The Art of Ordering a Good Drink

The Art of Ordering a Good Drink

Have you ever been out with your friends, arrived at a hip new cocktail bar only to tense up and not know what to order? It happens to all of us—staring at all the fancy spirits and liqueurs of a modern back bar can be daunting. Not to worry, I've come armed with ideas and suggestions to help make your next night out a delicious success!

Allow me to start with a few important words of wisdom: trust that when you're at a bar that juices fresh citrus daily (like we do at George's Level2), the bartender is absolutely there to make delicious drinks! We are on your side in this endeavor, so don’t hesitate to ask us for recommendations or to explain anything you’re unfamiliar with. With this in mind, let’s have a discussion about the styles of drinks currently being served at bars. They vary in flavor and feel. If we can begin to narrow down the style of drink you prefer, choosing a cocktail becomes a much less daunting task.


True Cocktails

The style that started the fancy drink craze that lasted up until Prohibition. They tend to be spirit-forward, bittersweet and stirred drinks that are either served up or over rocks. Some traditional examples are the whiskey old fashioned, the Negroni, Manhattan or the Sazerac. Most modern adaptations of this style follow the same pattern and four ingrediants: spirit, bitter, sweet and water (usually in the form of dilution from ice).


Originating at the dawn of the 20th century with a little known, mostly forgotten drink known as the Crusta, sours exploded during the days of Prohibition as a way of hiding lesser quality spirits that were found in the Speakeasy. These shaken, sweet and sour offerings can vary in flavor, as they work well with all spirits. Some examples of sours are the Margarita, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Pisco Sour and Whiskey Sour to name a few. The basic sour includes spirit, fresh citrus and sweetner. But fancier versions may contain bitters, egg white for frothiness or a flavoring ingredient to add complexity. The sour can be a very refreshing beverage, perfect for a warm San Diego afternoon.


The smash is making a bit of a comeback these days, as the idea of culinary cocktails have become common place at our favorite restaurants. The smash has a slightly loose definition, but mainly it consists of spirit, ice, muddled herbs (usually mint) and fruit of the season. These drinks are usually strained through a fine strainer to ensure a smooth drinking experience. Some common smashes include the Whiskey Smash, Rum Smash and the Julep.


The Art of Ordering a Good Drink

The Fizz is generally just a Sour served “long” with carbonated water. When done correctly, these drinks can be ridiculously refreshing. Some examples of a basic fizz is the Gin Fizz, Tom Collins, Whiskey Fizz, Ramos Gin Fizz and Sloe Gin Fizz. Within the category, it’s important to recognize that the fizz has more complex variations, such as a “silver fizz” which has an addition of egg white, or a “Diamond Fizz” which substitutes sparkling wine for the carbonated water as is the case with the classic French 75.  I would also mention Shandy’s here, as they are in this category, only using beer instead of water or wine.


By far, the most complex of all, we have the punch, which college parties have much maligned in recent past. The traditional punch originated from the British Islands and has strict ingredient guidelines. As I don’t want to loose my audience, suffice it to say, a traditional punch is a drink with a slightly lower alcohol content and tends to combine spirit with citrus, fruits, teas or sparkling wine. The base for any old school punch is Oleo Sacchurum, which is a fancy name for the expression of citrus oils found in the skin of the fruit, through sugar maceration.  


An absolutely fascinating period in American drinking culture, if you’re curious to learn it’s origins I humbly recommend reading my two-part blog series I’ve previously written about it’s history and cocktails: Tiki: That Time a Cocktail Started an American Cultural Experience and Tiki Takeover: 5 Essential Cocktail Recipes You Need to Try. As for the drinks themselves, they are rooted in the Caribbean, with a faux Polynesian flair. Some traditional examples of which are the Zombie, Mai Tai, Navy Grog and Planter’s Punch to name a few.

I am proud that the true nature of this style is making a comeback locally, as our proximity to tropical fruits from Baja combined with our nautical history makes for a perfect blend of rum based, complex punches. This year will be a big year for Tiki in San Diego as we have a few new bars opening that will highlight this style in all it’s proper splendor. And don't forget Tiki Oasis, the largest and longest-running festival in the world for lovers of Island lifestyle and purveyors of Polynesian Pop, happening in August. Yours truly will be heading to the bartenders finals this year!

Many of us have a spirit we stay away from, either it’s not something we prefer, or it was a part of a bad experience many years ago. Feel free to let your bartender know this. It’s also a great idea to inform your bartender of any food allergies you may have, as modern cocktail bars have all sorts of fun ingredients that could cause an allergic issue with those of us that may be inflicted with such conditions.  

Depending on how adventurous you're feeling, play it safe with a classic cocktail, maybe trust that the cocktails on the menu are safe and have been enjoyed by many, or go out on a limb and ask for a dealer’s choice where the bartender gets to make whatever he/she wishes. Even with a dealer’s choice, your choice of spirit or flavor profile is greatly appreciated so a cocktail can be catered directly to your liking. 

If you’re still in need of a good tutorial, stop by George’s Level2 Bar where we'll be more than happy to walk you through the process and get you into some delicious, new cocktails. Cheers!