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9 Tips to Building Better Cocktail Menus at Home

the cocktail manual

Here we are, in the throes of holiday party season, and it’s your turn to host. Obviously, you’ll stock the bar because that’s what goodhearted people do in such scenarios. You’ll provide some food, a thoughtful playlist. It’ll be great. But what about a cocktail menu? Simply putting some consideration into what’s on offer–ideally a batched punch for speed and a cocktail or two in addition to your straight liquors, mixers, beer and wine–and then writing it down can go a long way to streamlining the bar.

So to do just that, we enlisted spirits expert Lou Bustamante, whose new book The Complete Cocktail Manual: 285 Tips, Tricks and Recipes was created in partnership with the USBG and includes cocktail recipes, techniques and entertaining know-how, including some helpful advice for creating a cocktail menu at home. Take it away, Lou…

1. Make it legible. Don’t spend too much time choosing fonts and flourishes that are completely indecipherable in dim light; choose clean, legible fonts printed at a nice size. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of the night reading it out loud to everyone.

2. Choose your drinks wisely. If you’re planning an event for a large number of people, don’t offer drinks that have egg whites or cream, or that involve muddling.Your menu won’t be lacking; your guests will be the ones who suffer as they wait for a drink. Muddling also produces a giant, wet mess, on top of being slow and exhausting in large numbers. Choose drinks that can be built in glasses, like bucks and mules, old fashioneds, or sparkling wine drinks.

3. Don’t overwhelm your guests. Let the size of the space determine how many drinks are manageable. Even in a small bar, offering too many options means that your drinks get lost and people will only order the first few on the list.

4. Know your clientele. You hopefully know your friends well enough to know what theme appeals to them. Are they more likely to drink beer or wine? Offer them your spin on a shandy or sangria. Then you can throw something in there you like and see if you can win them over to other things.

5. Know your space. Unless you designed it otherwise, chances are that your house bar isn’t built to make a large volume of cocktails. This is why punches are great.

6. Have a rodeo clown or two. Just like bull riders need help distracting the animals in order to keep the show going and prevent injuries, you’ll need some help keeping the drinks going. Punch is your rodeo clown. They’re a great buffer and refilling is easy if you have backup batched punch in the fridge. Put forth a little effort ahead of time to create beautiful garnishes and some signage explaining what’s in it, and guests can serve themselves while you get a chance to catch your breath. If you’re hosting the party, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend your whole time mixing drinks for people.

7. Think seasonally. You don’t want to put a super boozy old fashioned on there when the humidity levels are sky-high that day. If it’s hot out, think refreshing and juicy drinks (it can be as easy as a gin and tonic). If it’s cool weather, spirit-focused cocktails are more appropriate.

8. Know the magic number. If you’re hosting a big party, plan for two punches and two cocktails, or one punch if it’s no more than 30 people.

9. Vary the glassware. Mix up the glassware so you don’t have four cocktails that are all in highball glasses, because that’s boring. People flock to visually interesting drinks, and using different glasses gives them graphic appeal.

Written by Kevin Gray

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