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The Ultimate Guide to amazing layered Cocktails and Shooters

Mar 13, 2019 | Post By Brodey Sheppard

So you're trying to work out why you're not getting the results like the photos? Why when you try and do layering it just creates a mixture and not a nice layered effect.

We thought, why not help you out.

We have covered numerous recipes here which involve simple layering and more advanced layering some recipes such as the Venom Cocktail, Bob Marley, Flaming Moe and the Sleeping Beauty all have layering, which is why we thought it would be a great idea to show you how!

We have created the ultimate, the best and most in-depth cocktail and shooter layering guide there is.

Whether you're a bartender, training to be one or just love making awesome cocktails then this is the guide for you.

I want to cover not only how, but why layering works, the reasoning behind it and how you can take it one step further and start designing your own tastes that you can call your own.

Let's jump right in shall we?

What do you need to layer a cocktail?

There is literally hundreds of tools you could buy and use when working in a bar whether at home, or professionally, and just like there are many types of kitchen knives, large, common, small and so forth there are really only 4 that fit under the "Big Four Knives", there are really only a couple bartending tools you actually "need".

Liquor Online sell a massive range of tools and accessories, that's not to say you need them all. Start with the basics and as your skills grow so do your range of tools.

These tools are not all required to doing layering but certainly recommended as the "essentials"

  • Cocktail Shaker
  • Bar Spoon
  • Shot Glass
  • Cocktail Glass
  • Pint
  • Bottle Opener
  • Shot Pourer

You might not know what all these are but not to worry, we will cover them here, if you have existing knowledge fantastic, although you might still learn a thing or two by taking a read!

If you have no experience that's fine you will be calling yourself an expert in no time.

Understanding Liquor Gravity / Densities 

Before jumping into actually layering some drinks, we first need to understand why each liquor and liquid is treated differently and reacts differently to ensure you're getting the result you want.

There is a great guide found over at the-bartender who covers the alcohol density for each type, they did such a great job I'm just going to copy theirs.

Michael puts it well when he says "The lower the percentage of alcohol, the more sugar is still in the fluid = heavier liquid.". Which will help you when coming up with your own drinks that are using liquids not mentioned in the table.

Name Density
Grenadine 1.18
Creme de Cassis 1.18
Anisette 1.175
Crème de Noyaux 1.165
Creme de Almond 1.16
Kahlua 1.15
Creme de Banana 1.14
Creme de Cacao 1.14
White Crème de Cacao 1.14
Coffee Liquor 1.13
Parfrait d’Amour 1.13
Cherry liqueur 1.12
Green Crème de Menthe 1.12
Strawberry liqueur 1.12
White Crème de Menthe 1.12
Blue Curacao 1.11
Galliano 1.11
Amaretto 1.10
Blackberry Liquor 1.10
Apricot Liquor 1.09
Tia Maria 1.09
Triple sec 1.09
Drambuie 1.08
Frangelico 1.08
Orange Curacao 1.08
Campari 1.06
Apricot brandy 1.06
Blackberry brandy 1.06
Cherry brandy 1.06
Peach brandy 1.06
Yellow Chartreuse 1.06
Bailey’s Irish Cream 1.057
Midori Melon Liquor 1.05
Rock and Rye 1.05
Benedictine 1.04
Brandy 1.04
Cherry Liquor 1.04
Cointreau 1.04
Kummel 1.04
Peach liqueur 1.04
Peppermint schnapps 1.04
Sloe gin 1.04
Tonic Water, Indian Tonic Water 1.031
Green Chartreuse 1.01
Water 1.00
Tuaca 0.98
Southern Comfort 0.97
Vodka (40%) 0.916
Absinthe 0.89
Everclear (75%) 0.84
Everclear (95%) 0.80
Alcohol, pure (ethanol) 0.789

So the way this works is the heavier the liquid (the more sugar contents) the lower it will be.

I'm not saying here that that is the only determining factor, it's certainly not, you can go right into temperatures, and velocity, not to mention combining water.  

Here is a great example, put water and ice into a glass.

