How to Fix Common Mistakes in Cocktails

Easy Ways to Fix Common Cocktail Mistakes

By Peyton Whittington Published March 2024

Have you ever attempted to make one of your favorite cocktails at home and it just...didn’t taste right? Maybe you gulped it down anyway, maybe you attempted to tinker with it and gave up, or maybe you swore off at-home mixology altogether because no one could POSSIBLY mix up a better margarita than your favorite local bartender.

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Mixology may seem intimidating, but it’s all just flavor math. When complementary flavors come together in the right proportions, that’s when you get that first sip that makes you go “Ooo” instead of “Ugh.”

Here’s your ultimate guide to how to mix a balanced cocktail, including flavor breakdowns, mixing rules of thumb and a cheat sheet on how to fix your favorite unbalanced classic cocktails.

The Dish on Flavor

To understand how to make a good cocktail, you’ve got to understand how to balance your flavors. There are five basic flavors:

  • Sweet: honey, agave, sugar, fruits, syrups

  • Salty: salt, olives, bacon and pretty much any other Bloody Mary topping

  • Bitter: coffee, dark chocolate, tonic water, bitters, certain liqueurs and aperitifs (like Campari and Aperol)

  • Sour: citrus, vinegar, yogurt, kombucha and other fermented ingredients

  • Umami (savory): meats, cheeses, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions

What makes a cocktail balanced?

Every drink has a primary flavor profile, but the best ones use complementary flavors to create a dynamic tasting experience. Think about the flavors in an Aperol Spritz that make it so deliciously refreshing: you’ve got bitter Aperol, bubbly and sweet prosecco and citrus from the orange that all come together for a drink you never want to stop sipping.

There are also flavors that bring out the best in other flavors, like a best friend who hypes you up before a night out. As a general rule of thumb, these flavors enhance each other 1:

  • SWEET enhances SALTY

  • SALTY enhances SWEET

  • SOUR enhances UMAMI and SALTY

As an example, what would a margarita be without a salt rim? The sodium just takes all the flavors already present in the cocktail to the next level. That’s what you want when adding complementary flavors.

Mix Fixes

You now know how to pair complementary flavors for a taste explosion, but even the most seasoned bartenders mix an off-balance drink from time to time. The key is knowing how to identify the ingredient in excess, correct it with a complementary ingredient and enjoy.

As general rules of thumb, these are the ingredients that balance each other 1:

Graph showing ingrediance balancing each other mentioned above
  • SWEET can balance SOUR or BITTER

  • SOUR can balance SWEET or BITTER

  • BITTER can balance SWEET or SALTY

  • SALTY can balance BITTER

Therefore, you can fix a cocktail that’s off-kilter by adding more of a balancing ingredient.

How do you fix a cocktail that’s unbalanced?

Is your cocktail too sour? Add a little simple syrup.

Is your cocktail too sweet? Add more soda water.

Is your cocktail too bitter? Add a pinch of salt.

Is your cocktail too salty? Add a bit more Campari.

Here at ABC University, we believe in learning by doing, so let’s explore flavor balancing by fixing common mistakes in five classic cocktails.

5 Unbalanced Cocktails and How to Fix Them



Issue: Too bitter

How to fix it: Add more sweetness, like sweet vermouth or even a dash of simple syrup. You can also swap out Campari for a less bitter aperitif, like soft orange Aperol or earthy Cynar.



Issue: Too sour

How to fix it: Add more sweetness, like agave or simple syrup. If you like a flavored margarita, you can also add a sweet fruit juice, like mango, pineapple or guava.



Issue: Too sweet

How to fix it: Add more sourness (lime juice). You can also add more rum if you like a stiff drink.



Issue: Too salty

How to fix it: Add more bitterness (grapefruit juice).

Bloody Mary


Issue: Too spicy

How to fix it: Add more sweetness (tomato juice) or sourness (lemon or lime juice).

You did it. You are now the master of the five flavors, fixer of unbalanced cocktails, creator of delicious drinks, first of your name. Go forth and mix. Happy sipping.

Here at ABC, we’re just not balanced without you. Restore equilibrium by visiting your local ABC Fine Wine & Spirits to stock your bar cart with all your mixing favorites.

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.