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Cocktail Menu

I'm planning on creating a cocktail bar-quality menu for my home bar. I think it will be a good way to introduce the unaware to how good cocktails can be and allow the more experienced drinkers to explore new ones. It will also be an excellent exercise in case I ever decide to start up my own bar.

Given the wide audience, I'd like to have a mix of historical and contemporary, strong and light, complex and simple, and I'd like to give roughly equal attention to all spirits. I believe a healthy dose of everything best showcases the world of drink.

In your opinion, what cocktails need to be featured? Right now, these are the ones I'm considering:
Moscow Mule
Daiquiri or Floridita or Hemingway Daiquiri or Papa Doble (if anyone can definitively distinguish those last three for me, please do)
Mai Tai
Old Fashioned
Vermouth Cocktail
Corn N Oil
Argento's Dream
Boulevardier or Old Pal
Last Word or Final Ward
Chartreuse Swizzle
Japanese Cocktail
Trinidad Sour
Wolf's Bite (Clyde Commons)
Cameron's Kick
Cesar's Rum Punch
Mary Pickford
Paper Airplane
Ramos Gin Fizz
The Prospector
Ward Eight

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  1. That's a nice list. I'd include the Corpse Reviver #2 in your menu. I've never had a single guest dislike it. A few others that yo may consider including:

    Monkey Gland
    La Louisianne
    Bitter Elder
    Brandy Crusta

    6 Replies
    1. re: curseofleisure

      Ah! I'm not sure how I forgot those. Thank you. I've never had a Monkey Gland and I need to get my bottle of Benedictine before I can shake up some Cocktail's a La Louisiane.

      1. re: alphanumeric

        Just my opinion, but I don't think you're missing much with the Monkey Gland. Bizarre name, quirky history, but it tastes like diluted gin and OJ with a hint of licorice...nothing more.

        1. re: The Big Crunch

          @The Big Crunch, if you up the amount of grenadine (I have found a 50/50 mix of Rose's and homemade pomegranate grenadine works best), use a high-proof gin (years of experimenting have led me to the conclusion that Seagram's Distiller's Reserve is the best match for this drink), fresh-squeezed orange juice and Herbsaint instead of absinthe, you may change your tune.

          1. re: curseofleisure

            Actually, one of the only versions I've found that I liked (though didn't love) was from the PDT Cocktail Book, in which he uses straight pomegranate molasses. It's stronger and balances things out better.

            1. re: The Big Crunch

              I have had raves about my grenadine. It is very bright and clean tasting.

              Forester's Grenadine
              2.5 cups / 20 oz. POM pomegramate juice
              2.5 cups / 20 oz. dry measure cane sugar
              1-2 oz. fresh lemon juice (to taste)
              1/4-1/2 oz. orange blossom water

              Shake all in a 1 quart canning jar until sugar is dissolved. Taste and add more lemon juice to taste.

              To make shelf stable for up to two years, put into small, 8 oz. canning jars. Put sealed jars into canning pot covered with cold water. Bring to boil, drop to simmer and cover. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove jars and let cool.

              1. re: JMF

                Interesting that you add lemon juice; I'll try that next time. I just use Jeffrey Morgenthaler's recipe that's been around a while, though I up the orange blossom water a bit from his recipe, basically adding it by the quarter tsp to taste.

    2. Sidecar for sure

      Vieux Carré

      a Corpse Reviver - whichever you like best

      French 75

      1 Reply
      1. If you are going to list a lot of drinks, like you have here, I would make sure that they are organized well with good descriptions. That would be the key to making the list useful rather than overwhelming. You have to consider whether you want to list them by base spirit, or some kind of category, and whether you want to list the ingredients for everything or use a more romantic, descriptive style, or both.

        1 Reply
        1. re: nickls

          I've just responded to this concern above, but I agree completely and simply failed to mention it in my original post.

          I like your point about potentially using a more romantic, descriptive style. That would certainly be easier for novice drinkers to parse.

