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What Is Mixology? | Mixology Definition

By
Matthew Krimmel
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You've heard the term "mixology" before, but what does it mean? How does a person become a mixologist? And what's the difference between a mixologist and a bartender?

Basically, all mixologists are bartenders, but not all bartenders are mixologists. The two job titles are intertwined, and the skill sets required for both professions often overlap. Read on to learn more about the definition, history, evolution, and modern concepts of mixology.

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Mixology Definition

Mixology is the study and skill of inventing, preparing, and serving cocktails and other drinks. A person who's an expert in this field, called a mixologist, has a passion for making cocktails. They learn basic cocktail ingredients and examine the chemistry of basic bar drinks. The in-depth knowledge needed to create new cocktail recipes is the main difference between a mixologist and a bartender.

Mixology includes knowledge of common cocktail ingredients, adding specific garnishes, and the tools for creating mixed drinks. Think of it as studying their chemistry, and the mixologist is the person who practices it.

Who Invented Mixology?

An American bartender named Jerry Thomas published the first guide to making cocktails in 1862. Recognized as the father of American mixology, Thomas owned and managed numerous saloons across the New York City area in the 1800s.

It's possible to purchase his guide The Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks in reprinted editions today. It has a list of classic drinks, cocktail ingredients, and how to prepare them step-by-step. Many in the industry still regard it as the best classic cocktail recipe book.

By the 1870s, the term mixology became common, and Merriam-Webster's dictionary first mentioned it in 1872 as "the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks."

What Was the First Cocktail?

Most experts agree that it’s the Sazerac, though there are some differing accounts. It originated in New Orleans in the 1800s with a blend of whiskey, absinthe, bitters, and sugar. It's recognized by many residents of New Orleans as the official cocktail of the "Big Easy."

Mixology Classes

The great thing about mixology is that anyone can learn to become a mixologist. You can enroll in mixology classes to learn about the theory and techniques for creating basic bartending drinks.

Mixology classes vary, but most of them guide you in mastering the skill of mixing different flavors to make classic cocktails. You learn the history of cocktails and how they've evolved. They provide access to the best cocktail books and other valuable resources to help you learn.

Instructors will help you become familiar with the various tools and techniques for making good cocktails. You're among other eager learners, so there's the freedom to experiment without worrying about mistakes. Most courses will award a mixology certification upon successful completion.

Mixology Courses Online

Want to learn mixology from the comfort of your own home? Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many mixology courses have become available online.

In virtual mixology classes, it's possible to build your knowledge of popular cocktail drinks. You learn flavor combinations, stirring and shaking techniques, and what to add to your bar equipment checklist.

What Is Molecular Mixology?

Molecular mixology is the creation of cocktails using the equipment and techniques of molecular gastronomy. This type of gastronomy is a scientific approach to nutrition from the perspective of chemistry. It focuses on the properties and structure of the ingredients. The approach to molecular mixology relies on the methods of molecular gastronomy to:

1. Create improved varieties and intensities of flavor in mixed drinks

2. Produce new flavor combinations

3. Uncover different ways of presenting cocktails

4. Test new garnishes that work with certain drinks

5. Affect the appearance of various cocktails

What Equipment Do Molecular Mixologists Use?

Molecular mixologists utilize various pieces of equipment, including blowtorches, for bar and restaurant cooking. They also use a vacuum sealer to combine and infuse ingredients in a vacuum to preserve their flavors and improve the finished product. These aren't items you might expect to be included on a bar supplies list, though.

Vacuum sealers permit unusual combinations of ingredients to produce some of the flavors in popular cocktail recipes. One example includes the infusion of tobacco and leather to produce the distinctive flavor of the Smoked Old Fashioned cocktail.

Mixologists also use a Rotavap, a machine with a vacuum rotary distillation setup. This machine allows the reduction of juices, elimination of aromas, and the production of flavored spirits.

