Here's Why Bobby Flay Wants You To Treat Your Cocktail Like A Vinaigrette

Cocktails are one of the best ways to showcase the flavor of a spirit, allowing the liquor to mix with complementary ingredients for a more complete, nuanced profile. But building out a cocktail that balances the spirit and its mixers is not always an easy task. In a conversation with Bon Appétit, Bobby Flay shared his excitement for the renewed wave of popularity that cocktails are enjoying, saying, "What's great about the recent cocktail explosion is that it's gotten us to think about the ingredients we use when making a drink." But not all cocktails are created equal, says Flay, adding, "My issue, though, is that most cocktails today are cloyingly sweet. You should think of your drink like a vinaigrette. It needs to be balanced." 

As an example, one of Flay's favorite cocktails is the Italian cocktail sbagliato, a riff on the better-known Negroni. Sbagliatos are made up of 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part Campari, and 1 part prosecco. By using sparkling wine instead of Negroni gin, the drink takes on a lighter, more effervescent quality. The bitter, zesty notes of Campari play with the sweeter vanilla and caramel-like flavors in the sweet vermouth. Like a vinaigrette, each ingredient adds depth of flavor, while the bubbling prosecco allows them to meld into one harmonious sip.

What does it take to make a balanced cocktail?

Cocktails are generally sorted into categories, like the stirred cocktail (Sazeracs and old fashioneds), highballs (mojitos and mules), and sours (margaritas and cosmos). That means building a cocktail out for balance like a vinaigrette will vary from type to type. Stirred drinks tend to be lower volume with fewer, but more potent, ingredients like bitters; highballs hold more mixers, like ginger beer or seltzer; and sours have, of course, more sour ingredients. 

To start your cocktail-mixing journey, base the mix-ins on the primary spirit and decide which of its flavors you want to highlight. As a general rule, tequila and mezcal play well with sours and smoke, whiskey can lean sweeter or more licoricey, and playing up gin's botanical and herbaceous notes is a great choice. 

For inspiration and another example of a balanced vinaigrette-like cocktail, look to the classic Sidecar. It's a simple shaken drink made up of brandy, orange liqueur (we like Cointreau), lemon juice, and lemon and sugar-dusted rim. The bright citruses highlight the sweetness and nuance of the brandy, while the sugar rim cuts through the acidity for a beautifully balanced beverage. 

Whether you're building original cocktail recipes or riffing on an old classic, try to keep sugar, spice, and sourness in balance with the spirit for a perfect drink every time.