        2. Wow, that's quite an undertaking.

          Personally, I wouldn't be able to handle it -- I'm not fast enough. When more than a couple of guests come over I just mix up a big pitcher (or bowl) of whatever I think will work well and don't give 'em any options. Major respect if you can actually carry this off!

          Now, as for some drinks to add:

          Pegu Club
          Corpse Reviver #2 (already mentioned by tokyopix but worth repeating)
          Negroni (mentioned by curseofleisure, but worth repeating)
          Negroni (worth repeating again)
          Negroni (okay, worth repeating a third time. Why is it not on your list?)

          Maybe another tiki drink or two? A Planter's Punch? 1934 Zombie Punch? Test Pilot? Something else? Singapore Sling? (I don't really count that as a tiki drink per se, but it's worth including.)

          Maybe a highball or two, aside from the G&T? Tom Collins, actually made with Old Tom?

          And, naturally, you need to include some of your own creations.

          6 Replies
          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            IF this is for a specific event I second and third DSP's recommendation to make a pitcher and let that be it. I say this for two reasons. If your making each drink to order it is very tough to enjoy the company of your guests. From a guest perspective I also think it is best just to have two - three alternatives. With a small pool of choices you everyone can try them and at the next get together you can feature other selections. For the guest it still ends up being a good party with great cocktails rather than a cocktail class.

            If it is just for your general bar set up I would pick ten or so drinks to feature and change them seasonally. There will be less strain on you and it will allow show guest these drinks in their prime.

            1. re: quazi

              I have just posted a response to my original post clarifying that confusion.

              I was considering cycling drinks over time. Maybe remove a handful of the bottom performers every few months and replace them with seasonally appropriate ones. Or I could have a 'specials' section at the beginning of the menu.

            2. re: davis_sq_pro

              I've had a lot of success with this format:

              I have a party about once a month with a lot of repeat customers. I make a menu of 6-8 cocktails around a theme. The first one was when I found Cochi Americano here in Tokyo. I did

              Kina Cocktail, Helena Bonham Carter, Black Friar, Hoots Mon, and a White Negroni. We have snacks that kind of coordinate. We also subbed in Lillet Blanc and Dolin for side-by-side comparisons which was fun. All drinks are really small so lots of tasting can happen.

              I gather the spirits, bitters, juices, garnishes, etc. I need before they arrive. I pull that all out of the regular liquor storage and set it up with equipment on a sideboard. I actually print the menus and each one lists all ingredients and how it is served (just one line, really).

              My guests know they can order off-menu and that's fine, but mostly they stick to those drinks to try new things. Next month we have a whole new theme. Some themes are around alcohol, like above. Some are more like "citrusy summer cocktails" and I try to get a couple different base spirits involved for variety.

              That way your number of drinks is more manageable and your prep is done, but if someone wants a favorite you can easily still stir up a Martinez, for example, if that's what a guest wants.

              1. re: tokyopix

                I did a poor job relaying the fact that this is for general use and not any specific event. However, I like your format for parties. You're quite lucky to have so many cocktail enthusiast friends!

                1. re: alphanumeric

                  It is nice to have a lot of friends who are enthusiastic! It allows me to mix up a lot more drinks than I'd get through with just me trying once in a while. 2 tips I've learned as I've gone:

                  1) when making the list, try to go for variety in glassware as well as base spirit/flavor profile/etc. I have about 40 small cocktail glasses and about18 or so in the freezer at all times. I beef that up a bit at party time, but there's only so much space. If I make sure I have a highball and at least one on the rocks, I never have to wash stemware during the party.

                  2) I don't mix ahead. I'll do this occasionally for a dinner party b/c I have the meal to attend to. On those occasions I'll mix, for example, the juice/simple syrup/brandy part of a French 75 and then I'll shake and top with champagne as drinks are ordered. But for strictly cocktails - I shake/stir/build to order.

                  The last one works well for a number of reasons. It slows things down, but I really don't want a bunch of drunk people. Even with 2-3 oz drinks I like to keep it at a stately pace. I also mix right with my guests so we're talking and visiting the whole time and we often discuss the drinks and ingredients. Guests also opt to try unusual ingredients neat b/c the mixing is done right there.