Mixology Tools

A mixologist uses various mixology tools to perfect their craft, as well. A combination of the right ingredients and tools helps a mixologist prepare a cocktail with the highest level of flavor for their patrons. Here's a list of some of the most common mixology tools:

  • A bar spoon is a long-handled spoon a mixologist or bartender uses to stir drinks. It usually has a spiral handle to allow extra grip.
  • A citrus squeezer is a mixology tool for squeezing fruit and releasing juices.
  • A drip tray sits beneath tap dispensers on a bar. It catches and releases spilled liquids.
  • A garnish tray stores and dispenses garnishes and condiments for cocktails.
  • A cocktail jigger is a measuring device shaped like an hourglass. It ensures that each cocktail has the proper amount of alcohol.
  • A cocktail muddler is a tool for mashing fruit, herbs, and sugar to release flavors.
  • A cocktail shaker combines and mixes ingredients through shaking. A mixologist uses three types of shakers: a Boston shaker, a Cobbler shaker, and a French shaker.
  • A speed liquor pourer helps a mixologist or bartender pour quickly and accurately. It's a metal nozzle inserted into the end of a liquor bottle.
  • A cocktail strainer prevents unwanted ingredients or particles from being poured into a drink. The strainer also ensures that the cocktail is smooth.
  • A tong is useful for picking up and carrying ingredients. This includes garnishes, ice, and other objects or edible ingredients added to a cocktail.

Advanced Mixology

Once a person has mastered basic mixology, they might want to raise their skills to the next level of advanced mixology. For beginners in mixology, the focus tends to be on learning cocktail recipes and perfecting techniques. It's vital to learn the most popular cocktails and how to prepare them without any issues.

Become A Master Mixologist

When a mixologist is comfortable preparing and serving the standard list of bartending drinks, they can advance to skills that help them become a master mixologist. Advanced mixologists don't simply rely on recipes for creating the best cocktails. They begin experimenting with their ideas and study how each ingredient contributes to the cocktail's appearance and taste.

Advanced mixologists have sufficient experience and knowledge to begin writing and publishing their own mixology books. This helps them gain an audience and provides additional income from their work.

A True Professional

The ability to effortlessly combine ingredients and show creativity is the sign of a true professional mixologist. Advanced mixologists often come up with new cocktails. They test different variations with friends and colleagues until they discover something flavorful and unique.

Adding flair to drink preparation is another way to explore the world of advanced mixology. Advanced mixologists often demonstrate the ability to flip bottles and perform other tricks when making cocktail drinks. This is challenging to accomplish without taking away from the speed, quality, or taste of a good cocktail.

Mixology Competitions

Advanced mixologists with high confidence in their craft can participate in mixology and cocktail-making competitions. They can demonstrate knowledge and skills against some of the best in the hospitality industry—both nationally and internationally.

Frequently Asked Questions About What Is Mixology?

What Is the Work of Mixology?

Mixology involves preparing and serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to patrons in restaurants and bars. A mixologist might serve cocktails, beer, or wine and even create signature cocktails. It's also necessary to ensure their bar operates efficiently.

What Are Mixology Drinks?

Mixology is the art and study of inventing, preparing, and serving cocktails or mixed drinks. This includes recipes for classic and modern cocktails. The focus is on learning the chemistry, ingredients, and mixology tools.

How Do I Start a Career in Mixology?

Here's a step-by-step path to starting a career in mixology:

1. Get a bartending license.

2. Work as a barback to learn bartending.

3. Find a bartender to mentor you (and add to your own bartender cover letter information).

4. Learn how to pour drinks correctly.

5. Practice making cocktails.

6. Experiment with ingredients of all kinds to start crafting your own recipes.

7. Combine experience with lessons at a bartending school.

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Get Started Learning Mixology Today

If you're interested in learning more about mixology or even becoming a mixologist, there are plenty of resources to guide you in the right direction. Do you already know how to make a whiskey sour, a mimosa, or have your own margarita recipe? Are you a fan of a good sommelier documentary?

If so, then you have a bit of a head start in your journey. Check out which bartending schools in your area offer in-person or online courses and attend one to get started. 

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