Saturday, May 28

Standard Cocktail Spectrum

Please see my Meaning of Words concerning the meaning of standard cocktail before reading further...

The spectrum of standard cocktails can be measured by two dimensions, popularity and difficulty. The more popular a cocktail is the more likely any bar will know what it is and serve it. Some examples of popular standard cocktails include (but not limited to): Cosmopolitan, Red Headed Slut, Apple Martini, Mojito, Amaretto Sour, etc...

Most classic cocktails are on the less popular side of the standard cocktail spectrum with a few exceptions like the Daiquiri, Margarita, and Martini.

The difficulty of a cocktail deals with what it takes to make the drink. Drinks that have a lot of ingredients, are layered, frozen, muddled, or rimmed with salt or sugar tend to be the more difficult variety. Some examples of difficult drinks include (but not limited to): Long Island Iced Tea, B-52, Frozen Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, and Sidecar.

Okay stay with me here... If you rank the popularity of a cocktail on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the most popular), then rank the difficulty of a cocktail on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the easiest), add those two numbers together, and then line them up from smallest to greatest you get the spectrum of standard cocktails.

With that said there is a time and a place for everything.

First let's discuss time.

If you are in a bar in the middle of an afternoon, you are the only patron in the bar, you can order pretty much any cocktail that is considered a standard cocktail. As the bar gets more busy the less of the standard cocktails you should order. The less popular, difficult drinks (low end of the scale) are the first to go. The most popular easy drinks (high end of the scale) are the last to go. So in a situation where the bar is four people deep waiting on drinks the order should either be right off the bar's specialty menu or the simplest of popular standard cocktails... example Vodka and Tonic.

Obviously this is a judgment call as there really isn't a documented list of standard cocktails and their rank in the spectrum. The figure below attempts to graphically depict this concept. There are many more standard cocktails than what is on the chart, but for simplicity sake only a few were pulled as an example. Also the rating of difficulty and popularity is only my opinion and should not be taken to heart. To do this right would require a rather extensive survey and the results would vary based on the regional locale. This is why you really have to judge for yourself and rationalize the cocktail order in each situation.



Next let's discuss the place.

This is a really difficult thing for a patron to judge. It really depends on the experience of the tender behind the bar.

Some places lean heavier towards their drink specialties. Bars at Mexican restaurants are a good example of this. They general specialize in Margaritas and various other tequila cocktails. These drinks are pretty much all they get orders for, so there is very few standard cocktails available.

The class of the bar and the other patrons inside the bar can also be a good clue as to what range of cocktail are available. A place with a nice wooden bar, brass rails, dimly lit lights, and a mixed age crowd will be more likely to serve up the full range of standard cocktails. Hotel and country club bars are almost always a good bet.

The last two paragraphs are highly generalized. There are exceptions, any place can have a bar chef that is grounded in the fundamental cocktails that can/will make any standard cocktail no matter how busy they are. When you find a place with a bar chef like this treasure it and tip big.

As stated above this is sometimes very difficult to judge by a patron and can lead to frustration on the part of the patron and the bartender. In a recent post Mexican Restaurant in Mandeville, LA I was disappointed with my experience. Yes the place was a Mexican restaurant but the bar is very classy and there was a mixed crowd. So, I guess I expected more... I judged wrong.

So the next time you belly up to a bar and you are thinking about ordering something not on the bar specials think about the standard cocktail spectrum. Size up the time/place and the popularity/difficulty of your cocktail and order accordingly.

16 comments:

bar.mix.master said...

Comments and critiques are posted here...

Webtender

Ocelot said...

I have alerted my friends- the graph should be printed and memorized.
I am also interested in overall bar theory- proper behaviour and drinks for different types of bars and clubs, as well as any and all stories about drinking. Nice site- keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Why do you list Sidecars as among the more difficult to make? It's just brandy, triple sec, and lemon juice shaken and strained.

bar.mix.master said...

I put it slightly up on the difficulty scale because of the sugared rim.

Anonymous said...

Look, busy bar or not. If they can make a drink, and it happens to be the drink I want, it shouldn't matter if they are busy or not. What ever happened to customer service. Why should I settle for some other drink I'm not really in the mood for just because Charlie is busy behind the bar? If you're too busy to mix a drink, maybe it's time to get a second (third, etc. ) bartender. Just my 2Cents.

M said...

