Learn How to Create Layered Cocktails and Shots

3 Easy Steps to Floating Liquor Like a Pro

Floating ingredients on cocktails takes practice and patience.
Floating ingredients on cocktails takes practice and patience but it's actually pretty easy. Jena Cumbo / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Bartenders use a technique called floating to create layered drinks and shots. It is very easy to learn and anyone can do it, all you need is some practice and a few tips to get started.

The Theory Behind Layered Drinks

Layered drinks have been popular for over a century. It began with a multi-layered dessert drink called the pousse-cafe. These could have five or more colorful (and flavorful) liqueurs layered in a glass.

Those fell out of favor, but the floating technique is still widely used by bartenders.

Today, we float most often to:

As you will see, the technique is easy. The trick is to layer ingredients according to their specific gravity. This means that the bottom ingredient of your drink needs to be heavier than the top layers. The greater the density difference between two layers, the better separation you will get.

Fun Fact: Grenadine is one of the heaviest liquids used in the bar and it always sinks to the bottom of a glass, even when it is the last ingredient poured. Grenadine's density is what makes drinks like the Tequila Sunrise and Firefly so cool to look at. 

How to Float Liquor in a Drink

  1. Begin with the heaviest ingredients in the bottom of the glass.
    • In the case of layered shots like the B-52, this would be the heaviest liquor. For the B-52, that is Kahlua. Bailey's is next and Grand Marnier is last.
    • In the case of mixed drinks that are topped with liquor, build the drink as the recipe recommends. For instance, the vodka, orange juice and ice of a Harvey Wallbanger before floating Galliano on top.
  1. Hold a barspoon upside down over of the drink.
    • A barspoon is thinner than the average spoon and should fit inside most glasses.
  2. Slowly pour the liquor over the back of the spoon and on top of the drink.
    • Move the spoon up as the glass fills.
    • The spoon slows down and disperses the top liquid and prevents the two from mixing together.
    • If your layers seem to be mixing together, give them a minute. As the turbulence settles, your layers should become more defined.
  1. If your recipe requires multiple layers, simply repeat steps 2 and 3.

A Few Tips for Layering Drinks

  • To keep the layering effect, the drink should not be stirred.
  • Practice is the best way to get the feel for creating clean layers.
  • A chilled glass often works best.
  • A speed pourer can be helpful for slowing down the pour. This is particularly true if your liquor bottle is full and heavy.
  • You can use any spoon. A barspoon has a thinner bowl and is easier to fit into shot glasses. The long handle also helps with balance and keeps your hand steady.
  • Some bartenders will put the tip of the spoon just under the first layer. Depending on your technique, this may help you as well.
  • Layering can also be done with a syringe that is food-safe. It's not as professional (or cool) looking, but easier. Choose one with a larger hole.

Layered Cocktails

Most cocktails that use a float do so to create a flavor experience. Sipping on one of these is a pleasure because the top ingredient hits your tongue first, then you're treated to the mixed drink underneath.

Layered Shots

Party shots are fun to play with.

As soon as you master the layering technique, you can create your own shots using whatever is in your liquor cabinet. Just remember to reference the specific gravity chart.