweetener, they lack the defining tartness of sours.

A 211 refers to a simple ratio of the three base components of a drink: two parts liquor, one part something sweet and one part something sour. Of course, these are just guidelines; I usually don’t even measure. It’s also way more entertaining for guests that way. To make a stronger, less sweet or more tart drink, simply adjust the components up or down from this baseline as desired.

211 ingredients

2: Base alcohol. Ask your guest which kind of base alcohol they prefer. Gin? Vodka? Tequila? Rum? Whiskey?

1: Sweet element. Fresh fruit juices are my first choice here; at this time of year, I love cranberry, mandarin orange and pomegranate. If your fruit is on the sour side (such as grapefruit or cranberry), you can add sweetener—sugar or simple syrup, agave, honey, maple syrup and/or a sweet liqueur like crème de cassis, triple sec or apple brandy. Flavored cocktail syrups are fun, too.

1: Sour element. My choice is almost always lime for “clear” alcohols and lemon in the case of darker ones.


Add your choice of ingredients to a cocktail shaker nearly full of cubed (not crushed) ice. Shake until the drink is thoroughly cold and properly diluted. Strain and serve over ice or pour directly into a chilled glass.

Good to Know

Prepared cocktail mixers often have sweet/fruit and sour elements combined in one product; they’re often mixed with liquor in a 1:1 ratio. While convenient, mixers may lack “freshness” and are typically cloyingly sweet. Offset this by adding a splash or more to taste of fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Bonus Points

It’s always fun to top your drink with something bubbly—tonic, club soda, sparkling wine—as much or as little as you like. Champagne is always a winner!

A drop or two of bitters adds another aromatic and flavor layer that rounds out a drink.

Rimmed glasses (sugar, salt, or flavored sugar or salt) and fresh fruit garnishes are optional, but impressive. (My friends aren’t hard to impress, so I skip this step as often as not.)


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