Both are simply "water" however one is frozen, the temperature helps give the ice a different density the US Geological Survey explain it well

"Ice actually has a very different structure than liquid water, in that the molecules align themselves in a regular lattice rather than more randomly as in the liquid form. It happens that the lattice arrangement allows water molecules to be more spread out than in a liquid, and, thus, ice is less dense than water.".

These are most definitely a varying factor, however, the easiest and what is known as the best rule of thumb is to go by its alcohol and sugar contents.

Here is where it get's a little more difficult, in many cases we are not just combining alcohol, we add so many other liquids to our drinks to give it a differently desired taste.

Some of the more common ingredients in cocktail or shooter are:

  • Honey
  • Soft drink such as coca-cola or sprite
  • Orange Juice
  • Apple Juice
  • Milk
  • Corn Syrup
  • Cherries
  • Lemons
  • Lollies

and that is just to name a few, not everything you put into your drink is necessarily a liquid either, such as lollies, lemon, and cherries, but those themselves have their own densities which need to be considered.

Take a look at this photo I found by who have a great article about this.

Not only do they cover alcohol and some of the common ingredients found in a cocktail but some everyday items as well which help give a better understanding.

When push comes to shove though, Density = Mass / Volume. 

Tips to layering alcohol

Knowing a couple tips and tricks can certainly help you no fail. Trust me, I have failed many times. It's totally normal, and unless you're following a recipe chances are, you're going to fail a couple times before getting it right.

  • As mentioned above, the more sugar contents the liquor has the heavier it is going to be, for example, syrups and heavy liqueurs are going to be heavier than Vodka, Whiskey and rum which contain little to no sugar.
  • The higher proof ( alcohol contents ), the lighter it is going to be, take note of what proof you're using this information will be found on the bottle itself or online for each particular liquor.
  • Try to work on larger gaps in density than smaller, for example, Creme de Cassis has a density of 1.18 and Anisette has a density of 1.175, although technically the Creme de Cassis is denser, it may not be enough to create the effect you're going for. 
  • When pouring, work slower rather than faster this will help get a better result and leave less room for error.
  • Try not to hold your glass as you're pouring, have it on a flat surface and at an eye height that makes it easy to see exactly what is going on.
  • The broader the glass, the less noticeable the layers will be, the narrower the glass the more district layers are formed.
  • Try not to pour down the side of your glass, pour directly onto a spoon or into your glass.

I think you might be ready to move onto making your very own drink now!

How to pour a layered cocktail

If you're jumping straight down here before reading above, I highly recommend you read and understand in order to understand what is going on. 

Alcohol isn't cheap and the last thing I want you to do is to waste it.

All we are going to need for us to run through how to do this is a glass, and a layering spoon.

Let's jump into a step by step how to pour a layered cocktail, shall we?

  1. Using the information above via the table or proof is written on the bottle itself to work out the density of each of your drinks. Make sure you're pouring your liquids from heaviest to lightest. If you're using something like juice or milk, you might want to use a shot glass as a small sample to work out which layer to put it in.
  2. Remembering not to touch the edges with your various ingredients pour in your first layer.
  3. If you have a layering spoon that's fantastic but you can also use an everyday tablespoon turned upside down, push the spoon against the edge of the glass just above your previous layer but not touching.
  4. Take things slow when adding layers, make sure you're raising your spoon up as the drink raises so the spoon never touches, repeat this process till your happy with the results.

It's seriously as simple as that, the execution is a lot easier than the understanding. 

Keep in mind, that these instructions above are the "conventional" way of doing things if you like to be unique or want to experiment these may not apply.

For example, you can add various effects putting your layering spoon in your previous layer instead of on top, if you're going for colors you can normally get the color by looking around at different brands and finding higher proof bottles in the order in which you're going for.

This article is designed to teach you the basics, for you to go play and extend your knowledge on and make some awesome fresh ideas and broaden your bartending skills.

Best of wishes with your creativity and drinking!

About Author

Photo of Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is an enthusiastic marketing and advertising strategest out of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Brodey has always been passionate about liquor and alcohol in general. You will find Brodey on the weekends either out on the football pitch kicking goals or down the lake with a glass of wine.

View all posts by Brodey Sheppard
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