It’s gotta be hard not to plunge into the depths of full-on cocktail snobbery. Cocktails have gonna quite a bit more complex—sometimes with an actual explicit code of decorum—since the days of knocking back whiskey sodas. None of us want to seem like idiots, generally, but especially when we’re shelling out anywhere from $12 to $18 for a craft drink. (And if you’re paying $18, unless it comes with free Advil or you can see your future in the glass itself, you’re in an overpriced, hype-driven spot; quite possibly a hotel bar or a bar riding the coattails of actual molecular mixology—and there is such a thing. But if you don’t see a centrifuge in the bar and you’re dropping Tubmans, get the hell out of there.)
OK, rant over. Meanwhile, onto how to straddle the line between cocktail savvy and not sounding like the human equivalent of a walking monocle. Some easy terms and phrases (and behaviors) to avoid, and everyone should leave the cocktail transaction feeling generally human, well served, and well paid.
No matter what—and this goes for life—don’t ask if anything is “artisan.”
Artisan can be a useful, if somewhat blurry term exploited by clever marketing teams who realize it has no legal definition. But the concept of artisan booze is as muddy as “hand-made” tequila or small batch bourbon.
Don’t ask the bartender to make your drink differently than the menu lists it.
Unless you’re deathly allergic of orgeat or Bittermens Hellfire shrub—and how you found that out, that had to have been tough—leave the recipe well enough alone. Bartenders spend their days, and plenty of their nights, putting together a well-balanced drink. Unless you’re at a bespoke cocktail bar (and those exist, and they will guide you through all the complex nuances of your palate), trust the recipe and respect the guy or gal who put it together. If it’s not to your liking, that’s cool—first off, you tried something new. Secondly, you can probably ask the bartender for a new drink, or a recommendation on your next one.
Don’t take photos. Of ice.
Yeah, plenty of good craft cocktail bars have specialty ice. Big beautiful round spheres, or Scotsman pebble ice, or something newly carved in honor of a holiday: the Flag Day Cube. It’s a nice, though more often practical (dilution-related) factor in mixology. Get a photo in if you must. But remember, the stuff’s gonna melt.
If you don’t like a particular spirit they’re about to use, that’s fine. Just don’t say so like an asshole.
Sorry, but that (terribly?) bad word had to be said. You may not like Grey Goose, or prefer something incredibly esoteric or organic, and that’s entirely your choice. But if it’s part of a recipe, there’s a reason (see above “don’t muck with recipe”), essentially because said bartender has determined the flavor profile of that particular spirit balances with the other components. You may not like Grey Goose or Leblon, but drinking either in a cocktail is light years different from drinking it straight. If you absolutely hate the stuff, just don’t order it.
Don’t have a spirits smarty-pants-off with the bartender.
If you know about how mezcal is made, or basically live on Scotch, that’s fantastic. And you’ll probably enjoy a better drinking life than most of us (assuming you interrupt Scotch drams with a glass of water). But unless it’s a quiet night, the bartender doesn’t want to/have time to hear about your preference for the highlands or lowlands, or what you think about the possible resurgence of Irish whiskey.
Oh yeah, don’t hate on vodka.
It’s easy—maybe the easiest thing—to hate on vodka in the world of craft cocktails. Just…don’t. Vodka has a long, storied, sometimes incredibly weird history. Plus, it goes pretty damn well in some drinks.
Don’t gush over bourbon.
We all know, everyone loves bourbon. (It’s the silent people in the corner of the room, sipping suspiciously, that love Scotch.) But you can order it without talking about Booker Noe or your epic quest to purchase a bottle of Pappy. (Don’t show pictures from your Instagram.)
Identifying the location or production method of a spirit is also fine. Just don’t bloviate.
Your friends might want to know, and truly benefit, from your knowledge of a Single Village mezcal, or what the Tahona method is, for that matter. But they also came out to talk about work, relationships, Game of Thrones—quite possibly all the above if they’re a cast member currently involved with another cast member of Game of Thrones. Share your spirits savvy, or that you know how the Hanky Panky was named, just do what none of us remember to do when we finally (finally!) have something interesting to say: keep it short.
Don’t—absolutely don’t—look at someone who orders a “simple” or “weird” drink like they’re a fool.
Maybe that dude has been craving a Vodka Soda for weeks. Maybe she just absolutely loves a weird 3:1 vermouth to (yes) vodka ratio Martini. It’s not your bidness. You’re ordering a craft cocktail, expertly prepared by a dearly patient bartender, and looking down on someone won’t just make your drink taste bitter. It may well get you good and punched.