It can be very difficult to offer a diverse cocktail menu at a restaurant or bar in a market where guests are very hesitant towards certain spirits. Throughout the past, I have heard numerous guests talk about a menu and saying things like, “Oh no, I can’t drink tequila ever since college,” or “I really don’t like the taste of gin.” There are so many approachable cocktails out there with a variety of bases, and these types of situations provide your staff with an awesome opportunity to encourage a guest to give a certain spirit a second chance.

Here are some simple cocktails that I have used as introductory cocktails for each base spirit that have changed some minds.

Vodka

Gimlet: ingredients

  • 2 oz vodka
  • .75 oz lime cordial
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • Lime wheel

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Before Prohibition, the Gimlet was very popular among the Royal Navy, and was employed as an anti-scorbutic. This sharp, sour cocktail was meant to be a short drink, imbibed quickly to do its job, but it has gone through a revival of sorts, and is enjoyed at a slower pace today. Historically written as an “equal parts” cocktail of gin and Rose’s lime cordial, it has been reshaped by craft cocktail bars today, where many are making their own lime cordials in house, and substituting vodka for gin as the base. I have made just as many Vodka Gimlets behind the bar, and they are equally as great.

Gin

Bee’s Knees: ingredients

  • 2 oz gin
  • .75 oz honey syrup
  • .75 oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

This simple gin-based cocktail is believed to have been created during the Prohibition Era, and was named after the slang that, at the time, meant “the best.” This drink is essential a gin sour, that gets an added richness with the substitution of honey syrup for simple syrup. The honey syrup helps add a layer of complexity to the cocktail that can help tone down the junipery bite of certain gins, creating a more approachable drink.

Tom Collins: ingredients

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • Soda water
  • Lemon wedge & cherry

Combine all ingredients except the soda water and garnish in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge and cherry.

This long, refreshing gin-based drink is indispensable during the summertime, and was first found in writing in Jerry Thomas’s book in 1876. When made correctly, it is a lovely libation that tastes like a refreshing sparkling lemonade.

Close up of glass of a freshly prepared gin and tonic with lemon slices and spoon on the counter.

Tequila

Paloma: ingredients

  • 1.5 oz tequila
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Grapefruit soda (Preferably Jarritos)
  • Lime wheel

Combine all ingredients except the soda and garnish in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and top with grapefruit soda. Garnish with a lime wheel.

The history behind this tequila-based cocktail is a little obscure, but some accounts believe that it was created in the town of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico. When introducing guests to the wonders of tequila, it can be very difficult to move them away from the margarita. However, the Paloma is considered the margarita’s grapefruit-based cousin, and is one of the most popular cocktails in Mexico. It is believed that grapefruit actually pairs better with tequila than lime, and when prepared correctly, this drink has an amazing, distinctive character that can easily outshine its more popular relative.

Rum

Daiquiri: ingredients

  • 2 oz rum
  • .5 oz cane syrup
  • .75 oz lime juice

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Considered one of the most popular drinks in Cuba, it is believed to have been created by American mining engineer, Jennings Cox, who was in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. It became wildly popular during Prohibition, however, as Americans fled the states in search for booze. As a 3-ingredient cocktail, the Daiquiri is clean and delicious, but also showcases how crucial balance is in a cocktail is. Precision is key in this drink, otherwise you may have a drink that is too strong, sour, or sweet. The cool thing about this drink is, however, is that it is not only a cocktail, but also a template. You can use it to introduce guests into the world of rums, where each bottle will have an extremely different profile, since so many styles are produced today.

Whiskey

Brown Derby: ingredients

  • 2 oz bourbon whiskey
  • .5 oz honey syrup
  • 1 oz grapefruit juice
  • Grapefruit twist

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Express the oils of the grapefruit peel over the drink and drop in as garnish.

This cocktail hails from the classic era of cocktails and essentially represents old Los Angeles. There is a lot of speculation surrounding the origin of this cocktail, but it is believed to have been mixed at the Vendome Club and named after a famous diner in L.A. This is an incredible, refreshing gateway cocktail that has just enough complexity to encourage guests to try bourbon whiskeys. You can then modify the cocktail by employing a specific bourbon whiskey that you like, and incorporate the flavors specific to that bottle.

Toronto: ingredients

  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • .25 oz demerara syrup
  • .25 oz fernet branca
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Orange twist

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until chilled and diluted properly. Strain into a chilled coupe glass or over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Express the oils from the orange peel over the drink and drop in as garnish.

A relative to America’s old-fashioned cocktail, this spirit-forward cocktail was found in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”. The spices found in rye whiskey will really shine in this cocktail, with the raw-sugar syrup providing just a touch of sweetness. The small addition of Fernet and Angostura bitters act as the modifying and bittering agents in the drink, creating a complex, cool-weather sipper that contains amazing flavor.

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Even though Parker loves writing, you will primarily find him behind the stick at the Eddy in downtown Providence. Some of his favorite things include iced lattes, pork belly, and encouraging people to try new things.