                  I'm very impressed by your book concept, too! You'll have to let us know how it comes out.

              2. re: davis_sq_pro

                I apologize for a misleading original post. This won't be for a large gathering, but just for any time a guest drops by and would like a drink.

                I've actually yet to try the Pegu Club. It's high on my list to try but I keep pushing it off for some reason or other.

                The Negroni must have been a Freudian omission. Had I thought of it it would have easily made the cut. However, for some reason I'm not terribly fond of them, despite my love of all the components.

                I was just thinking the Tiki category is under-represented here. I need to brush up on my Tiki knowledge first, though.

                Good call on highballs.

                Unfortunately, I am still too much of a novice myself to have many respectable personal inventions.

              3. Is this for stocking an everyday bar or for a specific party? How often do you have people over cocktails and what is the average number of people who attend?

                I ask because your list is very extensive and while I applaud your effort to offer "something for everyone" from many angles light/strong, historical/modern, etc as a guest I would be easily overwhelmed. I would want to time to peruse the list, ask questions, read/hear descriptions. While many of these are very familiar to me there are many that are not I would want to learn about them. I can see your other guests getting quite frustrated if there was someone like me who really wanted to take the time to learn and therefore slowing down the host

                Since it will be hard to truly estimate who is going to have what I would think there would not be a lot you could do in advance other than always having things like simple syrup on hand along with pre cut fruits/citrus and the like.

                Is your intention to build the bar slowly or do all at once? Either way you will want a good inventory system so that you are not caught short if you get a run on particular drink. Do you intend to allow your guest to create their own as well? You might want to consider a number of unique mixers and liqueurs too.

                What missing in my mind is
                Bajan rum punch (or some kind of rum punch)
                champagne cocktail

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodieX2

                  My bar is already fully stocked and has the ingredients for any of the drinks I listed above, excepting perishables and certain wines or wine-based drinks.

                  This is for general purpose. I have people over a few times a week. Usually one to three people. Not always having drinks, but the option is always there for guests. Because of the format I'll be presenting drinks in (see my additional post above), choosing one shouldn't be a huge challenge. And since it's often just a small gathering, there's no harm in discussing any of them at length if a guest is curious.

                2. I much prefer a Manhattan, or scotch on the rocks, but since you are doing Manhattans maybe throw in a Rob Roy for your token scotch cocktail, since all the ingredients will be there.

                  1. You are planning a general list of cocktails that you can make, not a list of a ail able drinks for a big party, right?

                    I think that's a good list. Sure, there are some things you might add, but you've listed a lot of good drinks.

                    My suggestion would be to characterize the types of guests you entertain, and make sure you have adequate choices for each group. Make sure each group has a variety of base spirits, too


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: EvergreenDan

                      Yes, a general list.

                      I forgot to ask in my original post, but an equally important question is do you feel any of those cocktails don't deserve to be there? And what would you add? I'm sure you've got some good contemporary ones that would benefit this list.

                      That is a good suggestion. I think my three major groups are: Drinkers like me (anything goes as long as it's well-designed); people unfamiliar with mixed drinks that don't mind liquor; and people unfamiliar with them that do.

                    2. That's a nice list. I did a similar thing where I had about 25 guests, and I made cocktails to order. I ended up making about 60 cocktails, though honestly I had made my own drink for the event, and that was the one I ended up making the most of. It would have been simpler to have pitchers, and I would have been able to spend more time with my guests, but i did get to spend plenty of time with people, and I really enjoy manning the bar, so it worked out fine. I haven'y done a second one yet, though! My list was slightly less than half the length of yours as well. Definitely arrange the list by spirit so your guests won't get too overwhelmed.

                      1. Inspired by this thread I made a big pitcher of vodka gimlets for us tonight, I have to say they were wonderful!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: foodieX2

                          I'm glad all this talk of cocktails stirred something inside of you.

