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How to use Cocktail Families when Designing Cocktails

Cocktail Components:

When starting to use Cocktail families, it’s important to understand the translation between a cocktail recipe and a cocktail family.  That’s done by breaking a cocktail into its components.

Here are some examples of cocktail components with ingredients for each:


Example Ingredients:

Spirit Gin, Vodka, Tequila, Whiskey, etc.
Sweetener Simple Syrup, Agave Nectar, Maple Syrup, etc.
Sour / Acid Lemon Juice, Lime Juice
Bitters Angostura Bitters, Orange Bitters, etc.
Liqueur Cointreau, Chambord, Green Chartreuse
Fortified Wine Sweet Vermouth, Dry vermouth
Sparkling Mixers Soda Water, Sparkling Wine, Ginger Beer

Switching Families: Four Drinks for the Price of One

In my opinion, the most powerful reason to know about Cocktail Families is that they give you the ability to build many cocktails at once, without having to waste spirit.

For example:

  • Sling + Acid and Hot Water = Toddy
  • Toddy + Sweet & Sour = Sour
  • Sour + Sparkling Ingredient = Fizz
  • Fizz + Bitters = Swizzle

In this example, I may have a recipe for a Swizzle, but as I built it I got to try three other drinks along the way.  If I liked how the Sour tasted, I’d be finished and wouldn’t have wasted a drop of expensive ingredients.

The Fernet Swizzle

I’m thinking I’d like to build a Fernet cocktail, and I’m considering the Swizzle Family

I’m going to hedge my bets and build this cocktail in order of several different cocktail families, adjusting along the way.  This will let me leave my options open in case an “earlier” variant works!

Step 1: Consider your Components and Choose Ingredients

Since we’re aiming for a Swizzle, here are my Components and ingredient choices:



In this cocktail I’m going to use a Guatemalan Aged Rum. I know it’s made with fresh cane pressed sugar.  It has some molasses and vegetal elements as well.


Since the aged rum has that molasses content, I’m going to choose Turbinado syrup to boost the molasses flavor.


Since the spirit is barrel-aged, I’m going to start with lemon juice as that’s usually what works for me.

Carbonated Beverage

We’re going to stick with soda water for now.


We’re going to use Fernet instead of bitters, as it provides bitterness and an herbal component as well.

Step 2: Step Back:

There are a lot of potential cocktails that could be built with the components above.  Let’s go through the options on paper until we see an option that looks like what we want. Using the progression of cocktail families discussed in the “Switching Families” tab, we’ll work through this cocktail’s options in order.

Rum Swizzle _ ResizedThe Sling:

  • 2 oz Aged Rum
  • 1/2 oz Turbinado Syrup

The Cobbler

  • 2 oz Aged Rum
  • 1/2 oz Turbinado Syrup
  • 3 oz Soda Water

The Fizz

  • 2 oz Aged Rum
  • 1/2 oz Turbinado Syrup
  • 3 oz Soda Water
  • 3/4 oz of Lemon Juice

The Swizzle

  • 2 oz Aged Rum
  • 1/2 oz Turbinado Syrup
  • 3 oz Soda Water
  • 3/4 oz of Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 oz Fernet


So what did we learn along the way?

Tasting the final product, I would make two key changes to this drink:

  1. I would use Lime juice instead of lemon because of the strong vegetal qualities of the drink
  2. I would use Ginger beer instead of soda water because it is a little low on flavor (or too low on the “flavor” spectrum of balance.)
  3. (Optional) I could also potentially infuse the syrup with flavor if it needed even more flavor