How to balance cocktails?

Guys, how do you balance cocktails?

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I suppose the not-so-helpful answer is that you add more of something and/or you take something away until you find a result you prefer. But ideally you’re pursuing a result that is not merely “balanced”, but transcendent.

The main practical problem is that your perception of flavor can be unreliable and difficult to correct for. A few folks—@AudreySaunders comes immediately to mind—are exceptionally good at refining a recipe. A highly trained palate is part of it. The rest is experience and hard work. Her methodology often requires systematically pitting dozens of small variations directly against each other (at once) in search of magic. Because one’s perceptions get distorted and exhausted during use, one may have to revisit a problem over multiple days.

Some/many drinks are simply not viable at all, or cannot be “balanced” without being transformed into a different drink. (The Piña Colada comes to mind.)

Some question whether “balance” is even the right word, since it implies some purely objective ratio for any arbitrary combination of ingredients. A drink that is “balanced” might not actually be as delicious as one that is dominated by an ingredient or flavor. Take the Old Fashioned for example: it’s a glass of whiskey that is lightly sweetened, lightly diluted, modified with bitters, and (hopefully) perfumed with citrus oil. But is it “balanced”?

I have seen the word “harmonize” thrown around. While I understand why, I’m not so keen on it, because it is again mathematical, overloaded, perhaps overused, and undervalues dissonance.

I have come to object the idea of a ‘balanced’ drink, although I still lazily refer to a ‘perfectly balanced cocktail’ when I drink something I feel couldn’t be improved upon.

Martin’s Old Fashioned example is perfect in that respect. I tend to use the Daiquiri: a Daiquiri where the sourness of the citrus and the sweetness of the sugar are ‘balanced’ is a flat drink, which explains why a lot of Daiquiris are not great.


thanks martin !i like cocktail so much

thanks francois for answer