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Creating a Great Drink Menu


Tiki Cocktail Menu - Thailand, Ko Samet, Ao Phutsa

Tiki Cocktail Menu - Thailand, Ko Samet, Ao Phutsa

David Henley / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images
In & Out Martini

In & Out Martini

Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham
Frozen Strawberry Margarita

Frozen Strawberry Margarita

Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham

Why a Drink Menu?:

There are a couple of reasons a drink menu is a great option for a cocktail party.

  1. Guests are "forced" to step out of their drink barriers and maybe try something new.
  2. Drinks can be customized for the party's theme or occasion.
  3. The cost is significantly lower because you do not have to stock a full bar.


Getting Started:

Whenever possible I prefer to create a simple drink menu because it can be tailored to any occasion and purpose; from a simple 3 martini menu for a business open house to a beach party where the blender's whirling your choice of 4 margaritas or a themed party where the color of the drinks and garnish make the difference. Your first decision in creating a drink menu is to choose an aspect that you want to focus on. There are literally thousands of cocktails available and no matter what drink theme you decide, there will surely be cocktails to fit.

Example 1: Martinis with Similar Mixers:

This menu is all about keeping it simple, but it's also one where cheap spirits will break it completely. So buy the good stuff. The key here is to create a cocktail menu that employs the same mixers in each of the drinks. This will allow guests to compare similar drinks and significantly cut your cost.

Stock sweet vermouth to turn any of these sweet or perfect. Vodka's another option but it doesn't add much flavor to the Martini so I like to leave it out.

Example 2: The Forgotten Classics:

Take guests back to the golden age of bartending by reviving some of the forgotten classic cocktails. Many of these cocktails require more time to prepare and you'll want to practice before serving to guests, but once you get them right you'll really be showing off your skills behind the stick.


Example 3: Taste of the Tropics:

A tropical drink menu is perfect for any summer cocktail party. Blue drinks are always popular so I like to include at least one and I also like to stick to rum and tequila as the base spirits. If you opt for the tropic cocktail menu be sure have the freshest juices available and get creative with fresh cut fruit garnishes.

  • Blue Hawaiian - Rum, Blue Curacao, Creme de Coconut, Pineapple Juice
  • Envy - Tequila, Blue Curacao, Pineapple Juice
  • Hurricane - Light & Dark Rums, Passion Fruit, Orange & Lime Juices, Simple Syrup, Grenadine
  • Mai Tai - Light, Gold & Dark Rums, Orange Curacao, Lime Juice


Example 4: Keep the Blender Whirling:

When you think of frozen drinks Margaritas, Daiquiris and Coladas are probably the first to come to mind. While they do make great drinks, choose some of their unknown flavor variations for your party instead, just to spice things up a little.


Example 5: Warm It Up:

This is perfect for the cocktail parties during the holidays because it is all about hot drinks. If you prepare ahead of time with enough of each ingredient laid out in bowls or carafes this menu can be a breeze. You'll want to have an electric tea kettle or prepare these in the kitchen.

  • Black Stripe - Dark Rum, Molasses or Honey, Hot Water
  • Hot Toddy - Whiskey or Brandy, Hot Tea, Lemon, Honey
  • Tom & Jerry - Brandy, Dark Rum, Egg, Hot Water, Sugar

Universal Garnishes: Lemon, Orange, Nutmeg, Cinnamon Stick, Clove

Example 6: Single Spirit:

This menu is great for an exclusive or unknown spirit that you want to feature. Scotch, pisco, cachaça and sake are great choices and allow guests to sample the mixability of the more unfamiliar distilled spirits. Brand really makes a difference here, you can even narrow it down to one super-premium brand.

This Scotch menu is well-balanced with just enough variety.


Example 7: Special Themes:

This is where the creativity really comes in. When you have a special theme to work with you have endless possibilities.

For an example, this is a Rocktini menu I created for a rock stacking party (too much fun, really). Drier, up drinks were requested by the hostess and I went with gemstone colored drinks and renamed them temporarily to fit the rock theme.

  • Bitter Blue Boulder (Yale Cocktail) - Gin, Dry Vermouth, Blue Curacao, Bitters
  • Dry Stone Sour (April Rain) - Vodka, Lime Juice, Dry Vermouth
  • Rockin' Rum (Bacardi Cocktail) - Rum, Lime Juice, Grenadine


Final Drink Menu Thoughts:

I like to keep drink menus simple, somewhere around 3-4 drinks. Too many drinks can delay drink orders and some people will spend more time looking over the menu than they will socializing. Too few and you might not cater to different tastes.

Print a drink menu or two to sit on the bar. Make it easy to read and understand. If you rename a common drink to fit a theme, include the common name so that your guests can find the recipe later and make it at home if they wish. It's always a good idea to laminate or cover your menu with contact paper, anything to protect it from spills.

Be aware of other possible drinks out of your menu. For instance, if you're serving a rum cocktail and have cola on hand, a Rum and Coke is not out of the question.

Include a mocktail or non-alcoholic alternative for designated drivers and others who do not drink. Juice based mocktails such as the Beach Blanket Bingo also open the possibility of stirring up alcoholic drinks like a Sea Breeze.

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