I agree with anonymous. I compare it to going to a restaurant. Should I order some simple, schlocky dish just because the kitchen is busy? Geez, wouldn't want to put anyone out.
The great aficionado has spoken.

Kim said...

A bar is not like a restaurant. The bartender expects just as much from you as you do from them. Good conversation, patience, understanding, humor, and a great tip. And you know why? Because they can. They control the alcohol, and they're usually good-looking people with a crowd and a bouncer to back them up. So if you're the kind of person who orders some weird-ass complicated drink when the bar is 5-deep in people, expect a crappy pour (less alcohol), and less attention next time. They'll choose to serve the person next to you first, because they know that he only wants a quick bud light or a vodka tonic. Of course, you may be able to balance it out with a really good tip (50%).

In Wal-Mart, the customer's alway's right. In a bar, the bartender's always right, or you can get the hell out!

bar.mix.master said...

I got a solution for those wanting great service any any drink they can think of... Lay a $20 on the bar and say this your tip.

Anonymous said...

How in the world do you guys get to be the boss? Just because you hold the alcohol? People come to the bar to be served good drinks. Not to be given a limited selection based on how you feel about your job (busy?). We're paying for it, it's your job to make us drinks. And it's your tips on the line if you want to be a *ick or not. Earn it, not demand it. I'm a server and I don't demand to be tipped. I work for it and deserve my tips. I get busy too but I keep up. I've met bartenders that even if it's 5 foot or even 10 foot deep, they can still rock it and they rock it hard. And those are usually the bar that everyone loves.

RgMania said...

good bartending is never easy...

Anonymous said...

T.I.P.P.S. means "to insure prompt and proper service" but this does not mean that a "guest" has the right to treat us bad "we reserve the right" to sever anyone... I've been a bartender over 30yrs in a tourist town..seen it all! lol!

nickthemick said...

Obviously most of the complainers on here have never stepped foot behind a bar... As a bartender and a mixologist and now a restaurant manager, I know how awful it is to muddle a stupid mojito with well rum to some jerk in the middle of winter or fall when mint is out of season when you are five deep...Yes I can do it, Yes I will do it but I will hate you for it and you will wait the next time you are up... if you order good rum and ask in a polite way it goes a long way... customers aren't always right and that is the problem in service industry... we have to take it on the chin when our "guests" are uneducated and mis-informed... if I like bourbon which I do, instead of ordering a manhattan or a old fashioned, in the middle of a rush I will get it on the rocks... and I will bet my bartender will be heavy handed when I do... but the 20 on the bar as a tip does help ;)... just my thoughts

83b34a22-13ca-11e1-905c-000bcdcb471e said...

Like any menu item, the cocktail's price should reflect the difficulty and effort and the quality of the ingredients.

Beef Wellington is more expensive than a grilled ribeye, but I should feel free to order the wellington regardless of how busy the kitchen is. It's ok.. I'll pay for it. And if I want it well done, it's ok, I'll be paying for it. The same principles should apply to the bar.

If the bar is busy and it's not worth the bartender's time to make a proper drink as requested, then clearly management hasn't priced the beverages properly. If certain drinks are going to interfere with the turnover/take for the night, then those drinks should not be on the menu. These are management issues, not bartending issues.

No matter how busy the Oak Room is, I'm sure I could get my drink of choice, and made properly at that.

Anonymous said...

Why are you guys so greedy? By you guys, I mean you waiters, you bartenders, the lot of you. Why this need to chase a tip always.

A tip in a bar/restaurant is akin to the bankers bonus and look what that did to us.

Why can't it be just like everywhere else in the world, where bartenders don't grovel for tips and the service and the cocktails/beers are good. If not the best, they're comfortable and that's what a customer would want. Not the watchful eyes of a bartender to see whether he put the $20 as a tip to give him good service.

Why the need to bribe you.

James Miraglia said...

It is absolutely not like a banker's bonus. Servers and Bartenders get paid very low wages. I make 3.50 an hour. That barely covers my taxes. Our money comes from tips. Thats how we make our living. Don't compare our blue collar jobs to the greedy 1% who destroyed our economy.

Anonymous said...

A tip in a bar/restaurant is not at all like a banker's bonus. Most bartenders and servers are working for minimum wage or below minimum wage. The tip is a part of their salary. It has nothing to do with being greedy and everything to do with making a living.

Lamenting that it should be "like everywhere else" doesn't change the reality of the system we've got.