Years ago, I memorized a few standard drink names. This gave me a way to have an answer at the ready when I went to a bar without a cocktail menu in sight. In my quest to discover cocktails, I had to figure out what I liked (tough!) and how to navigate ordering new things. I didn’t want to waste money, but getting the same thing gets kind of old. (I can’t count how many gin and tonics I’ve consumed.) The thing that made me nervous, was just feeling like I would look or sound dumb if I didn’t know what I wanted. Has this ever happened to you? Here are a few things I’ve learned that might help you pick the perfect cocktail for you:
Ask for a menu. This is basic, but a lot of bars and restaurants just bring them out when they are asked for. It seems like there is a shortage in some places, so they limit their use. I’m guessing this is either due to the price of making a menu, or not wanting to shock people with the price of a beverage.
Don’t let price dictate your choice. I get it, you may be on a budget. But, to me, having one perfect drink is better than four cheap ones. And if you think you’re not getting your “money’s worth” there is usually a lot less alcohol per well happy hour special than one good, stiff drink. Besides, you’re worth a quality cocktail.
Ask for recommendations. This is hard for me. We all have different taste buds than other people. But, asking what a place is known for (either the restaurant or the area you’re in) can get a good conversation going. Ask for what’s popular or unique. In the end, it’s your choice but getting a little input can help.
Find a go-to spirit, or two. Pick from a list of basics that are likely to be in most bars: gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila. Sip some spirits straight and see what you like. Retry things that you’ve sworn off. Try variations on the classics – a dark rum instead of a traditional. Personally, I love the botanical dryness of a good gin.
Figure out a flavor profile you enjoy. Spicy? Sweet? Salty? Umami? If you know what kinds of flavors you like in a drink, that can also help with recommendations. If the drink you want isn’t on the menu you asked for, any good bartender should be able to figure out something that you would enjoy.
Don’t be afraid to ask what something is. So many cocktail bars, especially craft cocktail ones, are constantly experimenting with new ingredients to stay ahead of the trends. Don’t feel like you should know what everything is. The smallest drop of something can “ruin” a drink if it’s a flavor you hate. I am constantly asking what things are, or there’s always Google.
Savor it. Contrary to what our college-age selves used to think, having cocktails isn’t necessarily to get drunk. Bad days happen, but slamming cocktails is a high calorie way to go. Enjoy each sip, especially if you’re on a budget, and challenge yourself to identify each ingredient. I know that sounds nerdy, but it’s key to recreating your favorite high-end cocktail at home! (Bonus: if you’re interested my recreated recipe for The Monarch’s Rhythm & Blues-berry (above), subscribe to my newsletter.)
Mix it up. Literally. If you find something you really enjoy, change things up from time to time. I used to HATE spicy cocktails because I thought they made me thirsty. Once I had the right level of spiciness in one, I was hooked!
Let me know if those helped you. Also, I’d love to know your go-to drink. Mine’s always changing. Also, 56% of Americans say that the margarita is their favorite drink. In the spirit of that, here’s a recipe you need to try from my friend Seth:
The Perfect Margarita
- 2 oz tequila plata (or your preferred tequila)
- 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
- ½ oz agave (you can double if you like it sweeter)
- Add all ingredients to a Boston Shaker with ice.
- Shake well. Strain into a glass filled with ice.
- Garnish with salt or lime slices as desired. Enjoy!
Hope this helps you pick the perfect cocktail. Cheers!