                        2. Sorry for the misunderstanding, All.

                          This menu will be a permanent fixture at my bar and not for any particular event. I want to create this so I don't have to rattle my brains for the 'right' cocktail for each guest if and when I'm entertaining. Since I generally entertain at most a handful of guests at any given time, the size of the cocktail list is not problematic for me because I'll end up making a limited quantity of drinks regardless.

                          The massive list won't prove an issue for guests because I plan on having a 2x2 or 3x3 'Selection Grid' (Table of Contents). The two axes will represent the two most important criteria for choosing a drink (complex vs. simple and heavy vs. light are the two spectra I'm considering right now, but please propose better ones if you have any). Drinks will be listed in the appropriate section. Therefore, guests in the mood for a light and complex drink will have one-quarter (or -ninth) as many cocktails to sift through.

                          I'm also considering then subdividing those classifications, perhaps by base liquor, to narrow options even further. The daunting task of choosing from a straight list is replaced by a pleasant decision between a few choice cocktails.

                          Cocktail menus can be intimidating if strange ingredient names are tossed about without accompanying descriptions. To make the less 'cocktail savvy' comfortable around all the jargon and reduce the dreaded 'eye-closing, finger-pointing' cocktail selection method, all cocktails will have a list of ingredients and all ingredients will be listed in a glossary of terms.

                          Lastly, for educational purposes, I'd like to toss in creator and (approximate) year of creation alongside drink names and include a snippet of history beneath the ingredients list, especially for drinks with great backstories.

                          So you see, it's more than just a list. I suppose it's a sort of cocktail menu-book. Hopefully this clears up any confusion.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: alphanumeric

                            An illustration of how this system might work:
                            Rather than deciding upon a Chartreuse Swizzle from the full cocktail list, one would first narrow their preference down to 'light and complex'. Turning to the appropriate page, one would come to a list of twenty or so drinks fitting that description, arranged in some logical format- let's say by base spirit- and, given one's seething antipathy for gin, whiskey, and all other manner of traditional base spirits, opt for a drink which uses a nonstandard composition. Intrigued by one in particular but nonplussed by foreign words like 'Chartreuse' and 'falernum', the glossary would prove a wonderful aid. Having now decrypted the arcana of this cocktail, one confidently settles upon the Chartreuse Swizzle as the drink most suited to one's current mood and general preferences.

                            1. re: alphanumeric

                              That's a very intriguing approach. I'd love to see what it looks like when you're done. I, too, have a fairly extensive "house menu" that I use in much the same way you describe (though it's nowhere near as well-organized as yours will be)--as a reminder to myself of some really good drinks I can make that I think guests of various types would possibly enjoy. Mine are kind of arranged based on the most distinctive or unique ingredient they share in common. For example, drinks featuring Campari or Cynar are all together, the absinthe-containing cocktails are further down together, etc. This is not ideal, but makes it easier to find a cocktail I'm looking for, or to omit entire sections if I'm missing a particular ingredient at the moment.

                              I also made two versions of the menu. One is for the guest, and has a description of the cocktail, maybe a little history, and a list of ingredients. The other is a cheat sheet for me, the bartender. It has the same drinks listed in the same order, but with nothing but drink name, the amount of each ingredient and instructions for making it. I generally don't show either version of the menu to guests, as the few times I have caused them to be a bit overwhelmed as others have predicted. I usually take what I know about the person--along with their answer to a few questions about generally what sort of drink they're feeling like today or what some of their favorite drinks are--to come up with a few suggestions. I name and describe a few drinks to them and then they pick which one sounds best to them.

                              I have printed special drink menus for certain themed events with just a few (4-10) drinks that go with that evening's theme, arranging things by either base spirit or into categories like "light and citrusy", "Bold and Spicy, "Bitter and Complex", etc. For large parties, I just offer one or two options, or make punch/pitchers/rent a frozen margarita machine. Speaking of which, the next time I rent a margarita machine, I want to get the kind with two separate containers, and put the usual margarita offering in one, and a frozen version of some sort of classic cocktail in the other (I heard about a place that sometimes has frozen Aviations in one of their machines, but was thinking a frozen Corpse Reviver #2 or Monkey Gland might be more crowd-pleasing).

