Modern Day Alchemy: What Is Mixology?

what is mixology
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Have you ever wondered what is happening behind the bar when you order a fancy cocktail?

There are ingredients being thrown around, smoke coming from your glass, or perhaps even sparks flying.

What on earth is going on?

That’s the world of mixology, a craft that has transformed the way we think about drinks, designed to take your drinking experience to a whole new level.

But what is mixology? What are the nuts and bolts of this craft and are there any differences between mixology and bartending?

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the modern-day alchemy that is mixology, and explore its roots, how it works, and why it has become so popular in the beverage industry.

The term mixology has become a bit of a buzzword within the bartending industry lately, but by the end of this post, you’ll know all there is about this fascinating style of bartending.

What Is Mixology?

At its core, mixology is the art and science behind creating cocktails. It involves combining various ingredients such as spirits, mixers, bitters, and garnishes to create a unique and memorable drinking experience.

It’s essentially another word for mixing drinks or bartending with a focus on cocktails and their different flavor profiles, colors, and textures to craft the most delicious and visually appealing drinks.

Mixology involves being able to tell the difference between a Ramos Gin Fizz and a Tom Collins with precision and accuracy and being able to break down the recipe of each cocktail.

what is mixology
Photo by Andra C Taylor Jr

It also involves understanding the history and culture behind cocktails and being able to make modifications or variations to drinks based on the customer’s request or preference.

It’s a creative and technical craft that has become an integral part of the bartending industry, and you’ll often find mixology taking place in high-end cocktail bars or fancy restaurants.

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Why Is Mixology An Art?

Mixology is considered an art because it requires a high degree of creativity, knowledge, and a deep understanding of flavor profiles, textures, and aesthetics.

It’s a form of self-expression through cocktails that is truly impressive, and oftentimes experienced mixologists have a vast knowledge of many different cocktails and their history.

If you ever come across an advanced mixologist I suggest you pick their brains and learn more about your favorite cocktails, they’ll gladly converse with you on the subject of their craft.

Similar to an artist painting or a chef creating a dish, mixologists start with a set of ingredients and use their knowledge to create something truly unique and delicious.

The process involves experimenting with different ingredients such as syrups and fruits, and pairing ingredients together that have different flavor profiles to create something tasty but also visually appealing.

what is mixology
Photo by Antoni Shkraba

Mixologists may create smoke by burning a small piece of oak or fruitwood, or perhaps they’ll add bubbles by adding egg white as one of the ingredients.

Oftentimes mixologists will use their prior knowledge of certain cocktails to put a spin on their drink and make it more unique and interesting.

They’ll educate their guest on where the drink originates, what ingredients are used, and what they’ve done to spice it up a little.

The level of innovation and creativity that goes into crafting some of their drinks is truly remarkable and is why they are so sought after in establishments today.

What Is The Difference Between Mixology And Bartending?

While the words mixology and bartending are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two that are important to be aware of.

Bartending is the act of serving drinks and alcohol to customers, they are responsible for ensuring guests have an enjoyable experience, as well as taking orders, making drinks, and the presentation and maintenance of the bar.

Bartenders can be found in many different establishments, including casinos, hotels, and your old local rundown bar.

They have foundational knowledge on everything from setting up the bars, laws, and regulations of alcohol, and the strength of certain drinks.

On the other hand, mixology is more focused on the art of crafting cocktails and a mixologist is someone who specializes in the creation of cocktails and has in-depth knowledge of spirits, drinks, and ingredients.

They use their creativity and technical skills to craft unique and innovative cocktails that can have visual appeal such as smoke, sparks, or bubbles.

You’ll often find mixologists working in high-end cocktail bars or luxury resorts, similar to flair bartenders, mixologists are there to impress guests with their in-depth knowledge and cocktail-creating skills.

what is mixology
Photo by Sexto Abismo

While a bartender is focused on serving drinks and ensuring the atmosphere of the bar is welcoming, mixologists are focused on the creation of drinks that are visually appealing and delicious.

