Cocktails are a fantastic creation, made up of ton's of different flavors and components. I've decided to explain the different components and then deconstruct a cocktail for you.
This what is says on the tin. Normally Vodka, Rum, Whiskey, Gin, Tequila or Brandy but with the craft cocktail movement today this isn't always the case anymore. The best way to figure it out is it's the most predominant alcoholic liquid in the drink for example, a Tom Collins would be Gin as well as a White Lady. A Side Car would be Brandy and Manhattan would you Bourbon/Rye.
You get the idea...
So you've got your base spirit now you need your modifiers, these can be in in the form on alcoholic and non alcohol ingredients like fruit juice's and flavored syrups.
In alcohol terms these are normally liqueurs, tinctures and cremes.
For example in the White Lady mentioned about you have Gin as the base spirit and triple sec as a modifying agent, same as a side car. In the Manhattan you have Vermouth as the modifier.
This is what it says on the tin, this can be Gomme, Simple Syrup, MONIN or just about anything sweet. I always use as 2:1 Rich Simple Syrup in my cocktails as I find it gives a better mouth feel to my drinks.
There are 2 types of bitters Palatable and Unpalatable.
Palatable bitters are products such as Campari, Kamm & Sons, Cynar and Ramazzorti. Generally Italian but not always, then can always be drank on there own/with a mixer.
Non palatable bitters are products such as Angostura being the most famous Bitters are a complex cocktail flavorings. they're not made to be drank but using sparingly in cocktail creations.
Sour agents is most products that give a cocktail balance. Lemon & Lime juice are the obvious ones that spring to mind but nowadays you can also use Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Phosphate Acid.
There are also binding agents using in cocktail most commonly an Egg White, Xanthian Gum or Gum Arabica these help with the texture and Constancy of a drink.
Deconstructing a Cocktail
To the right I have a Blueberry and Amaretto Sours.
I've tweaked my receipt for the article but I'll post the original on the site to.
So here is the recipe:
30ml Lazzaroni Amaretto
20ml Cold Rivers Blueberry Vodka
25ml Lemon Juice
1 Egg White
2 Dash The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters
From top to bottom you have
Base Spirit - Amaretto
Modifier - Cold Rivers Blueberry Vodka
Sour - Lemon Juice
Binding - Egg White
Bitters - The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters
How simple was that. Not all cocktails will have all of the components here I've mentioned and some maybe harder to figure out but generally all ingredients will fit into these categories.
For example Negroni equal measure Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Campari
Gin - Base Spirit
Sweet Vermouth - Modifier
Campari - Bitter
I hope this has helped you understand how a cocktail is constructed and helps you start creating your own genius!