Secret Weapon: Secondary Ingredients & Modifiers

Cocktail mixing is like baking - small ingredient quantities can yield big results

Flavor modifiers are the seasoning of the cocktail world, and what "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" is to the culinary world, "Sugar, Acid, Bitter Proof" is to the world behind the pine.

A two part cocktail can be incredibly pleasing, but complexity is what sets apart a truly craft cocktail from a decent mixed drink. Understanding how to utilize these secondary ingredients will help improve your recipes and build on your understanding of how to balance a drink.

Modifiers can be used to change mouthfeel, flavor, or even the aromatics of the cocktail, but before you can work on putting them to use, you have to know what the primary modifying ingredients are, and how they affect the outcome of your cocktail:


Syrups, cordials, or liqueurs can be used to increase sweetness in cocktails, but beyond that they can change the mouthfeel. Adding a quarter ounce of sugar to an otherwise good cocktail will give it richness and body. The molecules in added sugars differ from the sugar found naturally in alcohol and are far more complex, carrying flavor further and creating a silky smooth taste with every sip.

Examples: Lillet, vermouth, amaretto, Domaine de Canton


Bitter modifiers can be used not only to make a more bitter flavor, but to create dryness in a cocktail. The more bitter the ingredient, the dryer the mouthfeel. When balanced in small proportions, this can be particularly pleasing because it increases salivation and makes you want to drink and eat. This is why bitters and dry wines are often used as apertifs.

Examples: Zucca Rabarbaro, Suze, Becherovka, Jagermeister, Pernod, Bitters


Using a higher proof alcohol can give your cocktail backbone and spread flavors out in a way that base alcohols alone can’t always achieve. A prime example of this is introducing a small amount of overproof rum to a tiki drink to keep the fruit juices from becoming to sticky-sweet. This helps when using flavors or syrups that can be particularly cloying, such as sweet fruits or floral liqueurs.

Examples: Stolen Overproof Rum, Sacred Bond Bonded Brandy, Everclear


Acid plays an integral role in balancing cocktails. Without it drinks become flat and sugary. Even citrus oil plays a role in spirit forward cocktails.

Acidity doesn’t have to only come from citrus though - vinegar, sherry, and cream are all high in acid and can balance drinks in a way that lemon or lime alone can’t.

Examples: sherry, cream, shrubs, acidified juices

What's your favorite way to elevate your cocktail recipes? Tell us below!


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