How to spot a bad cocktail


The cocktail renaissance of the past decade inspired many good things. It fostered the development of local distilleries that produce unique and delicious types of whiskey, gin, rum and other liquors. Bar menus across the globe grew more sophisticated, and there's a good chance that no matter where you travel, you can enjoy a well-crafted cocktail - if you know what to look for. Author and cocktail expert David Wondrich helps you pick the winners on a bar menu by providing a field guide to bad cocktails

In an amusing piece on the Daily Beast website, Wondrich lays out the ways in which the Cocktail Renaissance (capital letters per Mr. Wondrich) has led some bartenders astray. He distills the problems with bad cocktails into two main errors that he calls "The Tactical" and "The Strategic", with a couple of subcategories under each heading. 

A common mistake in the Strategic category is for a bartender to put a vintage cocktail created by an industry pioneer onto the menu without making any changes to the drink. The problem with this, says Wondrich, is that many of the most famous historic bartenders weren't really good at making balanced cocktails. Even the famous and influential The Savoy Cocktail Book, he says, is filled with more duds than winners. 

Tactical errors are more insidious. Here, the underlying drink is sound, but the bartender mucks up the execution. Wondrich isn't talking about mis-measuring or under-stirring in this instance. Instead, he refers to things like badly made versions of grenadine, orgeat, and tonic water. Sometimes homemade isn't better, Wondrich notes. The warning sign for this is two or more housemade ingredients on the cocktail list. 

Once you have studied the categories and subcategories in Wondrich's list, you should be able to confidently order a good drink almost anywhere you visit. Cheers!

Photo of Berry interesting (a good cocktail!) from Imbibe! by David Wondrich

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