That said, a bartender can also be a mixologist, as “bartender” is more of a broad term that covers many aspects of the industry.

Mixology is a sub-niche within the bartending industry, but ultimately the difference lies in the level of expertise and knowledge in crafting cocktails.

A mixologist is a specialist, whereas a bartender is a generalist.

The History And Evolution Of Mixology

The history of mixology can be traced right back centuries ago when humans first started fermenting grains and fruits to create alcoholic beverages.

Thankfully I wasn’t around back then as I’m more of a Spicy Margarita guy myself.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the art of mixing drinks really took off, when saloon owner Jerry Thomas authored the first cocktail book ever written.

From then on, bartenders and mixologists had a recipe book that they could use to practice creating drinks and experimenting with.

But during prohibition in the 1920s, mixology went underground as bartenders became experts in crafting cocktails to mask the taste of illegal alcohol.

They would use copious amounts of sugars and syrups to create punches that would hide the taste.

Not the healthiest of options but it did the job.

This time also saw the rise of speakeasies, also known as blind pigs or blind tigers, essentially places where alcoholic beverages were sold illegally.

But it also gave birth to some of the most iconic and impressive cocktails that are still thriving today, such as the Martini and Manhattan.

In the mid-20th century, the popularity of cocktails declined as beer and wine became the preferred drink of choice, but in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a resurgence in craft cocktails, and this is where modern-day mixology took off.

what is mixology
Photo by Artem Pochepetsky

Social media and television both played a significant role in the rise of mixology and after prohibition ended the desire for craft cocktails with locally sourced ingredients began to blossom.

Since then, mixology has only gone from strength to strength with it now being an integral part of the hospitality industry.

Skilled mixologists are in high demand for their creativity, in-depth knowledge, and ability to dazzle and impress guests with their cocktail-making skills, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

The Future Of Mixology

I’m no Mystic Meg, but it doesn’t take looking into a crystal ball to see that the future of mixology is bright and full of potential.

The hospitality industry is growing at a rapid rate and as it grows more people get into the beverage industry and specifically mixology.

As mixologists continue to push the boundaries on what’s possible, there are several trends that are likely to take place in the near future.

One of the most significant is the growing focus on sustainability. With an ever-increasing concern for the environment, mixologists are exploring new ways to reduce waste and incorporate sustainable materials into their craft.

Perhaps they use locally sourced goods or reuse ingredients that might otherwise go to waste.

Another focus is on health and wellness, and as consumers become more health-conscious, it’s likely that mixologists will start to use ingredients that are lower in calories and sugars.

what is mixology
Photo by Laure Noverraz

We’re already seeing mixologists responding to this by using natural sweeteners as well as fresh, whole ingredients to create somewhat “healthy” drinks.

It’s also likely that we’ll see technology incorporated into mixology as the use of apps, social media, websites, and artificial intelligence (AI) increases.

With AI, mixologists may be able to experiment with different ingredients to forecast the desired result which could make them more efficient at coming up with new drinks and flavors.

The possibilities are endless, but there’s no doubt mixology will continue to shine and become a more desirable skill as time goes on.

Wrapping Up

To summarize, mixology is a truly fascinating craft that has evolved drastically over recent years and is showing no signs of slowing down.

What started as the simple practice of mixing drinks has turned into an art form that combines creativity, innovation, and self-expression.

Mixologists are always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible within the industry, and there’s no doubt that in the future as more techniques and methods are incorporated the industry will continue thriving.

With a rich history, diverse flavors, and the ability to captivate guests far and wide, mixology is truly a blessing within the bartending industry.

With that said, I hope you’ve learned something new today in this post and have a newfound appreciation for the world of mixology.

Next time you come across a mixologist at a bar, don’t be afraid to have a chat with them as they’ll have a fountain of knowledge to share with you.

See you in the next one!

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