How to Build Mixed Drinks in the Glass

It's the Easiest Bartending Technique You'll Learn

Barman building cocktails in the bar
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You know how to shake and stir, but what does it mean when a cocktail recipe says to 'build' the drink? Though it sounds like some fancy bartending technique, it's actually the easiest and you're probably doing it already. It's quite simple because all you need to do is pour.

How Do You 'Build' a Drink?

Building a drink means that you simply pour the ingredients directly into the serving glass and on top of any previous ingredient.

Really, that's it!

This mixing technique is used for the most basic of mixed drinks. You will find it in many of the popular highball drinks like the John Collins, Vodka Tonic, and Rum & Coke. It is also used for short mixed drinks like the White Russian and Nutty Irishman. If you're pouring liquor and mixers directly into the glass, you're building a drink.

When building mixed drinks, you usually want to add the ingredients in the order they are given in the recipe. This often means that your liquor goes in first, followed by your modifiers (liqueurs, juices, and syrups), then finish up with your sodas and other high-volume ingredients. Of course, the order of the pour is a matter of debate and every bartender follows their own theories and habits. 

Technically, you could even say that layered drinks are built. However, we often associate the word 'build' with mixed drinks (as in, drinks that are actually mixed).

Further Mixing of Built Mixed Drinks

Drinks that are built in the glass are also subject to stirring most of the time. For instance, you can build the Bloody Mary, yet it does no good if it is not stirred so those spices fully integrate into the tomato and vodka mix.

On occasion, you might also want to shake a mixed drink that was built in the serving glass.

This is common for creamy drinks like the Dirty Bird. Yes, you can stir it, but the shake adds an extra froth that separates this drink from its more popular cousin, the White Russian.

To do this, simply pour the ingredients into the glass according to the recipe.

  1. Place the tin of your cocktail shaker over the glass, ensuring that you get a nice seal.
  2. Firmly hold both the tin and the glass (one in each hand) and carefully give the entire contraption a nice shake to mix the ingredients.
  3. Set the glass down on the bar top and remove the shaker tin.

This can be a little messy, especially with thinner glassware that doesn't allow for a tight seal with the tin. It works best with double old-fashioned glasses and pint glasses but can be done with a highball glass. If you're really careful and have a short shaker tin, it can work on a collins glass as well.

More Mixed Drinks to Build

The building doesn't require a lot of (or any) training, though you do want to make sure to avoid spills and splashes. If you choose to use a speed pourer on your liquor bottles, you will need to practice a bit because it takes some getting used to.

Here are a few more drinks that are built and are good for practicing this simple skill.

  • Long Island Iced Tea - You will do a lot of pouring for this drink as five liquors go into the glass.
  • Mimosa - It's very important that you build Champagne cocktails like this in a certain order because the bubbles do the mixing for you.
  • Tootsie Roll Shooter - Many shot drinks skip all of the fancy mixing techniques and go straight for the build.