In Food + Drink

Charlie Ainsbury On Five Ingredients You Can Make 15 Cocktails From

And the golden rules to get them right.

Charlie Ainsbury is on a mission to demystify cocktails. The two-time winner of Australian Bartender of the Year for the Diageo World Class, co-owner of popular Sydney bar This Must Be The Place (also an award winner, taking out 2017 Time Out Best Cocktail Bar), and National Spirit Ambassador for Dan Murphy’s, Ainsbury knows a thing or two about cocktails – including the exaggerated necessity of ‘skill.’

“We’re a bunch of show-offs that make it look difficult, to be honest,” he says.

Charlie Ainsbury cocktails cocktail recipe

Charlie Ainsbury Photo: Facebook

“It’s definitely a profession that is on show, so performing is part and parcel of the role. But part of my campaign is to show people just how easy making cocktails is. And, my Gosh, it’s really, really easy.

“There’s just a few hurdles to get over, and then you’re good to go.”

Let’s tackle those hurdles now.

Charlie Ainsbury on the core ingredients

Ainsbury cites five core ingredients that are essential to any home bar.

“These five ingredients can probably make you fifteen cocktails, if not a whole lot more,” he says. “Depending on what spirits you have at home, the sky’s the limit.”

First off, we have vermouths. “You’ll need both sweet and dry, but they’re really inexpensive.”

Next, mixers. “Just a four-pack of soda, ginger ale, whatever your favourite mixer is.”

Then, citrus – the fresher the better. “We really want people to stay away from bottled citrus and the like,” says Ainsbury. “Good citrus doesn’t come from a bag, it comes from a lemon or a lime.”

Simple syrup or sugar comes next. “In order to balance your drinks, you need to balance sweet and sour, so obviously you need something sweet.”

Finally, grab yourself some bitters. “Bitters is a great thing to have, because it’s really inexpensive but it lasts you ages. We call it the bartender’s salt and pepper, because a little goes a long way.”


Charlie Ainsbury cocktails cocktail recipe

The well-stocked shelves of This Must Be The Place Photo: Facebook

What spirits you stock your bar with are really up to you. However, when it comes to cocktails at least, some spirits will go further than others.

Ainsbury recommends starting off with gin. “The dark spirits in general a little bit trickier,” he says, “But gins are great. Vodkas are fine, too, but gins have a little bit more versatility.

“Vodka’s only been a part of the cocktail world since the nineteen-fifties, whereas gin’s been around for a lot longer. So, we’ve got tons more cocktails for gin than we do vodka.”


Bar equipment is notoriously confusing for the uninitiated. Shakers, muddlers, paring knives, strainers – it can all get a bit much. But Ainsbury is adamant that while having the right equipment certainly helps, it’s hardly essential.

“The equipment scares a lot of people,” he says. “They see all these fancy tools which can be very confusing – but really, you have everything you need at home, in your kitchen.

“You don’t even need a cocktail shaker, although it does look nice on the bar cart.”

Putting it all together

Once you get your bar set up, it’s time to start mixing. But this, says Ainsbury, is where the trouble starts for most people. The key is to just stick to the recipe – rather than attempting to wing it while doing your best Tom Cruise impression.

The main thing is to understand the basic formulas,” says Ainsbury. “The difference between a poor cocktail and a good cocktail is balance. It’s the same way you’d follow a recipe for making a dessert or a pastry.”

These concepts of balance and formulas are the keys that will open up the whole world of cocktails to you. And once you master one cocktail, nailing the others is simply a matter of natural progression.

For instance, take the daiquiri,” says Ainsbury. “The daiquiri – in its classic form – is rum, lime juice, and sugar syrup. That’s all it is. But then if you add mint to it and soda water, you have a mojito. It’s exactly the same recipe; you’re essentially making a daiquiri with mint and soda.

“And then if you substitute the rum with gin – again, following the exact same recipe – that would be called a Southside cocktail. And then the only difference between that and the Margarita is that you’re using tequila instead of gin, and instead of using sugar syrup as a sweetener, you’re using Cointreau.

“You can take one thing out, but you have to put one thing back in, in exactly the same recipe. That’s all cocktails are.”

This is why cocktail recipes are often given in terms of ‘parts.’ The actual amount of any one ingredient only matters in relation to how big a drink you want to make; the more important thing to remember is its proportion relative to the other ingredients – of which, typically, there are only a few.

“That’s kind of what I’m trying to get across to people,” says Ainsbury. “This isn’t even like cooking – it’s literally just three ingredients that you need to know.

“As long as you know the measurements, and you observe balance, you’ll be fine.”

(Lead image: The well-stocked shelves of This Must Be The Place Photo: Facebook)

Published 25 January, 2018