Cocktail menus are notoriously complicated; in fact, they’ve almost eclipsed wine lists in their tendency to confuse thirsty clients. These menus are often lengthy and filled with words that require a Google search to understand, causing many people to opt for the simplest item and potentially miss out on delicious drinks.
If you’re at an elaborate and decorated cocktail bar, you’ll probably find yourself looking down a long list of drinks with enigmatic ingredients and mystifying words. You’re also probably reading it in a candlelit room, making it even more difficult for you to understand what a Batavia arrack is. It’s an intimidating situation, and one you’ll want to deal with poise and self-assurance.
Fortunately, a few clues will help you figure out what the drink is all about. Here are a few tips for decoding a cocktail’s ingredient list and determining if it’s something that strikes your fancy:
Don’t Focus on the Base Spirit
Many people make the mistake of paying extra attention to the base spirit when perusing a cocktail list. While it’s essential to skip on spirits that make your stomach lurch because of an unfortunate incident at a recent party, it may not taste the way you expect. Cocktails are no longer defined by whiskey, vodka, or tequila. If you judge a cocktail by its spirit, you’ll miss out on drinks that have the potential to steal your heart.
Pay Extra Attention to the Juice
The juices in a cocktail are often the star of the show. If it has fruit juice, then the drink will probably be cool, light, and refreshing. However, don’t expect it to be sweet, especially if you’re in a reputable bar. If you prefer a lighter taste, consider trying the cocktail as it is before requesting more juice.
You’re probably familiar with a few fruity cocktail families. The collinses are made up of citrus, soda water, and liquor over ice. Then, you have daiquiris that contain citrus, rum, and simple syrup and then shaken until they’re almost frothy. There’s also the tiki drinks that have plenty of rum, pineapple juice, and creative garnishes.
Understand The Bittering Agents
There are two kinds of liqueurs that make a cocktail bitter. The first type is known as the red Italian bitters, like Campari or Aperol. If you see these liqueurs as ingredients in a cocktail, you’re in for a particularly bitter drink. However, they also add a sweet flavor as they’re relatively syrupy on their own. A famous example of this is the Italian Negroni, which has equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. Aperol is made of citrus, which will lend a zesty flavor to a cocktail.
The second type is the amaros, which have a broader range in flavor. Since they’re made up of almost a hundred different herbs, they have an exciting yet complex flavor profile that’s sure to provide depth to any cocktail.
Identify Potentially Offensive Flavors
If you’re averse to smoky flavors, you’ll want to stay away from scotch and mezcal. However, if you don’t like the taste of licorice either, then you’ll want to avoid cocktails with pastis, aquavit, absinthe, or anise. Know the flavors you dislike so you can steer clear of it in a cocktail menu.
Know When You Want to Get Tipsy
Capping off a busy workday in a bar usually makes for a good night, and you may find yourself wanting to get boozy at some point. In this case, you’ll want to consider the Manhattan, the martini, or the negroni. Spirit-forward cocktails, or drinks that combine different liquors, are your best bet to securing that much-needed hit. Remember to sip slowly so you can enjoy the rest of your night.
If all else fails, it’s best to ask the bartender. Cocktail menus are bound to be filled with ingredients you can’t even pronounce, so when in doubt, consult the booze professional over at the bar. Telling them what you’re in the mood for will net you some stellar recommendations, guaranteeing a fun and entertaining night.
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