                              Good luck creating your matrix menu, and please share the results!

                            2. re: alphanumeric

                              My favorite cocktail bar menu is organized somewhat like this.
                              Classics on one half of the page, Non-classics on the other. Both categories are organized by base spirit, ordered from least assertive to most assertive type so basically vodka--->cognac. Within each base spirit, the individual drinks are ordered least boozy--->most boozy and each has the ingredients listed.

                              I LOVE the idea of a glossary for help with the more unusual liqueurs that the non-cocktail obsessed portion of the population has never heard of. If you're like us and have several types of every spirit, you could also include info about each variety.

                            3. Sounds like a decent list of classics. One of the good things is that there is a lot of ingredient overlap there. Just off the top of my head, the Floridita doesn't have maraschino, does it?

                              Some of those I'm less fond of than others. I've made a few Mary Pickfords and they came across as overly sweet messes. The Japanese Cocktail just tastes like cognac. The heavy molasses flavor in the corn 'n oil becomes old quickly.

                              If you're going to have ginger beer around for the Moscow Mule, you might as well get a bottle of Gosliings so you can make a Dark 'n Stormy. Also, as someone else pointed out, if you're going to have some brandy around, you should have a sidecar and crusta on that list. And, if you're going to have St. Germain for the Sunflower, you should add the Vieux Mot.

                              Personally, I just look through cocktail books or at Yarm's blog for ideas when I want to ix up a drink.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: The Big Crunch

                                Yeah, my understanding is this:

                                Floridita Daiquiri: Rum, lime, simple, maraschino

                                Hemingway Daiquiri: Rum, lime, grapefruit, maraschino

                                Papa Doblé: This is just a "double" of the Hemingway Daiquiri, or at least it should be. I've yet to encounter a bar that lists it on their menu that realizes it's a double; I think people just like the name better.

                                1. re: Klunco

                                  Of course a lot of folks alter the Hemingway by putting simple syrup in it - I know I do :)

                                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                                    Agreed. I like maraschino but I find it too easily overpowers and obscures all the other ingredients. I like to half the maraschino and make up for it with simple syrup.

                                    1. re: Klunco

                                      Oh, but I also love the maraschino, and don't dare omit it. I guess my Hemmingway is just a Floridita with some added grapefruit juice, though in all fairness, a number of recipes for the Hemmingway (including Robert Hess's) include both maraschino and simple syrup. If the legend behind the drink is true, then the added calories would no doubt tick off Papa Hemmingway. Maraschino has got to be one of my favorite cocktail liqueurs.

                              2. The biggest problem I have found with my home bar is that syrups etc go bad before being used, so I would give organizing them by the perishable items that are in them so it is easier for you to figure out what you have on hand

                                i.e: Mai Tai need Orgeat
                                Navy Grog need honey syrup
                                Knickerbocker need Raspberry Gum Syrup
                                Pina Colada need Pineapple Gum Syrup

                                Then set out the list(s) that you have the ingredients for that night

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Dapuma

                                  Agreed, to some degree. Honey syrup takes no time to whip up, but orgeat is annoying to make. Out of curiosity, can you just substitute raspberry syrup for raspberry gomme syrup?

                                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                                    Raspberry for raspberry gomme: Yes. It's the same thing, although the "gomme" version might contain some gum arabic for extra texture.

                                2. Showing my pedigree, I would also include Black Russian, Tequila Sunrise, and the Harvey Wallbanger.

                                  As Mom and Dad taught me, and has been born out through the years, a top shelf liquor or mixer improves a drink far more than a top shelf alcohol.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                    This is so true. I so much more prefer my Gordon's and fever tree to Sapphire and HEB* tonic (or even Canada Dry) that i get from some friends.

                                    *HEB is a local grocery chain